Tag Archives: steubenville

Preventing Another Steubenville: Middle Ground on Education and Rape

iStock_rape prevention“Preventing another Steubenville” is on the minds of many as the case slowly passes from the news cycle. What most observers want, understandably, is to prevent not “just” the victimization experienced by the 16 year-old girl at the center of the case, but also the pain that was dealt to everyone- perpetrators included- by the system. Most well-intentioned people feel for the victim first. But she, thankfully, was not showcased in the investigation and trial. The lives, stories and choices of Trent Mays and Mal’ik Richmond were. Mostly for that reason, many national news outlets made them the story and received criticism (mine included) for an over-focus on their good grades, their “promising careers,” etc, rather than on her. Their choices, at least, are what condemned them. Their victim could make no choices, and lives with what happened to her anyway. 

Regardless, seeing young men physically crumble in court and utter things like “My life is over. No one will want me now,” is heartrending. And it should be. I prosecuted child abuse and sexual violence cases for years. I prosecuted juveniles like Mays and Richmond for crimes like this. I prosecuted males who were technically adults but children in every meaningful way; I saw them convicted, sentenced and bound for a correctional system in Virginia that I knew however uncomfortably would likely tear them to shreds. That was the system. I was ethical, but I was dispassionate. I was a prosecutor, not a healer.

But like any decent person, I’d love to see a path toward preventing rape, not just responding to it. What doubts I have regarding the ability to proactively raise boys to be non-sexually violent (at least in the short run), I expressed last week here and here. What they boil down to is that I believe most men are not sexually violent, but that the minority who are, are malformed in early life for reasons we can’t yet grasp- and they are basically unreachable.

That said, since most men and almost all women are not sexually violent, I believe bystander intervention can be effective in preventing the kind of non-stranger rape that we see the vast majority of the time. Programs like Project Green Dot, already being implemented on college campuses (a good friend was instrumental in a Green Dot program at the University of Mississippi) have amazing potential to create an innovative environment of protection between students from every perspective. It’s simple and it’s genius. Everyone- male or female, gay or straight, greek or independent, protects each other from situations that probably won’t, but certainly could, end with a crime occurring. But in my mind, this doesn’t generally enlighten and ennoble offenders; it instead foils them by clearing the fog of alcohol, isolation, and toxic masculinity within which they hunt.

But is there educational purchase in grass-roots programs like Green Dot (or innovative productions like Sex Signals) that seek to challenge hyper-masculinity and rape culture? Are there “on the fence” guys who could learn to grow differently? Who would digest the broadcasted signals of decency and respect and be better for them?

How could I hope not?

Irin Carmon, a writer for Salon, last week published what might be the most balanced and informed opinion that embraces the same research I have, but allows for the hope that probably needs to be a part of the conversation as well. I stand beside the admonitions I’ve made in the past: “Forgiving” rape as a lapse in judgment by an otherwise “decent” guy is a pernicious mistake in most cases. But I’ll acknowledge that there is hope in social engineering and pushing forward a cultural change in how boys and men view sexuality. 

I only ask (as I imagine Carmon would) that we continue to observe two core considerations: First, be realistic about prevention and don’t create rules for women to follow “or else,” i.e., or else it was her fault. Second, don’t assume rape is a mistake, particularly based on the appearance, reputation, and social status of the rapist. Victim blaming isn’t the answer, and neither is forgiving as “foolish” something usually far more sinister. With those things in mind, let’s move forward.

Media Rundown on Steubenville from ThinkProgress.org: It’s Her Fault

Left-leaning Think Progress posted an excellent and highly instructive series of paragraphs today (with clear documentation) on how various national media outlets chose to report on the verdict handed down yesterday in the Steubenville sexual assault case.

CNN, ABC and NBC all focused primarily on the promising careers and positive aspects of the convicted teenagers. USA Today and the Associated Press focused on the fact that the victim was drunk, as if she were frankly complicit in bringing on what happened to her.

Yahoo, though, went the furthest in blaming her, suggesting that her choice to report being repeatedly sexually violated, filmed and humiliated, was to blame for tearing the town apart.

So it’s her fault for “ruining the lives” of such promising young athletes. Her fault for being drunk. Her fault for coming forward and “tearing a town apart.”

And we wonder why so few victims report.



Steubenville: A Modest Proposal. Or A Moral Requiem

Every town, indeed every settlement, hosts its demons. Towns generally spring up where wealth can be created. Some of that wealth is inevitably dispersed from fools and victims to the hands of those more clever and ruthless. The rituals of corruption between gathered humans are themselves as human as laughter and tears. There are no exceptions.

But if accounts can be trusted, it seems that Steubenville, Ohio, blessed with extractable fossil fuel and its position on the railroad between Pittsburgh and Chicago in the American industrial ascent, hosted more than its share of demons in the 20th century. It was dubbed “Sin City” at one point as mafia elements thrived with prostitution and gambling, abetted by local industry and town leadership.

Now the 20th century is history and Steubenville is struggling against decay and decline. So why pick on it? Because it’s clear that a natural desire to remain relevant, and elements of the corruption that once defined Steubenville have now morphed into a cocktail of denial and tolerance for sexual assault by its last vestige of greatness: Big Red Football.

The events of August 11th and 12th, 2012, namely the abduction, gang-rape and desecration of an unconscious teenager at a series of parties attended by members of the Steubenville High School football team, are now national news. They might have been anyway as (thankfully) awareness of the occurrence of sexual violence within the protection of institutions is increasing.

But for Big Red Football, the attention has been focused more readily because of the reluctance of witnesses to come forward and the disturbing abrogation of responsibility from the team’s coaching staff. The police chief has publicly stated his frustration at the lack of cooperation from potential witnesses, party-goers who might have important information or digital evidence. Other townsfolk have spoken to national media only anonymously for fear of retribution for standing up to the institution that is the SHS football program.

As for the coaching staff, the reaction of the head coach, Reno Saccoccia, is perhaps the most telling in terms of its harkening to Steubenville’s mob-run past. According to the New York Times, Saccoccia was asked why he didn’t bench or otherwise discipline several players (other than the two charged) who were then known to have posted frightening comments and photos about the crime on social media sites, some as it was happening. Saccoccia’s response? “You made me mad now. You’re gonna get yours. And if you don’t get yours, someone close to you will.” Beautifully put, Coach. Indeed, a low level button-man in a movie couldn’t have put it better.

An assistant coach, Nate Hubbard, provided the time-honored if baseless assertion that the victim must have made up the rape allegation because she had “come home” drunk (she was actually dumped there) and “had to make up something.” Actually, the victim at first didn’t know what had happened to her. She was clued in by social media postings that added a further level of trauma to her and her family.

In any event, there is no natural instinct to fabricate rape, let alone against a leviathan like Big Red.  Legions of young women (and I’d wager a surprising number of young men) are used sexually by sports heroes in every locale and on every level in our society. The vast majority do not report these interactions as crimes when they clearly are. What the victimized do instead is blame themselves. The victim at the center of this case had the wherewithal to come forward, and does so at her peril. Steubenville may not seem like much, but its most venerable institution remains supreme in the eyes of many who share her environment.

If Coach Saccoccia and everyone in power had a grounded sense of right and wrong and a vision for a better future, they would impose on themselves a NCAA style “death penalty.” They would take the 2013 season off to re-commit themselves to healthy athletics rather than the continued parade of entitled violence and privilege done within their midst.

It would be a grand gesture toward a better and more secure future for Steubenville, its athletes, and its young- even unborn- potential victims. And it will never happen.