Earlier this morning I anxiously awaited the verdict in the Steubenville rape case. I was on edge, and I wasn’t even personally connected to this case beyond being a woman, a mother of a son, and somebody with a ton of heartache and sympathy for the victim. My emotions were a mix of nerves, fear, and anger. I was scared that the verdict would be ‘not guilty’ (and wondered of the potential repercussions) – but I wouldn’t allow my mind to hold on to that thought. How could anyone who heard all of the evidence and testimony come back – in good conscience – with a not guilty verdict? I was also so damn mad each time I read a headline or tweet where a publication had put quotes around the word rape, as if it was quite real or actually happened.
Then, finally – the verdict. Both young men were found guilty, solidifying what many of us already knew. Since this was tried in juvenile court, the sentencing wasn’t as harsh as it could/should have been: Ma’lik Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year in a juvenile rehabilitation facility with the maximum extending until he turns 21 on a juvenile charge of rape; Trent Mays, who was also found delinquent on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, was sentenced to a minimum of two years and a “consecutive” sentence that could last until he turns 24.
It’s been reported that the boys – who had yet to show any real remorse – broke down crying upon hearing their sentences. Are we expected to feel sorry for these boys? Where were these tears while they were sexually violating their sixteen year old victim? Sure I feel bad that their futures are pretty screwed up because of this, but that’s on them. You know who else’s future is probably going to be really challenging? Jane Doe’s. She has to not only live with the fact that she was raped, but that evidence of her rape was broadcasted via social media while her town rallied behind her rapists instead of her. So sorry if I’m not feeling overly sentimental for the two young men crying in court earlier today.
There’s also this – after being found guilty, both Richmond and Mays made statements of apology, but you know what they forgot to apologize for? Raping her.
“I would truly like to apologize to [girl’s name], her family, and the community. No pictures should have been sent around, let alone taken.” – Trent Mays
“I would like to apologize to you [girl’s name]. I had no intention to do anything like that.” – Ma’lik Richmond
Excuse me if I can’t muster up an ounce of sympathy for these young men. I know teenagers are impulsive, I know that they can sometimes do stupid things (trust me, my list of teenage stupid would be pretty bad), but let’s not equate rape with “stupid, teenage actions.” Stupid teenage actions involve “borrowing” your parents car to skip school or staying out past your curfew and sneaking back in the house smelling like cigarettes or pot. Raping an unconscious girl, photographing it, and sharing said photographs is not simply stupid nor can it be excused as regular teenage behavior. I will not devalue either teenagers in general or young men specifically by defaulting in that direction.
These boys SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. There is no excuse for not knowing this. In the months since this case first came to light, there have been many discussions over rape and rape culture. I wrote about teaching my son not to rape, and this is something I continue to stick by. There are many layers to what happened in Steubenville from it occurring in a community that holds up its student athlete population in an unhealthy way, to promoting rape culture and sexist behavior threaded within its infrastructure.
I will repeat and will continue to repeat this until I’m blue in the face: We need to reframe how we talk about rape in this country. We need to end all the victim blaming BS and teach everyone in our society that rape is not okay and DO NOT RAPE.
My son is six years old. He already knows about bodily autonomy. Its starts early. He knows he is in charge of his body and he also knows he is not in charge of anyone else’s body. That means he stops if somebody lets him know he’s playing too hard. It means he asks before he tackles or tickles a friend. It means he feel comfortable enough to tell somebody stop or no and understands the power of those words. These are the building blocks that will then allow me to explain rape to him when he is older. Because I sure as hell just won’t assume that he’ll figure it out.
So while the verdict in this case came back as guilty, and Jane Doe can begin to regain some sense of justice in her life, this is far from over. We have only just begun as far as dismantling rape culture in this country. We have only just begun having the real, painful, but oh-so-necessary conversations we need to have.
Update: I just heard about CNN’s reporting of the verdict and it’s awfully appalling. CNN seems to be reporting the story in a “these poor boys & their now crappy future” frame. No, absolutely no. This wasn’t just something that happened to these boys. The rape is what happened to the victim, Jane Doe. Richmand and Mays aren’t the victims here – they are the perpetrators.