The Real Victim


“Rape culture” and “slut shaming” seem to be buzzwords in today’s society and aren’t really given a face. When 16-year-old Jane Doe was raped by two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, however, those two phrases were finally brought into the limelight. An intoxicated and maybe drugged Jane was reportedly raped, not once but twice, by Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, at a party. She had no recollection of events until she woke up naked in a basement of a house with semen stains on her chest. This horrible reality was intensified when she discovered photos and videos of her naked, unconscious self were making the rounds on various social media sites.

Horrifying, sickening or just plain disgusting? When the two boys were convicted and sentenced to one to two years in a juvenile detention center, the media’s outpouring of sympathy toward the convicted rapists was appalling. It made me feel like I stepped back into the 1950s.

“Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart,” reported Poppy Harlow of CNN.

Ron Allen of NBC News echoed Poppy’s thoughts by declaring, “both boys had promising football careers.” CNN legal contributor Paul Callan even emphasized the fact that the boys will now be registered sex offenders, which “will haunt them for the rest of their lives.” ABC News ran a positive profile of Ma’lik prior to the verdict, again emphasizing his “promising football career” and how he was “in a celebratory mood” on the night of the rape.

Do you see a pattern in this reporting? Unfortunately, responses like those from CNN, NBC and ABC became the norm. There was no mention of how the rape and trial affected the victim, no ounce of sympathy for how her life has been radically altered. I am going to avoid saying “destroyed” because after working at a rape crisis center, I do not believe rape destroys lives. It can rip through lives and changes that person forever, but it does not destroy. I refuse to give rapists that amount of power.

The outpouring of sympathy for the convicted rapists from the media and the Steubenville community as well as the vitriol from classmates and anonymous bloggers toward the victim is regrettably not a blip. It’s the same old blaming the victim scenario or “slut shaming” story we see in every rape and sexual assault case. This case only highlighted those embedded values and assumptions the world has of victims of sexual assault and rape along with their attackers.

We have all seen it too many times before in India, Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and the Middle East; pretty much anywhere that has a population. We’ve all heard the endless accusations of “she was drunk,” “she’s a flirt,” “she should have known better” or “her skirt was too short.” And then the inevitable excuses, including “he couldn’t help it, he was drunk,” “boys will be boys,” “it was just a bit of fun” and “she didn’t say no.”

As long as these accusations and excuses are still making the rounds and the media continues to pander to this sexist attitude, rapists will continue to be excused, which will ultimately increase the number of rapes along with the stigma that comes with being a victim.

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