Stubenville and beyond: How the media promotes rape culture

On March, 17th, 2013, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl.

The defendants, both members of the town’s cherished Big Red football program, dragged the victim to a series of parties on August, 11, 2012, sexually assaulted her and documented the brutal and public rape that took place that evening. Video and photographic footage taken by Trent Mays and observers (who stood idly by as the victim was abused and publicly humiliated) soon circled rampantly on social media sites and cellphones.

Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays received offensively weak juvenile sentences for which they will serve one year and two years, respectively. Mays received a longer sentence for being found guilty of illegal use and distribution of nudity oriented material containing a minor.

The Steubenville rape case gained international attention following posts by the known blogger Alexandria Goddard, who raised questions concerning the integrity of the investigation and the attempted cover-up by the boys’ football coach and brought to light the social media backlash that had begun, defending the actions of the rapists and publicly shaming the victim. Twitter and other social media networking sites flushed with posts condemning the victim for being inebriated, accusing her of being promiscuous and discrediting the claims that she had been taken advantage of, despite graphic trial evidence.

See for yourself (WARNING: the previous link contains an amassment of pathetic, social shortcomings and a lack of sensitivity, worthy of instilling anger in even the most sentient of beings).

The Steubenville case in its entirety is horrendous, and that includes the media’s coverage and portrayal of the defendants. Major media outlets such as NBC, CNN, ABC and USA Today paint the rapists in a sympathetic light, emphasizing the demise of their “promising football careers” (as quoted by NBC) and the heavy emphasis on the victim being drunk.

Of the news media outlets that were guilty of putting unnecessary stress on the victim being drunk, USA Today opens their article with: “Two members of Steubenville’s celebrated high school football team were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl…” This begins the outline of a very obvious media bias. cnnn

CNN’s reporter Poppy Harlow empathized with the defendants and had this to say when asked (by CNN anchor Candy Crowley) about the emotional setting of the courtroom during the trial’s verdict: “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — 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 life fell apart.”

CNN goes on to highlight the trials and tribulations these young men are now faced with as registered sex offenders. There is little, to no acknowledgement for the victim and the lasting effects this rape is going to have on her.


These comments and implications intended to lessen the monstrosity of May’s and Richmond’s actions shocked the public, and serve as a depressing assertion to the prevalent desensitization of society caused by rape culture.

Making excuses and attempting to invoke pity for the defendants in the brutal raping and mocking of the unnamed 16-year-old victim, just because they were “promising athletes” or because one of the defendants broke down and cried in court, only stands to perpetuate rape culture and the harmful actions of arrogant individuals who think their athletic and academic standings grant them immunity from moral obligations.

This is only one case out of so many that has sparked a flurry of online victim blaming. The way that the media and society continually depict women as being fully responsible for their own well-being while drinking and the backwards claim that women are “asking for it” if they dress a certain way, is how this mentality continues to thrive in our society.

The focus should be on teaching people: that causing malicious, intentional, sexual and demoralizing, trauma to someone is not only vile and inexcusable, but more importantly-the blame should fall solely on the perpetrator of these actions, not the victim.

How does a tragedy such as the Steubenville case, in which the rapists are shown celebrating the victim’s public defilement and torture in front of her peers, make its way into our communities, and culture?

We can find the answers to those questions all over the world, seeping out of every crevice of our deadened and morally corrupt human capacities. Everywhere we look we can see misogyny. Everywhere we look we can find people who believe others are worth less than they are.

It is this loss of humanity that seems to be so prevalent in our society that shelters rapists. Under the guise of the media, young people are growing up not fully understanding the repercussions that come with every facet of rape.

Take for example the 2004 incident that occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib incident refers to the acts of rape, torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the correctional facility. For a year these prisoners were abused and subjected to routine shaming.

This was an instance where a group of people (in this case trained military personnel) were left largely unsupervised and in charge of prisoners and within a year were not only abusing the prisoners, but sending graphic images of prisoner torture back home to fellow soldiers.

This is just one example of people feeling entitled to rape and torture, just because they uphold a certain status. Whether you are a soldier, or a football player, rape is never any less of a crime.

It is saddening to see that the impact of a culture so desensitized, that pushes such conflicting and twisted views regarding rape, could influence young people to film and boast about raping a girl to their peers.

Unfortunately this is a product of rape culture; it casts a veil over the consequences of sexual abuse, by constantly putting more emphasis on the victim and not the rapists. Young people are growing up with a skewed idea of what “consent” means and because of this more and more victims are left feeling guilty or unsure of coming forward.

Not only did news media outlets inadequately acknowledge the suffering of the victim, they are responsible for aiding the growing delusion that rape can be joked about and treated lightly. This should be considered a crime in itself.

The power of the news media is vast, and as such the graveness of painting Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond in a pitying light is all the more profound. These implications will have major negative impacts on the 16-year-old Steubenville victim and sexual assault victims worldwide.

Something certainly needs to change and it sure as hell has nothing to do with what women are wearing.

You can sign the online petition asking CNN apologize on air for siding with the rapists

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