March 14, 2013 / News

Hometown Heroes: Media Victim-Blaming In Steubenville


The trial has started in Steubenville against two teenage boys who stand accused of raping a girl at a party. The expected media feeding frenzy has begun.

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An article on Good Morning America’s website is titled “Steubenville Rape Case: What You Haven’t Heard.”  In it we learn that one of the boys came from the rough part of the town of 18,000 and has memories of “stray bullets in his living room and watching most of his male role models being killed or incarcerated.” The other is the son of a football coach. He’s an honor student who has dreamed since childhood of hearing fans roar as he took the field with his high school team. The implication is that these boys are star students, gridiron gods. They wouldn’t do such a thing.

In the article one of the boys said, “It just felt like she was coming on to me.” The other boy said, “I turned around and I can see the flash on his phone. Trent was rubbing on her breasts and she was kissing his neck. And then he was trying to unbutton her pants.” In other words, it wasn’t their fault. She invited it. The writer goes on to clarify that the accused, “…used their hands to penetrate her while she was too drunk to consent, By [sic] Ohio law, such a crime constitutes rape, as it does in many places.” The boys, as the GMA article notes, “face incarceration in a detention center until their 21st birthdays and the almost-certain demise of their dreams of playing football.”  They didn’t really rape her, it’s just a technicality in the law. They will be ruined. We are to feel sorry for them.

In the movie Hoosiers Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey) says to the coach, “You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god… I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.” Like the town in Hoosiers, Steubenville is pinning the highest of their hopes onto the shoulders of teenagers, vicariously reliving glory days through high schoolers. It’s appalling that the main focus of the town is preserving what’s left of its now-wretched reputation, not what can they do to help this girl and how to prevent future incidents. Perhaps a better response would be one similar to that of Vancouver, B.C. Their “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign saw a 10% reduction in sexual assaults in 2011.

Instead, the town of Steubenville put up a website called Steubenville Facts for the sole purpose of damage control – for themselves. The day before the trial began city leaders called a press conference, where “City Manager Cathy Davison began the conference by telling those gathered that the conference was about the city, not the trial, and defended the city against negative press.” Anger and denial will heal neither the impossibly wide rift dividing Steubenville nor the nation’s opinion of it. This is a town so blinded by the glare of stadium lights they are unable to see the fact that it is their callousness and refusal to believe any of their own could be capable of such a heinous act that the rest of the country finds so unfathomable.

In an ideal world we would read stories outlining the difficulties that lie ahead for the victim. We’d hear about what a great student she is, which extracurricular activities she likes, how she loves to sing and dance and doodle in the margins of her notebook. We’d discover her dreams for the future. Writers and pundits and news anchors would implore us to show compassion.  And we’d learn that the town where it happened had rallied around her, doing what they could to help begin her healing process.

The reality of all of these articles is that this isn’t just about Ohio. It’s also about survivors sitting at home watching the events unfold, reading these things. It’s a harsh reminder of the difference between how victims and survivors of sexual violence are regarded versus perpetrators. For those who are unsure about revealing the what happened to them, these interviews and articles illustrate that speaking up and telling the truth is an exercise in futility. For all of us these articles tell us that our lives don’t matter nearly as much as the lives of the perpetrators. A brightly lit scoreboard and a shiny trophy in a glass case are more important. The silence coming from all of us is deafening. Then again, that’s the point, isn’t it?

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  • marille

    finally, some people have woken up. there is a very good article by Dan Wetzel on yahoo sports.
    yesterday the court went through 100k ext messages from the teens in Steubenville and finally the light is there and people see what’s happening. no victim bashing and good analysis with plenty of facts in the write up.

  • Edee Lemonier

    Thanks, Marille, that’s good to know and I’ll definitely look it up! The only troubling thing about that is, why is it in the sports section and not on the front page with everything else?

  • marille

    Eddie, here is the title.
    “Steubenville suspect’s text messages paint disturbing picture of night of alleged rape”
    19 hours ago
    this was the best article I saw today.
    another article today by not sports author had less details, but did not blame the victim.
    the text messages are so graphic, crude and beyond civil society, that I think a regular reader feminist or not can not sympathize with this crowd of text messaging teens. I think a lot of teens will loose their privileges to phones, messaging.
    when you read the comments which to this day were so women hating that I often did not look at comments any more.
    but this time they all were in disbelief what these guys did and worried what they might not know about their own teens.
    and I am usually not optimistic about women’s rights in society. I think a lot of adults are getting disturbed about the current youth “culture”. not one made fun of her being drunk.

  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Great post, Edee. I was HORRIFIED when I saw the comments by Candy Crowley and other female CNN reporters as they voiced their concerns for the BOYS, and the effect this would have on THEIR lives (HuffPo had this article on it: It is appalling, and reprehensible, that ANYONE would care more for the “poor boys” who did the raping than the girl who was raped, but especially for WOMEN to voice those concerns. WTH??

    I have felt for some time that feminism in this country has been backsliding. This kind of mindset, this mentality, of siding with the rapists against the one who was raped, is evidence of that. It is abhorrent. And demoralizing.

    Great post! Thank you for taking this issue on.

  • Bes

    Amy, what CNN did was predictable and disgusting. Before you lose faith in The People of America remember that cable media does not exist in a free market. No one signs up for CNN it is force fed into peoples homes when they sign up for cable so they can get clear reception on PBS. CNN is a very low rated channel, there are maybe 320 million people in the USA, CNN has under one million viewers to any one program. It does not reflect our society and that is why it is a failing business.

  • Frances

    Actually what did we expect, when we had 22 republicans voting against the Violence Against Woman Act, and les we forget several were women, one named Marsha Blackburn. What we have here are women who would rather clean up after men, that look out for young girls and women.

    • Frances

      > than look out for girls and women.

  • Julie

    Actually what did we expect when we hear the democrats, their supporters and the media calling for the rape of any women and their daughters who do not walk in lock step with them. Disent will not be tolerated and must be destroyed. Where was the outrage? Where were the women of the democrat party speaking out against this vile behavior? The Obama supporters were constantly calling for the rape of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin and her 14 year old daughter. Women’s groups were silent. They are a part of the democrat machine used to keep women quiet and in their place. Until women stand up and demand to be treated with respect and diginity the media and political parties will continue to use women against each other. The media is winning with the support of women!

    • Frances

      > Julie, talk me cause I was not part of that, and I known many women that stood against the gutter politics, and yes we still dealing with the outrage, and just this week one Sarah Palin stepped in big time, rack it up.