Soraya Chemaly has this to say about the Steubenville rape trial and the media coverage thereof:
Yesterday, in our fatiguing chronicling of rape, the Steubenville rape trial began. ABC reported that two boys “took liberties” (such an interesting turn of phrase if you think about it) with a drunk girl and now face rape charges. Attorneys for the defendants, two star football players (as everyone is intent on reminding us), argued that the boys did not rape a drunk 16-year old girl, whom they performed sexual acts on, because she “didn’t say no.” The lawyers are asking the court to believe that there was no nonconsensual contact during a long night in which these boys (just like these boys) put their fingers into the girl’s vagina, attempted to have her perform oral sex (she couldn’t hold her mouth open), allegedly urinated on her and were photographed dragging her around by her hands and feet. As one of the boys was quoted saying in a tonally rape-friendly media piece, “It just felt like she was coming on to me.” Which, of course, is clear license to treat a living girl like an inflatable silicon sex doll.
If traditional coverage and similar cases in the recent past are any indication, what will inevitably evolve in the next few weeks is a media narrative about these boys, their football aspirations, their dashed hopes, and their basic all-American Boy Goodness. The flip side of that narrative is that a drunk, possibly lying, definitely regretful, stupid, slutty, selfish and careless girl ruined their hopes for the future. She’ll be yet another “spider who lured them” and “ruined their lives.” Here is where we indulge in the national sport of victim-blaming in high-def digital. The kind that allows us to blame one person for her own assault and avoid the rigorous self-reflection necessary to understand the system that produces kids who think its okay to humiliate and violate a limp and incapacitated girl for kicks. Why aren’t we talking about why none of the 40+ teenagers involved that night were never taught to intervene, even when they understood what was going on?
I am hoping this case will be different and that we’ve reached a tipping point, but early signs aren’t particularly heartening.
This isn’t “just” about alcohol or teens or dashed football aspirations. It has much broader implications about consent and what we are failing to teach children. Alcohol and drugs don’t turn people, primarily girls and women, into rape victims. Rapists do. And while we’d like to think these things can’t be avoided and are accidental, they can be avoided and are, in fact, rarely accidental at all. These two boys may not have set out to deliberately drug the girl in question, or get her intoxicated for their purposes, but they took deliberate and aggressive advantage of the fact that she was drunk to the point of obvious and witnessed incoherence. This is done regularly with malice. Systemic tolerance for rape means they have traditionally gotten away with these crimes.
I am so, so tired of hearing about how that girl, or any other victim of sexual violence, shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. “If she hadn’t been drunk, she wouldn’t have gotten raped,” says the usual passive-voice apologism for rape. Here’s something we tend to forget: getting drunk, even to the point of puking on yourself and losing consciousness, is a morally neutral act. The resulting hangover is consequence enough. We should be shining the spotlight on the perpetrators of rape and asking them: “What the fuck is wrong with you? What makes you think it is even remotely acceptable to do that to anyone?” If all young women decided, en masse, not to drink in the presence of men, then rapists would simply choose their victims based on different criteria.
It is well past time we started talking about rape in the active voice.