If you’re here to read about my latest adventures in Mongolia, I’m afraid you’ll have to come back on Friday. This post is not about Mongolia; it’s about something my friends in the States have recently brought to my attention, to which I feel obligated to respond.
Last month, The Onion came under fire for a tweet calling a certain 9-year-old actress a certain derogatory expletive. Now, I’m not a fan of that word; in fact, it’s probably my least favorite word in the English language, and I’m hard-pressed to come up any acceptable circumstances in which to call a woman that. But in this case, I wasn’t particularly offended. This is a satirical newspaper we’re talking about, after all; their job is to say things so ludicrous that you can’t take them seriously.
Two years ago, they ran a video that probably caused a similar amount of outrage, “College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed. I’d embed it if I knew how, but since I don’t, you’ll just have to click the link.
The video’s content is just as ludicrous as its title. It features sappy music and lauds the athlete in question for continuing his basketball career after he “overcame the trauma of committing a terrible rape” and for “refusing to let what happened to the girl he raped define him.” The girl in question is mentioned only twice, and fleetingly; instead, the coverage sympathizes with the athlete. He gets painted as a victim of an unfortunate circumstance, while the real victim is completely glossed over.
But that wouldn’t happen in real news coverage, would it? Would reporters really lament the potentially ruined futures of the perpetrators of a rape, rather than the victim?
Apparently they would.
Due to the sluggardly nature of my Internet, I’ve only been able to watch CNN and NBC’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case (ABC’s just won’t play for me), but the following viral graphic summarizes the coverage quite well.
At least NBC’s coverage talks about the victim’s future and laments the common occurrence of this sort of crime, even if it waits until the very end to do so. But the CNN footage is infuriating. It stresses the emotional nature of the courtroom and the verdict’s delivery and focuses on the impact the conviction will have on the defendants’ young lives.
I don’t care if the boys’ football careers and reputations have been ruined. I’m not sorry that the “registered sex offender” label will follow them for the rest of their lives. They committed a crime, and they’re getting off lightly by being tried as juveniles rather than adults. I hope their apologies are heartfelt, and that the tears they shed expressed genuine contrition for their actions rather than sorrow at having “watched as they believe their life fell apart” [sic].
But it seems the reporters at CNN feel differently. They’re so busy focusing on what this sentence will do to the lives of the two rapists that it takes them over five minutes to acknowledge that the rape itself might have had consequences for another person. They mention the victim a few times prior to that five-minute mark, but as an object rather than a person: “the rape of a sixteen-year-old girl,” “a photograph of the victim laying naked on the floor” [sic]. When they do mention the victim and what this crime might have done to her, she’s still subordinated to the consequences suffered by the perpetrators: “when that verdict is handed down,” says CNN’s legal contributor, “there’s always that moment of just, lives are destroyed – and lives have already been destroyed by the crime.”
Yes, lives have been destroyed, but the life destroyed by the crime itself should be the focus of our sympathy, not the lives “destroyed” by the verdict. The victim of the actual crime should not be an afterthought, as she so clearly is here.
From a writer’s standpoint, I can begin to understand why they’ve chosen to present the story this way. Since the victim is also a minor, her name is not being publicly disclosed, nor are any details which might reveal her identity. It’s hard to create sympathy for a Jane Doe, and you can’t center a story around the victim if you can’t actually say anything about her.
But that doesn’t mean that you turn the story of a rape into a lament for the “promising futures” of the young rapists. If we’re going to lament anything, it should be their poor choices and the impact their actions will have on the life of the girl they raped. To turn the defendants of this case into victims does a disservice to actual victims – of this rape, and of all others.
This is not the first time I’ve talked about rape culture on my blog, and unfortunately, I’m sure it won’t be the last. When someone can leave a flyer about “The Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” in a men’s dorm bathroom as a “joke,” there is something wrong with our culture. When blame is placed on the victim of a rape instead of the perpetrators (“she was wearing provocative clothing; she was asking for it”), there is something wrong with our culture.
In the last election, America made a number of steps towards removing rape culture perpetuators from positions of political power. I was heartened by this pattern; it gave me the impression that a number of people were dissatisfied with the status quo, and that we might soon see more efforts to dislodge rape culture’s hold.
I am likewise glad to see how much outrage there is at the main news media’s coverage of this trial. My Facebook news feed is abuzz with indignation, and a Google search for “Steubenville rape coverage” turns up more articles about the media’s slanted reporting than actual articles about the trial – including a petition for CNN to publicly apologize for its coverage. But these responses are found on Gawker, HuffPost, ThinkProgress, and the like, rather than the media stations most Americans rely on for their news.
That needs to change. How must that poor girl and her family feel, watching reporters sympathize with rapists on the nightly news? How must other victims of rape feel when they, too, are implicitly blamed for destroying the lives of those who attacked and violated them?
Rape culture is already firmly ensconced in America, and the last thing we need is for the media to perpetuate it like this.