Thursday, March 21, 2013

Steubenville, Rape and Football Culture in America

Source: Jezebel
Source: The Atlantic Wire
By now just about everyone (it's a big story in the UK, too) is familiar with the "Rape Crew" of Steubenville, Ohio, the small steel mill town where the Big Red football team is everything and some of its players were involved in a drunken assault last summer.

A mostly-unconscious 16 year-old girl from neighbouring West Virginia was carried around to three different parties by a group of Steubenville high school football players while they and others who saw Tweeted about what was going on, calling the girl a "whore" and mentioning rape, anal rape, the girl being "dead" and also that the boys had urinated on her, and that she deserved it.

This past weekend, two of the accused were convicted, both of penetrating the girl with their fingers (penetration with anything constitutes rape in the state of Ohio), and one of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, because he had taken pictures and videos. The first will spend at least one year in juvenile detention and the second should get about two years, but it's also possible that they'll both be held until they're 21 (they're 16 and 17 now).

Luckily, one concerned blogger and former Steubenville resident was taking screencaps of all the Tweets and other evidence she could find as it was happening and for weeks after, thereby building a significant portion of the case against the "Rape Crew".

One does not simply delete something posted publicly online, and the same goes for texts (unless they're sent and received from iPhones, apparently). In addition to all the callous, immature, disgusting and prolific Tweets you can find online, this local news article gives a great summary of the damning texts that were exchanged that night and in the following days. Worse still is the lengthy video leaked by Anonymous in which the boys involved joke and brag about what they did. 

You'd think the fact that there was such a wealth of evidence would have made this a fairly open-and-shut case, but part of the reason it's gotten national attention and started up the debate about rape and the way women are treated in America (once again, unfortunately) is that there has been too much focus on protecting or excusing the boys involved, because they're "star athletes". Oh, heaven forbid that acceptance letter from Notre Dame remains tragically unopened on the kitchen table.

Far too many people have also taken, yet again, to blaming the victim. Is it irresponsible to drink yourself into an hours-long blackout? Of course. There are also rumours and claims that the girl was drugged, but that has not been proven. My problem with the arguments that blame the girl for drinking with guys in the first place, though, say within the same breath that the boys' drunkenness is sort of an excuse for their behaviour.

Where is it written that only men are allowed to drink and not be held exclusively accountable for their actions thereafter? If that were really the case, maybe there would be signs posted outside bars warning women that the establishment wouldn't take any responsibility for anything that happened to them once they started drinking, as the full extent of the law no longer applied once they're no longer sober. Ah, there we go. Now it makes sense.

The message that even American society in this post-feminist age (forget India or South Africa) sends to women who are attacked because they were walking home alone at night, drinking, wearing a short skirt or even all three at the same time (!) is that they were "asking for it".

Why do women not have the inherent right to pass through the streets in safety? The whole "Well, she did go to the parking lot alone when her shift at the hospital ended at 1 A.M."-type response to sexual assaults is infuriating. We must of course accept that awful things happen and that people should try to be careful and take precautions, but the idea that women simply aren't safe no matter where they are is not one that anyone should tolerate. Instead of "Watch out or you're going to get raped", maybe we should tell people, "You'd better not attack and rape someone, or you're going to spend a good chunk of your life in prison where the same thing'll happen to you every other week". 

While the drunken teenager in question was not attacked, beaten, mutilated, tortured or killed like so many other victims (including little boys and babies) all over the world who are treated worse than animals lined up for slaughter, the fact that the football players were not immediately punished, that at least half of Steubenville still sides with them and that CNN's coverage of the verdict exuded sympathy for them has effectively directed the spotlight onto the principle of the thing: rape is not taken seriously enough even in the United States.

With all the outrageous comments on the topic by conservative politicians like the now-infamous Todd Akin over the past year or so and attempts at legislation that limit womens' reproductive rights cropping up with alarming frequency, the discussion hasn't really had a chance to die down for a while now. It's nothing new, and heartbreaking personal accounts like this one highlight much more eloquently than I ever could the importance of protecting women and implementing punishments more befitting to these types of crimes.


Source: Imgur
In addition to all these more obvious social issues, this case has led me to ponder the patriarchal structure of the ubiquitous "Good Ol' Boys' Club" in America. This club exists not only among the superwealthy corporate hierarchies of legend, but also in just about every smaller company. Of course it exists in the military and among politicians; it also exists in schools, especially universities. It exists in country clubs, car dealerships, retail store and... football organisations.

I've got to saw, for a society that collectively has so much trouble understanding the "in-group/out-group" social structure of various Asian societies, America has an incredibly thorough and nuanced one of its own.

The "old boy network" of the U.K. and other countries is a little different, technically referring to male students who are alumni of the same private school or high school. In the U.S., "a good old boy" is a white Southerner who is old-fashioned and well-mannered, which can be both good and bad, though this generally has a positive connotation.

As Wiki tells us, though, the club to which I'm referring is yet another organisation: "It can be used as a pejorative term, referring to someone who engages in cronyism among men who have known each other for a long period of time. Collectively these people are referred to using the slang term, 'Good ol' boy network'. This network is usually all men, excluding women and minorities".

University football enterprises have become notorious for and particularly adept at covering up rapes. Players enjoy all sorts of privileges and amenities regular students don't, ranging from scholarships and free tutoring tailor to fit their schedules to the benefit of the doubt and a lifetime supply of Get Out of Jail Free cards. There's just too much publicity, notoriety and money on the line to allow a team to be shamed by a scandal.

Interestingly, Penn State's reputation was badly tarnished and its network of Old Boy football team conspirators destroyed when Jerry Sandusky's charity front for raping young at-risk boys came to light, but does anyone talk about the Notre Dame rape controversy anymore? Hmm.

Let's not forget that a freshman killed herself (after having a panic attack during a sexual assault orientation seminar) back in 2010 after claiming to have been assaulted by one of Notre Dame's players, and that the school didn't get around to investigating it until five days later because, as they told her mother, they were very busy during football season, and there was a lot of underage drinking going on.

School officials also constructed a series of accusations and claims that the girl was both unstable and brought the whole thing on herself. Others have been threatened with floods of text messages from players and their friends warning them not to tell anyone after other alleged assaults. If the accused in this cases are not guilty, why would the entire institution go on the defensive, so far as to defame the character of a dead teenage girl (and even joke about her), instead of being sympathetic and promising to investigate the situation as thoroughly as possible? If nothing else, this attitude is chauvinistic and demonstrates a serious lapse in professional conduct.

The Notre Dame allegations came to light again when they were due to play Alabama in January and lots of people knew about it, but no one was talking about the ignored accusations anymore. Maybe that's because those teams are worth over $1 billion combined. Notre Dame is responsible for keeping its surrounding residents and businesses employed and afloat, sort of like the dying town of Steubenville's beloved team, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The other explanation as to why there is not more public outcry about these scandals "is that raping women has become 'normalized' in our culture, while raping little boys has not". Not accepted, but admittedly standard.

How does one go about changing an entire culture's view of these serious crimes, violations of dignity, destroyers of lives? Even if half the world's leaders, wealthiest and most influential people were women, I think the patriarchal bias would still exist. The need to feel powerful and control others will always be present among us, as will testosterone, as will women, children and men who are sexually victimised.

Even in a nation as comparatively socially progressive as the U.S., around half will still say, "She was asking for it". Certainly there are women who have made false accusations, some repeatedly, and a man or teenage boy's reputation and/or life should never be wantonly crushed, but if someone is obviously guilty, let's not take to blaming the victim out of contempt for destroying what could have been a stellar college football career. This corporate culture where profit and national standing are worth more than human compassion, be it in the form of the safety of women, the prosperity of workers or the health of the environment benefits only the choicest few and is not sustainable.

As the scandal drags on, I can only hope that no further immunity deals are struck and that additional charges against some of the others involved are brought. More than that, though, I hope other students stop threatening and shunning this girl, especially after Fox News broadcast her first name uncensored. It'll be hard enough for her to disassociate herself with the case as it is.