The Steubenville Rape Case


Commenter, “Village Snark”, asked me if I was going to write about the Steubenville rape case. It’s pretty traumatizing to go through. I mentioned it quickly on this blog after one of Traci Lords first interviews [here].

“We need to shine the brightest light on [rape]. The daylight is really the best disinfectant.”

Lords is from Steubenville and was raped as a young girl, which she goes into in her autobiography Underneath It All.

I got the bulk of the story in a video here. It’s interesting and horrifying to see how nonchalantly some of these people treat the situation. There is video of a boy who wasn’t present at the rape laughing about it, and other people are laughing with him in the background.

Is it really so hard to empathize when you don’t know what it’s like to be raped? I have barely an inkling based on two separate experiences, but I try to imagine it through having my car broken into twice. Not the best comparison, yet through that experience I know that having something stolen from you leaves a hollow, sick feeling of violation. Imagine that on a more personal level and I find it impossible not to empathize with someone who’s not only had something personal stolen, but was physically present and helpless to resist. At what point does empathy kick in? I suppose once you’re on trial and sentenced to serve time?

When I go on about education, I think facing the horrors of life honestly is part of that. We have got to talk about sexual abuses openly. It’s an incredible disservice to our youth that we squirm and turn away from topics about sex, especially when the topic confronts the violation of body and trust.

Nina Hartley retweeted this today, Finally! An Anti-Rape Campaign That Isn’t Victim Blame-y. From Rebecca Eisenberg:

“This ad helped reduce the rates of sexual assault in Vancouver by almost 10% after it went up in bars and schools around the city in 2011, but its message is (unfortunately) still relevant today.”

Also, I just read this article entitled, The Verdict: Steubenville Shows the Bond Between Jock Culture and Rape Culture. Dave Zirin writes:

“As a sportswriter, there is one part of the Steubenville High School rape trial that has kept rattling in my brain long after the defendants were found guilty. It was a text message sent by one of the now-convicted rapists, team quarterback Trent Mays. Mays had texted a friend that he wasn’t worried about the possibility of rape charges because his football coach, local legend Reno Saccoccia, “took care of it.” In another text, Mays said of Coach Reno, “Like, he was joking about it so I’m not worried.”

In this exchange we see an aspect of the Steubenville case that should resonate in locker rooms and athletic departments across the country: the connective tissue between jock culture and rape culture. Rape culture is not just about rape. It’s about the acceptance of women as “things” to be used and disposed, which then creates a culture where sexual assault—particularly at social settings—is normalized. We learned at the Steubenville trial that not only did a small group of football players commit a crime, but fifty of their peers, men and women, saw what was happening and chose to do nothing, effectively not seeing a crime at all.”

Zirin goes on to link the rape with a sense of entitlement.

You can’t extricate the entitlement at the heart of jock culture from [Sarah] McMahon’s comments about its particular prevalence in revenue-producing sports. The insane amounts of money in so-called amateur athletics and the greasy desire of adults in charge of cash-strapped universities to get their share also must bear responsibility for rape culture in the locker room. They have created a system where teenage NCAA athletes can’t be paid for what they produce, so they receive a different kind of wage: worship. Adults treat them like heroes, students treat them like rock stars, and amidst classes, club meetings and exams, there exists a gutter economy where women become a form of currency. You’re a teenager being told that you are responsible for the economic viability of your university and everything is yours for the taking. This very set-up is a Steubenville waiting to happen.

I suppose on some level–however inconceivable–a sense of entitlement can be attributed to most human atrocities; slavery, The Crusades, the Holocaust, the epidemic of pedophilia in church circles, teachers who abuse their position and trade good grades for sexual favors, etc. Too much ego leads people to abuse, thinking they are above rules and laws. What a terrible situation. I don’t know what else to say.

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Author: Julie Meadows

Francophile, oenophile, French Scrabble advocate and future zombie apocalypse survivor.


  1. Thank you! I am honored.

    The case is horrific, embarrassing, sad, despicable…and no altogether surprising. About 10 years ago, then was another case similar to this in my area—16 year old girl gets drunk with a bunch of jocks in a private home and is videotaped getting raped while being unconscious. I take away a couple of things.

    ***These two guys deserve the punishment they received. It’s reprehensible, and again, not although surprising when you deal with jock football players, in a football dominated town. The tears displayed at the trial were crocodile tears, done after the fact.

    ***No, I am not blaming the victim—and she is a victim—but you take a risk getting falling down drunk with a bunch of unknown people. No brains; I think she had displayed this behavior before; this time something terrible occurred. Again, she did not deserve what happened to her; but her lack of mature decision making skills put her in that position. Where were parents? Where were any of the parents?

    ***The people who were at this party, who made videos of it, have not moral compass and no class. Unfortunately, this is becoming all too common with younger generation.

  2. It’s like the lawyer said in the video. “We all have an obligation to kind of look out for each other in this world. That was absent that night.” It’s useful to make a point about not getting too drunk, but someone has a seizure, gets roofied, collapses for any number of reasons; you can’t really blame the victim at all for what happened. She was around her peers. How could she have known someone out of all those people wouldn’t come to her defense?

    Take the case of Cheryl Araujo, played by Jodie Foster in The Accused. She was at a bar, definitely interested in having a good time, but not being brutally gang raped. It used to be that people blamed the victim for what happened, but no one wants that to happen to them. If they do it’s a fantasy worked out in a safe scenario–which means it’s not rape.

    I agree that getting that drunk is not a good idea. There are adults who can’t drink without drinking too much. I am guilty of that myself, but if that’s the case then that someone should be approached and counseled to get treatment. And parents can’t be around all the time. I hope, at the very least, this situation shines a light on how fucked up it is to think it’s funny to rape an unconscious person. It’s just fucking insanity to me.

    Also, you know way more about this case than I do. I think people feign blaming the victim at all anymore because it’s a dangerous step towards thinking that sometimes rape is justified. It is, of course, never justified.

  3. Terrible situation, indeed…but I have a slightly different angle on it.

    The “religionizing” and corporatization of athletics is definitely a part of the problem, as Dave Zirin so aptly wrote; but I’d say that a factor far more important is the overall fundamentalist culture that continues to divide girls into either virgins to be “worshiped” (and ultimately taken in marriage) or “sluts” to be used and abused. That didn’t begin with athletic competition, and it won’t end, either, if football or basketball is banned as some would suggest.

    Also…the “entitlement culture” isn’t just an athletic thing; it’s embedded deep into every aspect of our culture through our fundamentally unequal system. Whenever you give one group of people absolute power and unlimited rights of resource to exploit others, it is inevitable that they will use that power to enrich themselves at the expense of others. And yet, we are so quick to throw the “entitlement” slang at people who do no harm and who have none of the power or resources; while we glorify wealth and privilege.

    It’s all fine and well to say that girls shouldn’t get drunk in strange places or that they should dress more conservatively in order to avoid getting sexually asaulted….but perhaps the real solution is that we should educate men on respecting all women and girls enough not to get drunk enough to commit rape to begin with.

  4. Or, perhaps, have a designated sober person to protect the girl and take her away from any situation which threatens to get out of hand. Sort of like a “designated driver” thing.

  5. “Whenever you give one group of people absolute power and unlimited rights of resource to exploit others, it is inevitable that they will use that power to enrich themselves at the expense of others. And yet, we are so quick to throw the “entitlement” slang at people who do no harm and who have none of the power or resources; while we glorify wealth and privilege.”

    So true.

  6. I can see where one can get into trouble using a certain argument in a conversation like this.

    Sometimes the evolution of a conversation surpasses the quick common sense sum-up of a situation. A friend of mine got into trouble calling a performer a “tranny”. The sexual terms for people are so specific these days that it’s a language unto itself. The subject of rape has transcended basic ‘both people are wrong and contributed to this’ thinking because, as Anthony is saying, the issues are too deep for that. Of all the people watching–what was it, thirty people?–no one stopped what was happening. That female will probably never drink again.

    Why did all of those people sit around and watch and do nothing? The problem is much deeper than that female getting too drunk to function, though all people–young and old–should be encouraged to practice moderation in everything they do.

    Am I off on this? Does that make sense?

  7. When I think about my past exploits, I can see how something like this can happen (and no, I am not saying I would do this). It can unravel quickly into something sinister. Perhaps that’s always the way it’s been when you deal with a certain element of society; or maybe that element is getting more mainstream. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, what happened to her.

    I witnessed something that could have turned to this once. When I was in high school, I got a call from my friend (who was clearly drunk) and she was drinking with a bunch people I knew indirectly. These were not the people I wanted to be drinking with; they were a jock click, future frat a-holes. She thought I was going to party with them, but my main attention was to rescue her. When I showed up, it was just her and drunk jock asshats and they were already getting touchy-feely, real touchy feely. A really bad situation; she was already stumbling drunk and they were grinding with her. I bided my time to dance with her. When it was my turn, I asked her if she wanted to go outside and get some “air.” She incoherently agreed; we went outside, and I proceeded to take her home. The next morning I called her to see if she was okay and to tell her what a close call she had, but she really didn’t care to hear about it. She was more perturbed that I took her away from the party.

  8. Wow. You are a good friend VS. It is amazing that you did that. I wouldn’t stand for something like that–drunk or not. I would like to thank you, personally, for being a decent person.

    And I agree with you completely about the crocodile tears, after-the-fact. Mays’ text about Reno shows that sober, he had no remorse. It’s just a horrible, disgusting incident all around. No angle to any argument can wash that stain away.

  9. I did what I thought was best. Or maybe I misjudged the situation? She was a cute natural redhead drinking with football asshats. Nothing good could have come of it.

  10. Lydia
    as a lawyer I have appeared in a couple of rape and sexual assault cases.luckily they were pleas of the task was what sentence. In those cases there were either psychiatric or mental heath issues. I would be happy to send judgesxcomments on theses matter. Rape usually is about control as well as sex. One thing for sure ordinary porn plays little role using women does.all women deserve respect as do men. This is why negative views about women who like sex or porn are as bad as those who just see women as to be used. Good insights lydia.

  11. “never without my permission” – if you watch and do nothing, you are guilty too. the world can be an ugly place.

  12. When I was in high school you heard about kids going to a party, getting intoxicated, and having sex. Just how many of those instances were consentual is anybody’s guess, but, it since it was commonplace I would assume that a teen could see other people having sex at a party and not think anything of it.

    Parents have trouble with simply talking to their kids about sex, so, how are they going to talk about the ins and outs of being around drugs/alcohol and sex? Especially if they didn’t have a similar experience themselves.

    In other words, I don’t think that parents are changing in pace with the times.

  13. playing sports does not make you a rapist. some parents teach their children to respect themselves and others. being a beautiful young girl doesn’t mean you’re asking for it.

  14. I also wanted to point out that it is entirely possible that those kids just simply don’t understand what constitutes rape; they may not have understood that the girl’s reaction was her then ability to say she didn’t want to have sex with those two boys. They misinterpreted what they had seen as something funny; which is the fault of parenting and society.

  15. Terence, thank you. I don’t think it’s mental illness. The one referenced article is pointing at social entitlement as the reason; in this case, sports.

    Alex–If you watch and don’t do anything, you are definitely an accomplice. There are people up in arms over the complicit people not being punished, but the lawyer states that without proof, they can’t do anything. The one kid that said he erased the video he took is admitting guilt by saying he erased a recorded video. I’d be pissed, too, to know that accomplices weren’t being prosecuted.

    Brian–Like not knowing that gluing an unpopular, maybe “geeky”, boy’s butt cheeks together might scar him for life; physically and emotionally? Where am I pulling that from? The Breakfast Club.

    When I worked at strip clubs, I always stayed away from the large guy groups. And by large, I mean many guys in a group. There is a mentality shift among a throng of dudes that is usually not present when just around one or two. They tended to, in my experience, puff up their chests and act like apes. Like they had suddenly lost any ability to rationale. Sometimes they’re competitive and will go to great lengths to impress each other at the expense of some target. The usually behaved themselves at the clubs because the women did well establishing their power, but I would never want to be caught in a scenario as the toy among a bunch of jock-type guys, though Alex is right. Some people are decent and taught to respect themselves and others. I’d like to know about the people who to take a stand regardless of the consequences. I never hear about that.

  16. you’re right… guys will ‘pack’ like dogs and when they act sub- human, derserve no better than to be corrected like a dog. I’ve spent the last 3 days protecting our booth girls from these idiots. I have no idea how you got thru those shows, Lydia. (bet u have some crazy stories)

  17. I don’t know. Something about overt sexuality in a guy’s face seems to trump most power plays. Even the guys at strip clubs are extremely tame compared to women at strip clubs. I couldn’t handle *that*. How guys do it, I will never know. Women literally claw at the guys, doing way more pawing than guys do. But every once in a while a guy pushes the limit and his buddies will egg him on. The moment a female nails him or physically stands up for herself, the guys would cheer. It was a weird thing to watch. I stayed away from groups, but once I did find myself surrounded by a bunch of guys in Vegas–not in a threatening way, but I was there representing a company and our chaperone wasn’t around. One of the other women from our group stuck by me for a bit, but eventually wandered off. I don’t know what came over me. I channeled my friend Brittany Andrews. I did it in part because I didn’t know how to entertain an entire group of guys, and in part to be experimental. So many times I’ve watch her bring a group of men to silence, and even attract more of them in a congregation sort of way.

    I was drunk, too, which spurred my obnoxiousness, and so I started to channel her by talking about sexual dominance over men (as if I had any experience as a dom, which I don’t!). I remembered how she would go on lengthy tangents about having a male sex slave, how she would violate him, etc. and the more quiet the group would get to listen to this gorgeous, voluptuous woman talk about dominating men in a way that was, in ways, decidedly masculine, the farther she’d go, and the closer they’d squeeze in the listen to what she had to say. She’d have them laughing and asking questions and attentive like a kid watching a magic act; eyes wide, enthralled. Just amazing. I was able to bring a huge throng of guys to incredible attention just because I was talking like a man might talk.. but like, way beyond anything normal even. The next day I could not figure what had come over me. Regardless, experimentally, it was successful at proving something, though I don’t really know what.

  18. Thanks lydia
    I see what u are saying. No doubt there is unfortunately something in the sporting culture that corrupts proper sport. Young men drink and treating women as to be used.some of our teams here have been involved in sex investigation by police

  19. Lydia
    Shows how strong u should apologise for that treatment of u. Certainly as a man I feel bad u were put in that situation

  20. This disgust me and really saddens me because this is in my adoptive home state of Ohio (where I live…btw was born in NYC but moved 6 months after birth to Cleveland and live in Dayton). But this is not just isolated in the Buckeye State, but in small towns all over the nation and in big cities too where the sport, not the person, is given top billing over the lives of others.

    I think of what happened with Penn State and how the football/college community was more worried about their beloved coach Joe Pa than the fact all those young men’s lives will never be the same because of what Jerry Sandusky did to them.

    Yet we need football to stay the same in Happy Valley.

    And now with this abuse against the young ladies in Steubenville we get this whole idea that its the women’s fault for not staying silent and take one for the team.

    One of my co-workers is a 60 + old man who said a lot regarding this case. He says even though he’s not big on cell phones he’s glad they had it around to capture this because the attacker’s arrogance and stupidity would not be exposed had they not recorded the findings and left it on there in the first place. He went on to say this was the dirty little secret that’s been going on for years–decades–with no follow up for those who are the abused. Maybe now towns and schools will take a deep soul searching look over their involvement and what is really important in their lives.

  21. Well said! Your coworker is right. Without the technology and social media these things just happen and it’s never addressed on this large a scale. I remember thinking, during the Penn State situation, ‘Are people finally going to start talking about child molestation?’ I can’t tell you how many adults I know who carried their experiences around for years without telling anyone. And not sex workers. “Regular” people.

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