Going to keep this brief, as I have to leave for church in a few minutes — it’s only 8:30 am on the West Coast, after all. I am happy to report that justice has been served in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case. The two teenage perpetrators have been found guilty.
The case, which followed the repeated sexual assault of a teenage girl by members of the local high school team, gained national prominence after the Anonymous hacker collective released video and photos posted by the perpetrators. I am glad that Anonymous and the #OccupySteubenville activists pushed so much out in the open, including the reluctance to believe the rape survivor by a town that loves its football team. The whole case is a master class in rape culture — highlighting our cultural apathy toward sexual assault victims and our collective denial that “favorite sons” can be rapists.
The lesson that I hope many take away from this case is to start by believing a rape survivor’s story. Because while justice has been served, the Steubenville survivor has had to bear the brunt of a national-level slut-shaming that is sadly typical. Saying you were raped does not make you a slut. And you are not a slut if someone takes away your consent. That is rape.
Still, I worry about the burden of proof that this case may set up. Will we demand that each case of rape is corroborated by the digital evidence of social media? I was horrified that the perpetrators in this case posted photos and videos online, as well as sending many damning texts. While it made it less easy for apologists or just those in denial to see the truth, it frightens me that the modern rape survivor’s story may now have to include the public humiliation of reliving her/his assault via the web fingerprints that can never be erased. Will we start asking survivors not just, “Were you asking for it?” but “Where’s the video?” Certainly, if the evidence is there, we should use it as a tool to gain justice for victims. I just hope that this is not another brick in the wall that often separates survivors from justice.
This is a verdict to be celebrated, even as I’m sure the backlash is gaining traction. There will be some who cannot believe this girl’s story, no matter how many photos, videos, and texts there are. There will be some who do not see that a rape has happened because they do not understand what rape is.
That’s why I, and so many others like me, are here. We’ll keep standing up. We’ll keep talking about the uncomfortable truths that scare you. Because ignorance is not an excuse for rape. Denial is not a justification for silencing a survivor. And being afraid to talk about sex and what consent means is not a justification for the shame, ridicule, and stigma that sexual assault survivors face just for asking for the same justice from society that anyone who is the victim of a crime seeks.
Because we are all Steubenville. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter how old you are or the color of your skin… We are all victims and perpetrators of rape culture and it is up to us to stop it.