Staff Editorial: how we don’t understand rape

Both men and women need to be educated about rape.

Chimes Staff, Writer

In the wake of the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial verdict, the Internet flooded with various opinions from across the country. This high-profile case began with the rape of a 16-year-old girl who was unconscious from binge drinking at a party. Two high school football players, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, performed sexual acts on the victim when she was too drunk to remember, let alone resist or consent. While the prosecution took the case seriously by continuing to investigate others involved, the rest of America has had mixed — and sometimes revolting — responses.

A correspondent for CNN lamented the dashed promising futures of the teen boys and showed them collapsing in grief in court, creating a strangely sympathetic picture of the convicted rapists. One horrified Tumblr blogger collected a series of nauseating tweets that blame the victim for being too drunk or too slutty and seem to ignore the fact that these two boys freely decided to carry out terrible acts of sexual assault. In loud opposition, others brought attention to America’s rape culture in blogs and newspaper columns. With attitudes ranging from placing rape prevention on women to shaming the victim and victimizing the rapists, America has a rape culture whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

One of the worst assumptions in our culture — which sometimes seems second-nature to observers of crime — is that a victim can “ask for it,” whether it’s Trayvon Martin in a hoodie or an immodest, intoxicated rape victim. However, the idea that weakness or foolishness renders someone fair game for crime is the opposite of the truth. The choices too often regarded as “invitations” to be victimized should instead be considered vulnerabilities. Yes, they make the crime easier — but they also make the crime even more pathetic and appalling. Whenever we are tempted to say someone “asked for it,” we would be better off letting the victim’s vulnerability only darken our view of the criminal’s exploitation.

The root of this issue begins with awareness and education. In the Steubenville case, several teenage boys were called to testify to what they witnessed during the night. After describing graphic scenes that had transpired, they were each questioned as to why they did nothing to stop Mays and Richmond. They all responded with a variation of “I didn’t know what they were doing was rape.” Education of adolescents in schools about the perils of sexual assault, especially with young people, is an issue that must be addressed. It is very plausible that the scenes like the ones these boys witnessed in Ohio take place at high school parties across the nation every week. Their lack of distinction between what is and is not rape poses a serious threat to the safety of potential victims.

To be fair, women need education just as much as men do. Both genders can learn from rape cases like Steubenville in order to prevent more like it. Many people need to hear that getting extremely drunk at a party full of strangers is just unwise no matter how fun it seems. But a person’s unwise action never excuses the horrible crime committed against them, no matter how popular and well-liked the rapists are. It is deplorable that the town is rallying around the boys and requesting their release while a 16-year-old girl stumbles to regain her dignity and sense of value because of what they did to her. Somewhere in Ohio, three young people are reeling because of a party with unexpected outcomes while their town searches for the truth. The Christian community has a responsibility to lift them up in prayer and hold our media, public officials and each other accountable for our reactions.

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