A guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape trial has closed one chapter of the horrifying crime played out on social media — but the case and some mainstream media reactions to the breaking news Sunday of a verdict has also highlighted how pervasive rape culture can be as seen to the disgust of many watching CNN’s coverage over the weekend.
The latest developments in Steubenville came Sunday when Judge Thomas Lipps handed down a maximum sentence in the case after Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were found guilty of raping the girl in the case. Due to their respective ages, Richmond may be jailed until the age of 21, while Mays could remain behind bars until he is 24.
It’s not entirely uncommon for rape perpetrators to garner some degree of sympathy, particularly when they’re young men with promising futures — but watching CNN, you’d think the boys did nothing at all to precipitate such a fate. (And had you viewed the content that circulated on social media after the Steubenville rape incident, you’d know that’s very easily provable as not the case.)
An unfathomably horrible violation not only occurred but was joked about until internet clamoring precipitated a media frenzy. And, while the boys found guilty in the rape case have incurred harsh consequences, the Steubenville rape victim will live with the horrors she endured for the rest of her life too.
CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow seemed to set the tone Sunday morning in the strange segment, telling Candy Crowley:
“Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart … when that sentence came down, [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney.”
Harlow continued: ” … He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’ Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping the sixteen-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August.”
Legal consultant Paul Callan was also involved in the segment, and he too lamented the horrible fate endured by the boys after a simple matter of gang rape of an unconscious female. Callan seemed very moved by the plight of the young men convicted of rape, wondering aloud how the pair would cope with being placed on a sex offender registry.
He said: “Sixteen-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds…what’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?”
Callan went on:
“The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law … That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see that they’re registered sex offenders. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet, where these things are posted, neighbors will know that they are registered sex offenders.”
Gawker wryly commented on Callan’s concerns over the Steubenville case:
“For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime … Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law.”
Writer Mallory Ortberg continues, pounding home what one imagines trained media analysts maybe just maybe could be expected to consider in the coverage of a rape trial such as the one in Steubenville:
“Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly. Had they not raped her, they would not be spending at least one year each in a juvenile detention facility.”
An oft-repeated refrain when rape culture comes to a head as it has in Steubenville so publicly is that so few of the boys involved realized the gravity of the crime they were committing as they committed it — which is part of the endless cycle of rape culture. As we trivialize and deny that rape is rape all the way up to the national political level, we are left with boys who don’t realize rape is rape as they’re committing it.
It would be a sadly better thing if CNN’s bizarre rape apology segment in the Steubenville segment yesterday was an outlier. Social media chatter and some blogosphere reports indicate that as the verdict is handed down, much outrage has been levied at the case’s victim by family and friends of the boys found guilty — a disturbing set of images of which you can view below:
Below, a clip of the strange CNN segment on Steubenville that shows how pervasive rape culture is in 2013, even in the mainstream. Hopefully, it will serve as a reminder how far we’ve yet to come in teaching boys not to rape.