The Steubenville Rape Case and The “Not-Rape Epidemic”

The Steubenville rape case is a trial covering a rape that occurred back in August 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio. The victim was a 16 year-old girl and the convicted perpetrators are two 16-year-old boys, although there were reportedly many others involved in witnessing and documenting the explicit happenings of that night.
I don’t want to cover too much of the case’s background, but I will provide some further reading at the end of this post for any of you who may not be familiar with the case.
The accused (and now convicted) are two male high school football players, both aged 16 at the time of the incident. One is black and the other is white. Both seem to come from middle-class families, although a statement made by one boy’s father about “not being around” when he was young may suggest a working class upbringing. It seems that they are both heterosexual, and there is nothing to suggest that they are not able-bodied, though it is not known if either of them suffer from an invisible disability.
The convicted: Trent Mays & Ma’lik Richmond, Steubenville High School students
Although numerous factors contribute to the massive controversy around this case, one of the main fuelling points is the position of the boys within their school community, specifically in regards to their age and social status (or ‘popularity’).
Being just 16 years old when the crime occurred is a soft spot for many who have been following the trial. Some argue that the boys were just being young and stupid, and that they shouldn’t be severely punished for what happened one drunken night. Others sympathize with them for having to spend time (regardless of how short it may be) behind bars due to a ‘mistake’; something that all kids do while they are growing up.
Additionally, the two boys seemed to be well-liked and fairly popular within their high school. There is even a large community in denial of the boys being able to commit such a horrendous act because they had many friends and were generally well-behaved.
By examining the boys’ standing in both society and their town, I couldn’t help but attribute the shocking amount of support they receive mainly to these two factors. What would have happened if they were older? If these boys were actually 30 year-old men rather than ‘harmless’ teens, would the verdict have happened a lot more quickly? Or if they were not highly popular and on a successful football team, would they still have the same following of supporters?
I also started thinking about how this story would have been covered if other aspects of the boys’ positionality were different. For example, would anything have been changed if both of the attackers were black, completely eliminating the concept of white privilege? Or what if one of the boys were disabled, by either a visible or invisible disability? Would this provoke even more sympathy by the public? Finally, visualizing the entire situation with the victim as male and the two aggressors as women could be a complete paradigm shifter. The case would likely be seen as laughable, and probably would not receive the media attention that this case got.
In looking through one of our custom textbooks (Pearson 1), I came across an article titled The Not-Rape Epidemic in which blogger Latoya Peterson introduces a concept that she calls “not-rape”. She discusses it as the objectification and exploitation experienced largely by women that may not be distinctly identifiable by one significant act. It includes the seemingly small things we may come across every day that we tend to learn to write-off. She goes on to give examples, such as being pressured into losing your virginity (even with consent), being objectified by a group of boys at school/work everyday, or even something more obvious like being asked for sexual favours by your mother’s boyfriend.
The Steubenville case is just one atrocious act of blatant rape that attracted a mass of media attention, but what about the prevalence of “not-rape” in society today? In my opinion, addressing the widespread nature of this issue and highlighting examples of everyday real-life cases could help people recognize how common rape culture is, and may aid in eliminating the occurrence of “actual” rape in society.
Do you think it is important to educate the public on this theory of the “not-rape epidemic”? And do you think that raising awareness to this issue will diminish the occurrence of sexual assault?
Steubenville rape Wikipedia page:
CNN coverage on the story and outcome:
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3 Responses to The Steubenville Rape Case and The “Not-Rape Epidemic”

  1. snicklefritz66 says:

    This post was very well written chairmanmeow!!

    I do think that this case would have been handled and resolved COMPLETELY differently had the two boys been older, or had white privilege not played a role in the case. Hypothetically speaking, if both of the boys had been black, it is likely the headlines for this story would have read ‘black boy rapists’, or something along those lines, making sure to have ‘black’ as part of the headline. However, with boys from two different races, having a headline of ‘multi-racial rape case’ does not flow quite as well.

    I think that the boys have the social standing that they did amongst their peers and community definitely prolonged the verdict of the case, as well as played a significant role in determining the length of their sentence. The boys social standing and previous clean records have effected the sentencing of this case, as well has skewed the severity of such an event.

    A girl being raped is a VERY serious matter, regardless of the boys ages. Due to the exceptional treatment these boys have been being given due to their status and ages has downplayed the severity of this event which in turn downplays the severity of ANY rape case that is seen in the media, showing that there are ‘exceptions’ to rape and not all perpetrators should be completely held to blame. Ie. Maybe a boy was too young to realize that he was making the wrong decision to carry through with the rape.

    This is unbelievable to me, as any rape, regardless of the age of the criminal is STILL RAPE!!!! I think it is very important to educate individuals of all ages on this theory of “not-rape epidemic”. I think that with a substantial amount of raised awareness, sexual assault cases may slowly begin to diminish. However, regardless of the diminishing occurrence, with raised awareness about this, rape criminals will no longer be treated differently due to ‘age’ or ‘social standing’, which I think will enforce the true severity of rape issues and events through the media.

  2. pinkpanther2287 says:

    I’m glad you mentioned that point about “not-rape.” If not more important than rape itself, I believe it is equally important to raise awareness and educate society about “not-rape.”

    I perceive “not-rape” to be an abuse of unequal power relations. Those in positions of power take sexual advantage of those who are “inferior.” Often, it can be difficult to determine if the line has been crossed. Moreover, there is pressure to oblige to the requests based on the nature of the power dynamics.

    Regardless of whether one’s power is realized, there are some groups that hold invisible privileges in society. White, heterosexual, senior men is one example of a group that hold invisible privileges. This is not to say that all who fall into this category abuse this privilege, or that power cannot be abused by other groups. Consequently, this is what makes “not-rape” difficult to recognize. Similar to the Steubenville rape case, social and cultural dynamics might also influence the way issues of “not-rape” are evaluated and penalized (both by parties involved and the media). In an exaggerated hypothetical situation, a black woman who is sexualized at work by the white men in the office, might not recognize the “not-rape” situation at hand. As a result, she might not report sexual abuse. The behaviour is “normalized” and a precedent is set on how women are treated and perceived. This is dangerous, especially when women (or other marginalized groups) begin to accept this behaviour as well.

    • chairmanmeeeow says:

      I like how you looked at the not-rape epidemic as an issue pertaining to unequal power. I didn’t realize it before, but many of the examples I posted from Peterson’s reading involved the perpetrator in a position of authority or holding ‘higher power’ over the victim. Good insight.

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