Recently, photographs and a video of suspects in a Stuebenville, Ohio rape case went viral after being leaked onto the Internet by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Being that I live not too far from the town where the alleged rape occurred, I’ve been hearing a good bit about it lately. People are rightfully outraged by the case, and suspicious of how it is being handled as the two suspects are members of the Big Red football team with a lot of community ties, including some in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, apparently. Just so you know, rural Ohio’s devotion to high school football isn’t too far behind Texas. That explains in large part why the photos and video were leaked. Now, the Attorney General is looking into the case, so here is hoping that state intervention will lead to an unbiased investigation (if there can ever be said to be an unbiased investigation in a rape case).
But that is not what this post is about. The case will go one way or another. If things are done how they ought to be done and there is enough evidence against them, the suspects will be convicted. If there is not enough evidence, they won’t be. Right now they are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, even if they are guilty as sin in the court of public opinion.
Let’s say though for the sake of argument that these two suspects are indicted and convicted on the charges, and put in jail for however many years. Justice will have been served by the court. But that doesn’t change the fact that their victim has been victimized again by the police, courts, and public. Any time a rape case is reported, people immediately blame the victim. They ask questions like: “What was she wearing?”, “Was she drinking?”, “Was she somewhere she shouldn’t have been?”. Her sexual history is also called into question, even though it is not legal to do so. Rather than being treated like a victim of a violent, unspeakable crime, rape victims are treated with more suspicion than the perpetrator. In this particular case, the girl in question has gotten death threats from the community at large. It seems some are upset that she might have ruined Big Red’s chances at going state because she had the audacity to report her violent sexual assault.
In the vigilante fervor that often accompanies these cases, I’ve seen people say we should simply kill rapists. Fine. Let’s say the rapists are executed, if they are convicted. That does not change the fact that about one in three (if not more) women in America will be raped in their lifetimes, more often than not by someone they know. It does not change the fact that many men will be raped as well, often by other men but sometimes by women. Killing a rapist, or castrating a rapist, or raping a rapist does not change the fact that men who report being raped are often laughed at by responding police. It does not undue the trauma victims endure by being victimized again by a system and a society that fails them.
Killing or jailing an individual rapist will stop his crimes, but it does not stop the circumstances that produced him. As I type this I can already hear objections, saying that criminals are responsible for their actions and should be punished. I do not recall saying that they weren’t or shouldn’t be. Individuals are responsible for their own actions. That is why blaming the victim is so despicable–it is shifting the responsibility for the crime away from the perpetrator and onto their victim.
However, that does not mean that there are not causes and conditions in the broader society that influence the individual. Individuals influence society, and society influences individuals. We all live in our societal context, and our society and our relation to it in part makes us who we are. When a problem is as massive in scale as rape is in the United States (and around the world, as the recent gang rape in India showed), it is a problem for all of us.
As individuals, as communities, and as a society we must all come together as one and try to ferret out the causes behind this epidemic. We must have the courage to speak out against so grave an injustice that destroys so many homes and families, and the societal norms that allow and encourage it. And we must have the conviction to make changes, both as a whole and as individuals, that will bring safety to our homes and communities.