This week, two high school football players were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party last summer in Ohio. The disgusting display of bravado and ignorance in the convicted and their friends and teammates, as well as the media coverage of the trial and verdict, proves that rape culture is alive and well, and America has some shaping up to do when it comes to sexual assault prevention.
One of the scariest parts about the hearings in this case is the string of testimonials from the friends and teammates of Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, the two boys on trial.
One kid, Evan Westlake, an eyewitness to the crime, walked into the room to see the victim naked on the floor, while the two were violating her. He used the following as an excuse for not stopping it from happening: “It wasn’t violent … I always pictured [rape] as forcing yourself on someone.”
It is appalling that a 16-year-old could be so ignorant and immature, but, unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon perspective. This is not an isolated incident. In the face of the overwhelmingly undeniable truth that the situation was rape, what does this say about the pattern of masculine entitlement and victim blaming that has become so prevalent in our culture?
The story initially came to light because the two, and their “rape crew,” as they’re being called now, had taken a video of the girl being sexually assaulted in a car and proudly shared it with their friends. The girl had no recollection of the incident — she was drunk and had been drugged by the athletes, so was unconscious throughout most of it. Text messages after the fact were what ultimately led to their conviction.
And the argument cannot and should not be made that because she was drunk she was asking for it, that the boys were drunk and couldn’t control themselves or that she didn’t really say no. You know, because she probably couldn’t speak. Given the choice between helping her and making sure she was safe, and taking advantage of the extremely intoxicated state she was in, the two (and probably others) consciously chose the latter. They consciously chose to share the video and laugh at the situation without a second thought.
They should not be defended or excused, and that’s exactly what many news organizations are doing. CNN and others have lamented their lost potential, focusing on what great athletes and students they were, and how their lives are now ruined. Note the passive voice: it’s not “They ruined their lives.” It’s as though the media believe the trial and conviction ruined them, not their own behavior. The victim has largely been ignored, or has been cast as the drunk whore who put herself in that position.
If a woman accuses a man of raping her, the presence of alcohol isn’t a valid defense of a man’s behavior or condemnation of a woman’s (or man’s — men get raped too). Our society has to stop blaming the victim and start forcing rapists to take responsibility for their actions without any qualifications or excuses. Garnering sympathy for them only perpetuates the notion that male dominance and violence is acceptable.
The incredible double standard of sexual behavior between men and women is abhorrent. A woman should be able to be out at night, wearing whatever she wants, without ever fearing assault.
This situation should be taken as an opportunity to reopen a discussion about sexual assault legislation and the way our culture views rape. Rape is not just about force or violence. Rape is about lack of consent and lack of respect. If high school students are this misinformed and desensitized, it is the fault of society as much as it is the fault of those who commit sexual assault crimes.
At the end of the day, while the two have apologized and are likely upset about the respective year and two years they’ll be spending in jail and their new sex offender statuses, they probably don’t believe they’re rapists. Rape is not equivocal, and young members of American society can’t continue believing that it is.