Media mishandling of a rape verdict

The Steubenville, Ohio, rape case has been media catnip for months now—it has so many elements that make it compelling: cover-ups, fallen teenagers, social media misbehavior, &c. It draws people in.

There’s been less focus on the victim, which is unsurprising—it seems that a lot of network and cable journalists and talking heads are more interested in the impact of the rape on the culture of the town (which is very interesting, but secondary), and on the effect on the football team, particularly the two players accused of rape. That is less interesting, unless we talk about how the team culture enabled and protected them—made them feel that of course they could sexually assault a young woman. But that hasn’t been the narrative.

One CNN anchor today spoke about how the verdict possibly ruined the boys’ lives, and how it was sad to see so much potential be waster. She didn’t mention what it must have been like for a 16-year-old girl to wake up with no recollection of the night before, and then realized that she’d been raped.

But the fact is, the verdict and the sentence didn’t ruin the boys’ lives. First, they both had fairly lenient sentences, and are guaranteed to be out of custody before their 21st birthday. Second, if anything ruined their lives it was their own actions. They made a choice to assault the victim. Their actions before and after the assault belong to them alone, and focusing on how the verdict ruined their promising lives subverts that fact.

I have no idea about the character of the boys in question, and neither do the anchors or journalists covering the trial. What we do know—what has been proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt—is that they raped a 16-year-old girl, and spread pictures of the assault. CNN and everyone else should be more concerned about the impact the assault, threats, and trial had on the victim than on the perpetrators.

 
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