Steubenville Scandal Shows Us Why Rape is a Fatherhood Issue

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

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Gang rape is not just a problem in India.

Last summer, in a small town in Ohio, two teenage boys allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl who was intoxicated into oblivion.

The boys, accompanied by others members of the local Big Red football team who called themselves “The Rape Crew,” carried the girl to and from a series of drunken parties occurring in different homes.  There is speculation that she was slipped a date rape drug on the way to the first party - the victim has no memory of any events that happened after getting picked up.

After the victim and her parents reported the crimes, local law enforcement appeared reluctant to charge local athletic heroes for such callous acts; nine months later, only two boys have been prosecuted. Many members of the 19,000 person small town still say publicly that the female victim was to blame.

This is an old  and very sad story.  One that has happened too many times to recount, in India, the United States and around the world. Maybe it even happened to you or me.

Two quirks make Steubenville standout.

One, the rapists and the Rape Crew tweeted and posted comments, pictures and videos  on Facebook and Instagram about the sexual assaults, as they were occurring and in the days afterwards.  You’d think this would make criminal prosecution easier, especially because not reporting a crime, or using a computer or cell phone to transmit a nude or sexual image, are crimes themselves.

Not necessarily.

Two, a group of outraged hacktivisits, calling themselves Anonymous, followed the case closely.  In December, Anonymous reposted the tweets and Facebook comments, along with a list of the boys who had allegedly committed and witnessed the rapes.

Anonymous thus used technology to clarify the victim’s innocence and the perpetrators’ guilt, making even more public the acts these boys initially made public themselves.

Welcome to Sexual Assault 2.0, a world where cell phones and computers are used to further humiliate rape victims, and where the same cell phone and computer technology can be used to turn the tables against the victimizers.

The Steubenville rape, which I recently discussed on an NPR roundtable, makes clear that, even today, many people frame violence against women as a “women’s issue.”  Really?  When the vast majority of rapists are men and over 85% of violence against women is committed by men?

I call that a men’s issue.

Almost everyone involved in the Steubenville rape case is male.  The boys who attacked the drunken girl.  The boys who posted pictures of her, passed out, being carried from party to party by two other boys.  The police officers and local sheriff.  The assistant football coach who hosted one of the drunken parties. The head football coach who refused to bench any of the football players involved.  The defendant’s criminal attorneys.  The judge hearing the case.

The one obvious female is the victim herself.

And it is worth noting that she, like 44% of rape victims, is a girl under age 18.

Like 2/3 of victims, she knew her attackers.  And, as in 97% of rape cases, the men who allegedly raped her will likely not spend one single day in jail.

But there are some powerful, important men missing from this story: the fathers of the rapists and gutless onlookers.

Every parent knows that most children are not born with an inherent sense of right and wrong. We parents painstakingly, repeatedly teach our children our values.  Has anyone ever told these Steubenville boys that rape is a crime?  Have their fathers told them never to rape a woman or a girl?  Especially if she is drunk or drugged?  That for sex to be consensual, both parties must say “yes”?  That a girl cannot say yes if she is unconscious?

Have you told your sons this?

My guess is the answer here is no, no and NO.

Everything about the Steubenville rape is chilling.  The pictures of the victim.  The heartless, thoughtless boasts by the attackers, the names they called their victim.  The fact that at one point, the drunken, disheveled 16-year-old girl was urinated on.

But most horrifying, to me, is that the boys involved didn’t and don’t seem aware that what they did was immoral, destructive, horrifying, and criminal. They seemed more outraged when Anonymous shined the spotlight on them, decrying that they were being “persecuted” by the group and the media attention.

Rape is a men’s issue. This makes it a fatherhood issue.  Did your father ever talk to you or your brothers about rape?  Does you husband talk to your son about it?  Have you ever seen men publicly condemning rape?  Ever?

If we want to stop rape, men have got to own up to sexual violence, the criminality of rape, and our rape-friendly culture.  I believe fathers have the power to stop rape.  By talking to their sons about it.  The power, and the moral responsibility.

Image credit: Flickr

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