Davis Williams ’14
With the outrage following a CNN anchor’s coverage of the Stuebenville rape trial verdict, a tough conversation must be undertaken. Rape forces not only the justice system, but also our society into a strange and uncomfortable situation. For those unfamiliar with the situation, the Stuebenville rape trial is a case centered on the town of Steubenville, Ohio, where at least two star members of the town’s football team were accused of raping a sixteen-year-old girl while she was drunk at a party. Two members of the Stuebenville High School football team, Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, were found guilty yesterday on all counts currently brought against them. During CNN’s coverage of this sentencing, the coverage seemed to focus on the effects that this case would have on the convicted rapists rather than on the victim. Currently, there are multiple petitions circulating that are calling for CNN to apologize for the tone of the coverage of this trial following the guilty verdict.
What we can see from this is that we have to address the problems of the representation of rape in our culture. It is simply not correct for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to receive sympathy for their decisions. We should not allow for this type of concern for the perpetrators because it is the victim’s lives that have been harmed. While convicted rapists must deal with the consequences of their actions, we cannot pity them nor make excuses for them. The strangest part of this sort of reaction to rape is that pity is not generally seen for the perpetrators of other crimes, such as murder. We tend to put a portion of the blame for rape onto the victim, who should bear none of the blame because his or her actions did not lead to the rape.
We run into a problem, however, in the persecution of rape trials. While in the case of Mays and Richmond, a trail of social media posts and text messages provided more than enough evidence that the rape occurred, this wealth of evidence may not always occur. The problem with persecution actually comes from the side of the defense. Rape accusations are serious and should never be lied about; however, there are cases where rape is claimed after completely consensual sex. This is where ambiguity can cause problems. If circumstantial evidence cannot free the defendant of the suspicion, then the defense has to rely upon attacks on the character and credibility of the accuser. Essentially, this leads to the legal resort for rape defense to be attacking the victim, who is already undergoing the incredible trauma of the rape and trial that follows.
How can we expect ‘victim blaming’ to disappear from our general culture when it cannot be removed from our courts? I don’t have an answer for how to change this, but hopefully we can work towards removing victim blaming from our experiences with rape.