That place meant much to few and little to many before a rape scandal, involving football players from Steubenville High School, rocked the small town, and ignited debates about sports entitlement, free speech, and rape prosecution.
During a series of parties after a high school football scrimmage, a teenage girl from West Virginia was “allegedly” raped by multiple members of the Steubenville High School football team. The victim was carried from party to party, unconscious throughout most of the events. Numbers of teens witnessed the crime(s), and none of them stopped it by calling authorities.
The victim was unaware of many of the events until she started seeing and hearing about the attacks via social media, such as Twitter and text messages. Most of the Tweets, videos, and messages about the incident were deleted when the event became more heavily investigated.
Why is a rape case from August still relevant news?
The police force was accused of being lax with the evidence, including the treatment of on-the-scene witnesses who decided to speak against the main defendants in the case. Some feared the victim would receive little to no justice, but a blogger and a group of activist hackers started following the case, demanding the removal of preferential treatment for the football players and exposing personal connections to the accused and some public officials.
Now, typical to the cyclical nature of the American news cycle, people will get outraged briefly, question how something like this could happen, and continue about their day-to-day lives.
I’m tired of American news consumers treating every news event as something happening in some mysterious “other” place to some mysterious “other” person. When we fail to acknowledge the misogynistic culture that allows underage athletes to feel as if they can gang rape a teenage girl because their trophies will get them out of it, we fail every person who will ever fall victim to such a horrific crime as rape.
Steubenville is every other town or city in America. Shadows of the horrific effects of such sexist culture linger in the hallways of high schools and colleges across the country.
My hometown of Ravenna, Ohio was no different.
When I was a senior in high school, I learned what it meant to be a woman in a country that often values the skills of male athletes more than the safety of everyone around them.
I had a friend who babysat for one of the coaches there. This coach was married with children. Many valued his status in the Ravenna schools programs because he was involved in so many sports.
The first red flag I had about this coach was when he told this friend her “boobs were nice and he could put his face in them.” I couldn’t believe my ears when she told me this, and I told her it was inappropriate for him to say such things for any reason.
The friend reconsidered babysitting for him but continued to help him, believing his comments were a slip-up. Then, the coach left her a disturbing voicemail, inviting her to a Cleveland Cavaliers game, just the two of them, because he had been thinking about her.
Immediately, I begged my friend to go to a counselor or principal about the situation, but she instead stopped babysitting for him and wanted to let the incident disappear with time. I asked my friend to reconsider and while she was present, I told a female teacher about what happened.
The teacher discussed the situation with other faculty, and before I knew it, I landed in talks with the principal about my allegations about the coach.
Except, there was no investigation. And there was no dismissal or suspension of this coach.
The principal discussed the incident with the coach before he talked to me and concluded my entire accusation was a conspiracy. According to the principal, the coach claimed to be close friends with my mother and knew about a large number of parties I was attending. In the coach’s opinion, I created this entire story about his inappropriate behavior to stop my mom from hearing about these parties I was attending.
I was shocked. There was a voicemail proving my story was true. There was not truth to this coach having anything close to a friendship with my mom, which could have easily been proven by a phone call. I attended very few parties in my high school career. I was too busy being one of the school’s valedictorians, captain of two sports teams, and maintaining leadership roles in honor societies and volunteer groups.
And none of that mattered.
The principal wrote me off as a newspaper editor looking for scandal, and the coach continued to coach. There were more rumors about him and other girls, and based on the lack of punishment he received when he was caught harassing an underaged student, I’m sure those rumors had validity.
I’ve never told that story publicly until this blog post. Even though I was trying to help my friend, a victim, I was made to feel ashamed and embarassed because the adults who were supposed to protect me were slave to a bigger master than the truth. That principal chose to protect a mediocre sports coach and a mediocre school’s reputation instead of protecting the past, current, and future students at that school.
That is the definition of rape culture.
It is a school, a city, a country, or world where victimization breeds fear and secrecy and rapists and harassers receive confirmation of their normalcy.
Today, I am breaking my silence. I refuse to be quiet about that school year that taught me to dismiss my concerns when I perceive sexual harassment or violence. I’m taking back my power.
The best opponent to rape culture is the refusal to accept it. I will not be intimidated. And for those who ever doubt telling their stories, I hope you read this, and feel as if you don’t need to be again.
The New York Times: Is New Delhi So Different From Steubenville?
The New York Times: Rape Case Unfolds Online and Divides Steubenville
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