At a party last August in Steubenville, Ohio, two football players, Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, raped a 16-year-old girl, while bystanders watched. They texted photos and descriptions of the act to their friends. The two boys have now been found guilty of rape in juvenile court and have been sentenced to at least one year in juvenile detention.
Sexual assault is a horrible crime, but the bragging and gloating about it is disgusting. What’s worse was some of the media’s reaction, most notably a CNN reporter expressing heartfelt sympathy for the two boys’ guilty verdict and a complete lack of recognition of the victim’s suffering. CNN reported that two lives had been destroyed with the verdict — is the life of the female victim of no importance?
Candy Crowley, Paul Cannon and Poppy Harlow are high-profile reporters who were essentially blaming the victim of the rape, instead of placing responsibility for it on the perpetrators’ shoulders. We should never side with convicted rapists. This crime in Steubenville, which is not the only one of its kind, shows that we still live in a culture where sexual violence is prevalent and normalized.
After the verdict came in, two girls age 15 and 16 sent tweets to the victim threatening “homicide” because “you ripped my family apart, and you made my cousin cry.” The other said that she would “beat the shit out of” the victim. Both of these teens were arrested but have been released and ordered not to use social media. Their messages show that victim blaming and woman-to-woman aggression are still too common.
Feminism means many things to many people, but lately the movement has gained a certain uplifting momentum. Feminism can counter the victim-blaming and dehumanizing of women as seen in the Steubenville case. One of the ways feminism is getting rebranded is through Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, launching her “lean in” movement to encourage women to stop holding themselves back in the workforce.
Yet, we need to bring feminism and women’s rights issues closer to home. For these and many other reasons, the University of Calgary Women’s Resource Centre has started a U of C “Who needs feminism?” campaign. Responses include “We need feminism because people still ask what the victim was wearing” and “We need feminism because I don’t want my daughters to unlearn years of hating themselves, doubting themselves or letting others abuse them because they are girls.”
University campuses are high-risk areas for sexual assault. Yet, Amar Deshwar was elected as a Students’ Union science representative with the sexist slogan “She wants the D.” This slogan shows that rape culture is still proliferated here on campus. “She wants the D” is a play on “she wants the dick,” but replaces dick with Deshwar. However, the implications of this phrase carries the same connotation and is inherently misogynistic by implying women are asking for it.
There was a campaign to have Deshwar take down or change his offensive posters, yet he seemed ignorant that he was normalizing a harmful, victim-blaming message.
The creation of the U of C Confessions page on Facebook shows a culture of disrespect, and that the empty morality of the Steubenville case is a lot closer to home than we think. Confessions cover various topics, but male versus female arguing, such as commenting that women or men at the U of C don’t dress nice enough, or that they “rape” the opposite sex with their eyes, seems the most common.
Everyone should take responsibility for their own actions and consider how their actions affect others. We need to examine our culture at the U of C and take proactive measures to examine it, challenge it and redefine it in a way that allows everyone to be safe, healthy and productive.