Steubenville and CNN and the Rest
Various news organizations, CNN and Fox most notably, have been catching all sorts of crap on my Twitter and Facebook feeds for being unduly handwringing about the fate of the two Ohio teenage boys who raped a drunk and unconscious girl and then found themselves found guilty (actually “delinquent,” which is the juvenile crimes version of guilty) of the rape. The boys were called good kids and excellent students who now faced very different lives because of the verdict. Not much was said about the girl who was raped, although I am led to understand Fox at least partially outed her identity. The combination of these things inspired various levels of rage among the social media set.
And, well. The social media set is right. From the CNN clips I saw, it was as if there was a “passive voice” version of events — look what’s being done to these poor boys — without a corresponding emphasis on the fact that what was being done to the boys was a direct consequence of what they did, namely, rape a drunk and unconscious young woman who could not consent to their actions. This wasn’t a Kafkaesque moment in American jurisprudence, in which these two kids were hauled up in front of a judge for something they didn’t do; they did rape someone. The best (in the sense of “least egregious”) thing you could say is that these boys didn’t understand that their actions made them rapists. But that doesn’t make them innocent of rape, and moreover if they were good kids and students, it seems doubtful they had not learned at some point that sticking your fingers into a woman while she’s too drunk to consent is a thing one should not do. Even if one wanted to argue that’s not rape (which would be incorrect by Ohio law, which is the relevant standard here), it’s still physical battery of a specially egregious sort. It’s hard to formulate a scenario in which a good kid who is a good student doesn’t know that fact.
I think it’s reasonable to be sad these two young men did not have the good sense not to do what they did. I think it’s reasonable to lament that those around these young men did not or could not make them understand that the actions they took were rape before they took those actions. I think it’s fine to note that because of their actions, these kids won’t have the future they would have had if they chosen not to take those actions. What you don’t do is imply that two young people found guilty of rape were victims of tragic circumstance. They weren’t the victims of tragic circumstance; they were the authors of it.
Outside of the news organizations in question, there have been lots of comments that want to find some way to make the girl who was raped share in the blame of her rape, the most obvious of which is the “well, what was she doing drinking so much she lost consciousness?” sort. These comments imply (and in some cases, state explicitly) that if you drink so much you can’t think straight then you kind of deserve what’s coming to you. It should be obvious why this sort of thinking is full of stupid, but as it’s apparently not, let’s go over this again:
1. One’s own poor judgment does not excuse the poor judgment of others.
2. Nothing excuses rape.
Toward the first, yes, it was not a good idea for the girl to drink so much (presuming she did, and was not roofied, or given drinks stronger than she wanted, or all sorts of other scenarios of that sort). This is separate and independent from the fact that it was not a good idea for two boys to rape someone too drunk to give consent. Attempting to link the two is an attempt to suggest causality (“Because the girl was drunk, she was raped”). The causality is easy to infer, but it’s wrong, both legally and morally. The young woman was drunk; separately and independently two young men raped a woman unable to consent to their actions. The young woman should not have been that drunk, perhaps, but her being that drunk does not mean that she invited, should have expected or should bear without complaint, being raped.
There are folks who respond to this with something along the line of “yeah, but if you taunt a bear, you shouldn’t be surprised when your arm gets torn off.” The correct response to this is that human beings aren’t bears. We expect more from human beings and have systems in place to deal with them when they choose not to act humanely to other people. Any response of “Yeah, but…” essentially reduces humans to dumb animals. It’s okay to expect more from humans than that they are dumb animals.
Toward the second, there is no social, legal or moral action in which sexual assault is a reasonable end result, period, end of sentence. Which means that everyone trying to shift blame to the girl for her rape are wrong, and also means that everyone out there going “Hurr hurr those doodz are going to get it in the ass in jail for sure” are wrong, too. The two boys who raped the girl shouldn’t themselves be raped. If you’re confused as to why this is, please refer to point one.
The two young men who raped the young woman are solely responsible for their actions, and are being punished for their actions. It’s a shame they did what they did. But they did do it. It’s a point not to be forgotten, by CNN, by the people trying to include the young woman in the blame, or by anyone else.