As a former high-school student of a small Ohio town, I know the draw of football games on Friday nights and the feeling of complete dedication to my team, my school and my town. Yet, as a former high-school student of a small Ohio town who did not play football, I also know of the treatment these athletes received. Everything seemed to work out for those students in the classroom due to their involvement in the school’s best-earning program. Luckily, in my town this hero worship never resulted in the turning of a blind eye to major crimes. Unfortunately, this is not the universal case. Drive two and a half hours southeast of my hometown and you will reach Steubenville, Ohio.
Steubenville — a small, football-crazed, Rust Belt town — recently held trial for two high-school football players, ages 16 and 17, who both raped a drunken 16-year-old girl at an end-of-the-summer party in 2012. The facts of the case are disturbing to say the least. The girl, while blacked out, was stripped of her clothing, fingered by both boys (which is defined as rape by Ohio law) and urinated on. This nightmare continued the next morning when she woke up naked and without any idea where she was. The victim found a picture of herself on Instagram that showed her being held at the hands and feet by the boys while passed out. Next was a 12-minute video of the boys joking about the sexual assault and her “dead” appearance. When questioned her about the night before, she responded saying that she “wasn’t being a slut” but that instead “they were taking advantage” of her. The two boys — each standout players on their football team — both plead guilty to the charges and now face juvenile detention and registration as sex offenders.
Even with the verdict, this story doesn’t end. Though the town allegedly attempted to cover up the assault, the case still gained nationwide coverage. As sickening as rape itself may seem, the media’s response may actually be more disturbing. When the media broke the news of the guilty verdict, CNN’s Candy Crowley mourned on television about the “promising” career and lives of the perpetrators. Her colleague, reporter Poppy Harlow, sympathized with the crying boys at their sentencing. USA Today’s report repeats that the victim was drunk. NBC News laments the boy’s “promising football careers.” Fox News reportedly names the survivor but not the rapists. The survivor has received numerous death threats including some from fellow teenage girls.
Wait a minute — am I the only person sitting here completely disgusted while reading the coverage because I remembered that this girl was raped? Does it need to be reiterated that she was taken advantage of, against her will, for two boys’ entertainment? Is it fair to say that the only people who ruined these boys’ so-called promising careers were themselves when they decided to commit rape? Doesn’t “no” still mean “no” while unconscious? When I think about Steubenville, the small, football-crazed town, I can’t help but equate it to the University of Michigan, where football is king and where we have experienced our own cover-ups, such as the 2009 rape of a girl at an off-campus party by a promising player of our football team that seemingly evaporated as soon as the police reports were filed.
That concerns me.
Regardless of how open-minded Ann Arbor may seem, rape culture is evident here just like anywhere else. I’m beginning to believe that education is irrelevant to the cause — how do you teach compassion? How do you take back decades of blaming the victim for something they in no way caused? How do you give survivors of rape and sexual assault closure from the guilt society has placed on them?
I don’t know those answers and I’m starting to be unsure that anyone does — and that scares me.
Olivia Kuenzi is an Engineering freshman.