Why Steubenville, OH Was a Big Deal

Back in March, two young men from the small town of Steubenville, OH were officially convicted of raping a 16-year-old classmate and were sentenced to one year in a juvenile detention center. An article from Yahoo news featured a photograph of one of the players hugging his mother after the verdict (cue the pathos, but not for the victim):

“The judge sentenced them both to at least one year in juvenile jail and said both can be held until they’re 21. Mays, who’s 17, was sentenced to an additional year in jail on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, to be served after his rape sentence is completed.”

Read more about what happened in The New York Times.

According to a post on the Feminist Majority Foundation website, the presiding Judge Lipps described the evidence as “profane and ugly” and a cautionary tale of teenagers with alcohol and “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today,” effectively reducing the violation and dehumanization of a young woman’s body (the video shows the young men urinating on her as well as dragging her around and penetrating her unconscious body) becomes little more than a cautionary tale for teens not to drink while underage and be smarter about how they use social media.

In the meantime, the young woman who charged her two attackers has received enough anonymous death threats to warrant posting two police officers at her house for her protection. Both the incident and the verdict resulted in nationwide activism on behalf of the victim, though the media tended to side with the rapists in the case. Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry was a prominent exceptionin her television address to the young woman from Steubenville, “Dear Steubenville Survivor, I Believe You” (the survivor’s name has been kept private).


What’s notable about this case is that Steubenville is a town that prides itself on its high school football team, and both of the men convicted in this case were “star” football players on the team. Perhaps the most damaging message we get from this is that sports and male bonding among athletes are more important than the bodily integrity of a young woman, their peer. The victim was publicly accused of trying to ruin the reputation of the team  and thereby destroy the morale of the town – out of jealousy, perhaps? It’s not made clear what her motivations might be for doing so. But the implication is – and this is another “rape myth” that supports victim-blaming – that this was revenge for a “regretted sexual experience.”

rape culture media

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