Steubenville-rape-verdict

Yesterday, the two young men who raped a 16-year-old girl at several parties last summer were convicted of their crimes. Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond face at least one year in a juvenile detention facility, with Mays adding an extra year onto his sentence for distributing nude photos of a minor. Both will be required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives, as tends to happen when you rape somebody and are found guilty of such a crime. And honestly, while I feel they absolutely deserve to require registration, I almost feel like they don’t need to: the Steubenville rape case has garnered so much national attention, I have a feeling thousands of people absolutely have their faces memorized and branded.

“My life is over,” said Richmond, sobbing.

Yes, Richmond, your life may become incredibly difficult now, and the permissive attitudes you were shown may finally change, but I don’t feel sorry for your life sucking. Not even a little bit. Not at all. Not when, if you were just a few years older, you would be facing a punishment considerably more severe (well, hopefully, but our justice system is ridiculously lenient on rapists so who knows?). A year in juvenile detention and then being forced to register as somebody who sexually assaults people? Yeah, that hardly seems like a fitting punishment, but c’est la vie. I, and many people I know, are trying to look on the bright side: the boys weren’t forgiven for their crimes.

This ruling shows change that has been a long time coming, and has by no means totally arrived, but certainly gives hope to the masses who have spent lifetimes waiting for it.

While much of the coverage surrounding this trial has been questionable, at best (ABC News hoped to get some juicy coverage by interviewing Ma’lik for his Blind Side life story and CNN just went with the “awww poor rapist football players!” route), anybody who has half a brain and a quarter of a heart knows that the most significant person in this entire situation is the young woman who survived the rape that these two boys put her through.

Here is to whom else this matters.

Rape Victims

I do not speak for all rape victims, because we’re all different human beings with different opinions. From my perspective and the other people I’ve spoken to regarding this case who have also been sexually assaulted, this was the sort of case you don’t just cross your fingers for; it’s the kind you want to punch a wall for upon hearing any bad news or negative perspectives or further horrifying evidence.

While the sentencing was light due to the defendants’ ages, it is still significant that they were convicted nonetheless. Each time a person who has sexually assaulted somebody is declared guilty, it’s another point for the incredibly low conviction rate of rapists — and another step towards more victims feeling comfortable (or, rather, less terrified) of coming forward to report crimes that have happened to them. And anything that involves rape survivors being able to feel less threatened and terrified is a good thing, in my book.

“Imperfect” Victims

For all those who were drunk or high, or for those who suffer from mental illnesses, or for those with an active sex life — really, anybody who is not considered believable because of outdated societal standards placed on primarily women, but ones that absolutely affect male victims, as well. Each time somebody calls a victim a liar or uses the “rough sex” defense, whenever the defense team tries to discredit the victim by going through her sexual history or stating that she does drugs, it’s just another way of saying, “Live your life according to our standards, or else nobody will come running when something terrible happens.”

So when a young woman who was raped after choosing to drink, and then her rapists are punished, it sends a message: Yes, ladies, you can drink if you want to (well, once you’re 21, but the message still applies) without being responsible for whether or not somebody attempts to rape you because it is that person’s choice, not yours. In sexual violence, the victim does not give permission for the act to occur, thus making it inherently not her fault because the only person who chose for the act to happen was the rapist. It doesn’t matter if she was drunk or high or has bipolar disorder or was wearing a fishnet bodysuit; the choice was the rapist’s, not the victim’s, and responsibility falls with that person, even if they’re football stars with great academic records.

High School Students

I was fortunate enough to attend a school that didn’t really have too many biases regarding athletics or any other program. It was too small and close-knit for the entire staff to favor specific folks (though individuals certainly had students they liked better than others), so we never dealt with the type of permissive attitudes that seem to plague schools all over the country. Countless friends of mine have told me about their experiences being bullied, attempting to report the abuse and getting shut down by administration who didn’t want to bother certain “valuable” students who were seen as necessary to the school’s survival, whether it was a monetary, athletic or scholarly contribution.

By sending these young men to be punished, the judge showed the there will not be a tolerance for this behavior simply because of who a person is or what organizations he belongs to. Even more so, the amount of attention that has been called to this type of “boys will be boys” attitude via social media has led to discussions all across America about how schools should treat students, regardless of social status, thus taking another step towards safer, more aware schools.

Everyone

Rape does not affect one person at a time. It isn’t a mugging or a break-in; it’s a deeply pervasive act that ripples throughout society. First and foremost, it affects the victim. While all survivors react differently (I, for example, now have a bizarrely poor memory), many physically suffer for the rest of their lives. A huge percentage suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other psychological ailments. College students drop out of college or begin to perform poorly; high school students often give up altogether on a future; children can develop much differently, and with more difficulty, than others after being harmed in such a way.

It affects all women, young and old, who are told they need to stay inside and avoid holidays or acting “like boys” because it will lead to them being raped. We’re given rape whistles on the first day of college, while any school willing to discuss the “wasted people can’t consent, FYI” issue or do any skits depicting what to do when somebody near you is in danger. Women are told to stay home, shut up and wait until somebody gives us permission to party, because hell knows that if we choose it ourselves, we’re “just begging for trouble.”

It hurts everybody because whether or not you realize it, somebody you know has likely been sexually assaulted. It is a global problem that needs global attention, and this trial, much like the recent New Delhi gang rape case, has helped do that. The fact that thousands of people tuned into this case, protesting and advocating and yelling for justice at the top of their lungs…that is beautiful, and can help change the sexual violence conditions that surround us daily.

Me

Every time I hear from a reader or meet another person who has dealt with a sexual assault, I am typically told that her (or his) abuser was never brought to justice. In fact, a huge portion of the time, the survivor has never told anybody, and often still has to choose between seeing their assailant or leaving school, work, home, etc. And half the time, when I read the news or hear about a sexual assault trial or accusation, the one who’s accused winds up free. Then, my fists clench, my teeth grind and my eyes water.

Each time I hear a rape joke, I get sick to my stomach. Each time somebody tells myself or someone else I know to “calm down” about rape being a major issue, I get sick to my stomach. Each time I see a rapist smiling on television after hearing he has successfully avoided jail, I feel sick, sick, sick. I am aware that I need thicker skin, but for some reason (perhaps because it’s horrifying), this kind of thing never stops bothering me.

I could barely sleep last night because I knew that if these two boys were not found guilty, it would send a message to every rape victim — myself included — that this type of behavior, no matter how overwhelming the evidence to the contrary, is somehow not a serious infraction and will not carry longterm consequences. And because I was unable to go after my own in court, I think I half-selfishly wanted those responsible for this young woman’s trauma to be punished. For her, of course, but also for me as some sort of vicarious, sick sense of relief that somebody found a form of justice.

The battle isn’t over for this young woman. Given that two of her “best friends” testified against her in court and numerous media reports state she has PTSD symptoms, I have a feeling the road may be a long one. But she has had thousands and thousands of people championing for her, hoping and praying and sometimes screaming for those responsible to be declared guilty and for, one can only hope, the victim to feel helped or vindicated or something positive in this terrible ordeal. So, Girl #1, if you ever happen to read this: we’re still on your side, and we have been the whole time.

Photo: Manu_H / Flickr