In towns like Steubenville, Ohio pride in the hometown football team has become an outlet for economic frustrations that come with a fleeing industrial sector and stagnant economy. But what happens when an economically depressed community creates heroes out of teenage boy athletes and endows them with the belief that they are the saviors of the town?
Those boys learn to believe they can rape without consequence.
As the New York Times reports, an evening that was supposed to celebrate summer and usher in a new school year took a dark turn as two members of the football team raped a young woman while she was blacked out from drinking too much alcohol. Her assault, along with the rapists commentary, was documented by the boys on their camera phones and quickly shared online. As reported by the Times:
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.
The New York Times reports the case is “tearing the community apart,” and given the accounts of the evening it is easy to see why. The problem is, the case has divided the community for all the wrong reasons. As has become all too common, rather than express outrage at the way two young men took unconscionable advantage of a young girl, the town quickly came to the boys’ defense, blaming the girl for her own attack in a way that has managed to combine the worst elements of slut-shaming and misdirected economic rage.
The case still must head to trial, but it appears that the same social media that spread reports of the initial crime and has contributed to the victim-blaming in this case may ultimately be what helps bring justice and take a whack at the pernicious misogyny informing the culture as well as the crime. Alexandria Goddard, a local blogger, covered the story as it unfolded and refused to let the crime go unanswered. And while it’s impossible to say whether Goddard’s coverage resulted in two players being charged in the case (a rarity in these kinds of stories), Goddard is also facing a lawsuit by a Steubenville player and his parents for defamation. So it sounds like she hit a nerve.
High school football programs in communities like Steubenville are in many ways the conduit for patriarchy to pass from generation to generation. They depend on notions of masculinity that have become inextricably fused with sexuality and violence. Those beliefs inevitably get acted out in gruesome fashion on young women’s bodies. Hopefully, thanks in no small part to gutsy work by Goddard, this tradition can get relegated to the dustbin as well.
Photo from Ed Yourdon via flickr.