On Sunday, two Steubenville, Ohio high school students accused of raping a 16-year-old girl were found guilty and sentenced to juvenile detention. News of the verdict brought a fresh wave of discussion about the Steubenville case, as well as meta-conversations about how the defendants and victim were portrayed in the media and in the public sphere.
CNN’s controversial coverage of the verdict, which seemed to empathize with the young men convicted of rape, was roundly protested in the blogosphere. Among the most popular responses was Mia McKenzie’s “On Rape, Cages, and the Steubenville Verdict,” which offers a critique of both the prison system and rape culture. McKenzie argues,
What happened to this girl is horrible. Her life has been affected in serious ways by the unbelievably terrible actions of these boys. And CNN should not be talking as if her pain, her experience, and her life do not exist. It is unconscionable for them to do so and they need to be held to account for it. Elevating the experience of these boys above the experience of their victim is not okay.
But, you know what is okay? Also feeling sorry for these boys.
Not in the way that CNN did it. Not at the expense of the girl who was raped by these boys. But including these boys in our feelings of sadness is okay.
As McKenzie’s post made waves across Twitter and Facebook, Girls Like Giants’ Sarah T. and Phoebe B. sat down for a quick response.
Sarah T: Although I think McKenzie’s post makes some valuable points, I’m not so comfortable with its overall argument–or why it’s drawn so much support across social media. I’m with her on her critique of our current incarceration system. It’s corrupt and inhumane. BUT. What else are we supposed to do with rapists if not send them to prison? I feel frustrated that McKenzie argues that sending the boys to prison solves nothing but fails to offer viable alternatives. If we all agree that the girl who was raped deserves justice, and that the boys who raped her deserve to face the repercussions of their crime, then I need to know what other legal recourse we have beyond sending them to juvenile detention.
I also don’t feel sorry for Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, not even in the ways that McKenzie describes. They committed a brutal crime against an incapacitated young woman, and their remorse seems to stem from the fact that they got caught–not from what they did.
This isn’t at all a statement of support for the American prison system. But I don’t think rapists should be tried instead in civil court and faced with a large fee. I don’t think rapists should just get counseling. I think rape is a crime that should be punished. When I learned that they had been found guilty, I just thought, good. And in the absence of workable alternatives that incorporate justice and rehabilitation and deterrence and accountability, I don’t know how else I’m supposed to feel.
But what are your thoughts, Phoebe?
Phoebe B: I definitely agree with you but also think she perhaps suffers from the same frustration, which I sympathize with. Like you say, what are we do with these boys if not send them to prison? We have no clear recourse to punish and rehabilitate them, to instill in them–or even re-train them–the horror of what they did and to see and combat the problems with rape culture generally (that is, to prevent such violence from happening again). I think what I like about the Black Girl Dangerous critique though is that she suggests that the prison system is so very broken and that it most likely won’t rehabilitate them. I do find that sad and more than that I find it super sad that men and boys are trained (in our culture) to de-value women and to see women as theirs rather than as people, humans, deserving of ethical treatment. Time Wise says this better than I can in his most recent post on Steubenville: “At the heart of our national dialogue on rape — to the extent we can even be said to have one, in the true sense of what dialogue implies — stands a persistent and rather transparent contempt for women, indeed a hatred so complete as to call into question just how many of us actually accept the idea that women are full human beings at all.”
I feel devastated for the girl and feel sorry for, anger, at and horror about the boys and all those who have participated in the victim blaming and shaming on all the social media platforms available … in part, that such young kids could be horrifying is truly upsetting to me and what’s even worse (I think) is the sense that they have supporters and that other kids not only looked on but actively participated (social media wise). I guess really the whole things just makes me super sad, angry, and frustrated for the culture we live in and that trains (and even allows) people to be so cruel and terrible to another person, and that the cruelty is excused (and made light of) by figuring men as just being men, unable to help themselves. Again, Tim Wise says this best perhaps:
“The bottom line is this: women will never be safe, so long as we continue to treat them as the inevitable victims of men who not only cannot control their sexual urges and desires for domination, but who also cannot change or be changed, and so must simply be locked away and perhaps brutalized themselves. That isn’t to say that no one should ever be put away in such a fashion. I am certain there are some for whom separation from society, and for very long periods of time, may be the only way to protect the rest of us from their predatory behaviors. But I am just as sure that such a system — for it is the one we live with now, as incarceration continues to spiral out of control and as we continue to lock up more people than any nation on Earth — is not, on the whole, working. And so we have to think bigger.”
Some of the best reading on rape culture and what is going on in Steubenville:
“Rape culture is when you’re tired of hearing about “rape culture” because it makes you uncomfortable, as your attempt to silence discourse on the subject means we never raise enough awareness to combat it – and that’s part of why it sticks around.”
And for more on rape culture generally and Steubenville specifically: Yes Means Yes.