By Carisa Lopez
I recently read a sickening, though not terribly uncommon, news story about the cover-up of a sexual assault of an underage girl by football players at her high school in Steubenville, Ohio.
It’s a small town on the border with West Virginia, with little economic growth and a talented football team. As such, high school athletes were treated like heroes that could do no wrong, often allowed to get away with just about anything.
The incident in question (as if there should be any doubt) took place during a night of partying a couple weeks before the school year was supposed to start. The young girl, who is not named in the article, went to a number of parties that night and by 10:30 p.m. was drunk enough to start stumbling and slurring her words.
As the night continued, she began to vomit and required help walking — the girl was clearly intoxicated and even unconscious (as you can see from the photo above, taken by a bystander). She was urinated on and, at one point, was naked on the ground and one of the players, Trent Mays, exposed himself to her while another player, Ma’lik Richmond, penetrated her with his fingers. Later that night, Mays attempted to coerce the girl into giving him oral sex and proceeded to penetrate her with his fingers as well.
And here’s the kicker (if the aforementioned details weren’t enough), this was all caught on camera and posted to various social media sites. Much of what was posted is now deleted, but the evidence is still there. The next day when the girl woke up she had no idea what had happened until she read about herself it in a local newspaper.
It seems like photographic evidence would make this a clear-cut case against the football players, but unfortunately, like so many other times, the victim blaming has hit the small town in full force. While Mays and Richmond were arrested and are now on house arrest, the other players who were watching, video taping and not doing anything to stop any of it went unpunished.
The school principal and district superintendent decided to leave the punishment of the rest of the players to the football coach, Reno Saccoccia. But Saccocia has doled out absolutely not punishment. The players believe they did nothing wrong, and clearly Saccoccia agrees.
Saccoccia is obviously not playing the role of “responsible adult,” but that doesn’t mean anyone else is stepping in to fill the void. After all, punishing them might interfere with the football program. The only players punished were the ones that testified against Mays and Richmond.
Nate Hubbard, a volunteer football coach and former player even had the audacity to say:
“The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
There are other disturbing facts about the case that I’ll leave you to read, simply because there are too many to summarize. But the bottom line is that we need to stop blaming the victim and teach perpetrators that just because a victim can’t say no doesn’t give them consent to do as they please: The absence of a “yes” means it’s not consensual.
A person’s (and yes, I am using gender neutral terms because sexual assault and rape can occur by and to both men and women) previously “promiscuous” behaviors do not in any way excuse or give proof that they have consented. So what if they have a reputation for one-night stands? That doesn’t mean they consented this time. A person’s clothes have nothing to do with whether or not they consented. So just because a girl likes to wear short skirts, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you.
There have been ads attempting to combat rape, but unfortunately some still blame the victim. We don’t need ads telling girls to look out for their friends if they drink because it puts you at a higher risk of being raped — we need ads that put the responsibility on the potential rapist.
Instead of focusing on teaching potential victims how to prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted, we need to focus on educating potential rapists what it means to give consent. Some of the football players from Ohio thought that because the girl literally could not say the words “no” what they were doing was OK. But if she’s too drunk to say no, she’s also too drunk to say yes.
Unfortunately, our society has taught us to investigate the victim instead of the perpetrator. It’s time to reverse the way we think.