Steubenville: Shame on the Media.

Twitter was uncomfortably bursting at the seams this morning with people tweeting about the way the media has decided to handle the Steubenville trial; two teenage year old boys pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenage girl. The clincher is, both boys were promising football players and, according to CNN, “good students”. CNN reporters seem to feel that both of these facts negate the boys’ behaviour; without mentioning the survivor of these acts of assault, the reports on the news only mention how sorry the perpetrators were in court, and how their gold-paved futures are now a moot point because the label of ‘rapist’ will follow them around.

The question then, is this: is this how far we’ve come?

All I hear is that the media and public forums are doing everything they can to eliminate the blame-the-victim regime. But that regime still rules. At least within North America. After all, there’s a big difference between the presentation of this story and the presentation of the story of the boys in Steubenville. Because what happens in India is a far cry from what happens in a middle-American small town. Right?

The fact of the matter is, because we can put a face to the names of these boys – because they’re teenagers and students and importantly, athletes – suddenly, they become sympathetic characters in this tale of assault. The assaulted? She remains ambiguous. She remains a faceless bystander and her story is never told. We know what happened to her. We know she was intoxicated. We know she was with the boys the night of the assault. Aside from that, we know nothing about her socio-economic background, her grades, her ambitions, her insecurities, or the promising future she might had. Why? Because she’s not an athlete maybe, or a superstar. Maybe she wasn’t the brightest student. So therefore, she’s not important.
People can be successful after they’ve been assaulted. Sometimes even more so. Don’t think that just because someone is a ‘victim’ they will allow themselves to be treated like a ‘victim’. Don’t feel sorry for this girl just because of something two selfish, egotistical stupid teenage athletes did to her. She’ll make it. Maybe she’ll even be stronger than before. Maybe she’ll make an example of her story and go on to be an advocate, a voice for other ‘victims’ as many survivors of sexual assault often do. Maybe she’ll become motivated to change the world. Maybe other people will see the example that’s been made of her and go onto change the world themselves. People are stronger than you think.

But that’s not the point, is it?

All over the world – every single day – various acts of sexual violence occur – in small upper-middle class neighbourhoods, even. And not always to people who are low on the totem pole, who are stupid or poor or who grew up in single-parent households. Anyone can fall into a bad situation that can take a toll on the rest of their lives. And they spend the rest of their lives wondering how they can recoup the second half of themselves, because they walk through life feeling like half a human being. And sometimes these people end up in this place because they’re ordinary; because they’re low-profile; because they’re not after anything, and they’re low-risk. And oftentimes, they get taken for a ride by high-profile people; athletes. Church leaders. Esteemed community members. Celebrities. Because these people are historically glorified by the media. They are the people who ‘get away with it’.
Recently, I read a story about Jimmy Savile, a popular British children’s entertainer who was frankly, quite open about the fact that he was sexually abusing children. He even wrote such facts in his autobiography. The BBC knew; the police knew; everyone knew. And nobody said a damn thing. And now Savile is dead, and allegations are outpouring and the man will never be punished. He took these atrocities to his grave.

While Savile – while these two teenagers in Steubenville – while Jerry Sandusky and Michael Jackson and Graham James– are to blame for carrying out their horrendous, selfish disgusting acts because they felt invincible, because they seized the right moment(s) to act selfishly and take what they felt was theirs to take – it is the organizations surrounding them – CNN, the BBC, Pennsylvania State, the Western Hockey League – who let them, at least for years, get away with what they did.

Why would a ‘victim’ come forward when they know they’re battling the world, after they’ve already battled so much pain, heartache, fear and oppression? Most of them choose to remain silent and let their anger fester like sores and not talk about what happened to them and not say a damn word, because they’re afraid of what hurtful things will be said about them and what people will think about them. So they sit wallowing in their own shame for years. And that’s not their fault. It’s the fault of agencies who still continue to attach shame – burning, uncalled-for shame – to sexual assault.

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