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Hump Day

Two high school students, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl in a controversial case in Steubenville, Ohio.

Despite a myriad of photos taken the night of the party on August 11 and the victim reporting she had little recollection of the entire night, much of the arguments focused on victim-blaming and whether alcohol had “substantially impaired” her ability to consent to sex. 

Although Mays himself texted “LOL, she couldn’t even move” after friends wondered how he had sex with “a dead girl,” referring to the girl’s intoxicated state, defense attorney Walter Madison claimed consent is not an affirmative “yes.” Madison told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that what happened wasn’t rape because the victim “didn’t affirmatively say no.”

In an article for The Nation, feminist writer Jessica Valenti explored the common theme of victim-blaming by our court system, writing that “until American culture and law frames sexual consent as proactively, enthusiastically given, there will be no justice for rape victims. It’s time for the US to lose the “‘no’ means no” model for understanding sexual assault and focus on “only ‘yes’ means yes” instead.” 

The Steubenville trial draws attention to the crucial need to engage men and women in conversations regarding sexual assault and how to actively ask for and give consent. Through education in school, we must address what consent is and how to recognize the circumstances in which someone is unable provide consent.

The case in Steubenville also brings forth the stark reality that the myth that “all rapists hide in dark alleys” still persists. Although the trial has generated steady media coverage since August, it became apparent during the trial that the two defendants and those involved still had little understanding of what constitutes rape.

“It wasn’t violent,” teammate Evan Westlake told Yahoo! News when asked why he didn’t stop Richmond and Mays when he witnessed the assault of the non-moving and highly intoxicated girl. “I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

“That was part of the arrogance,” Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! News writer, wrote. “Arrogance from the defendants. Arrogance from the friends. Arrogance within the culture. Arrogance based on the fact that this night, witnesses testified over and over, wasn’t strikingly different than any other night in the life of a Big Red football player.”

Rather than recognizing the events that unfolded as a violation of human rights and dignity, multiple teens at the party in Steubenville recorded the events, and later jokingly posted the videos and photos on social media. 

Recovered Video footage showed the victim naked and passed out with the onlookers laughing and saying “she’s dead” and “I’m going to join the rape crew.” Moments prior to the alleged sexual assaults taking place, she laid out in the middle of a street puking in only shorts and a bra as a group of boys offered each other $3 to urinate on her. 

The inaction of the onlookers and the rape jokes show a tragic way in which rape culture is perpetrated in our society — instead of standing up for what we know is right, we may feel more compelled to join in with the crowd. 

In her book, “Trauma and Recovery,” Judith Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil.”

It is crucial that we empower each other and our communities to take active roles in stopping rape and sexual violence when we see it occurring. Until we realize and take collective responsibility that Steubenville is not an isolated incident — that this could have been practically any town or college campus in America — we will not see change.  

Published on March 20, 2013 as "Steunbenville rape case begs consent discussion". 

The fatal and tragic gang rape in New Delhi continues to draw worldwide awareness to the role governments, communities and individuals must play to end sexual violence. Whether an unwelcome sexual gesture, a sexual encounter fueled by alcohol or rape, the issue of sexual violence can no longer be witnessed with indifference and flippancy. 

“We have to change ourselves. If there are no changes, then these horrible things won’t stop. The public has to wake up now,” the father of the victim in New Delhi told ITV, a British television network.

As the story in India continues to garner international attention and protesters call on the Indian government to take active responsibility to prevent sexual violence, we too should look at our own schools, neighborhoods and communities and how we handle similar issues. 

Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, compared the tragic rape in India to events across the world — such as the football players in Steubenville, Ohio, who were recently accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious girl — saying “gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses.”

When it comes to sexual assault, one cannot view the tragedy unfolding in India as a geographically isolated occurrence. Gender-based violence and sexual assault occur in our own neighborhood: allegations were brought against two UT football players just before the Valero Alamo Bowl in late December. Although The Daily Texan reported Monday that a statement made by Jordan Hicks’ attorney claimed the investigation had closed and that no charges would be filed, the story highlights that the issue of sexual violence is not just India’s – it’s ours too.

In October 2012, UT researchers Carin Perilloux, Judith Easton and David Buss released findings from a study titled “The Misperception of Sexual Interest” on the negative consequences of rape and attempted sexual assault in 13 domains of psychological and social functioning. Perilloux stated in a press release that the “findings document that victims of sexual assault, and even victims of attempted sexual assault, suffer psychological and social costs more far ranging than previously suspected.”

Because college campuses are often places where inhibitions disappear and decisions are rendered blurry by alcohol, it is important to discuss rape prevention on a campus-wide level.

On the UT campus, the group Voices Against Violence empowers students to negotiate sex and consent, and to navigate the world of boundaries and safety. Groups like this help shape the narrative around the issue of rape to recognize that we all play a role through our conversations and actions in preventing the occurrence of sexual violence.

Part of the solution is to enable males to become active agents in creating a culture free from sexual violence. Organizations such as Men Can Stop Rape are at the forefront of this movement. Through college programs and awareness campaigns, Men Can Stop Rape calls on men to “redefine masculinity and male strength as part of preventing men’s violence against women.”

Only through our collective efforts can we foster a world in which the bystanders in Steubenville would not have idly witnessed the assaults occur and a world where even one of the perpetrators in the gang rape in New Delhi would have stopped to consider the cruelty and tragic lack of respect for human rights unfolding in front of his eyes. 

Published on January 16, 2013 as "Indian rape case opens eyes to sexual violence".