Hey CNN and Steubenville: Rape Is Defined By The Law, Not The Media.
This weekend, two high school football players from Steubenville, OH were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl while she was passed out at a party. The details are grim. The victim was unconscious and covered in her own vomit when Ma'lik Richmond (16) and Trent Mays (17) started carrying her around like luggage, violated her in the back of a car with their fingers and then dragged her down to the basement of a friend’s home, stripping her bare, and doing it again. Meanwhile at least three other high schoolers were so busy snapping photos, taking video, and laughing at rape jokes, no one tried to stop them.
Typically, rape allegations can be difficult to prove because of how they tend to devolve into "he said/she said" arguments. However, in the Steubenville case, everything was well documented long before the courtroom. Here, it was social media and the defendants own texts, photos and videos published online that led to a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The damming documentation began with the now infamous Instagram photo of Richmond and Mays carrying the unconscious victim by her arms and legs, and culminated with a horrifying 12 minute long video where a drunk high schooler goes on an offensive tirade “She is so raped,” and continues on with lines like, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!” and “they raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team!” Even as other voices captured in the video interject, saying, “That’s not cool, bro … That’s like rape. It is rape. They raped her.” Other teens in the video laugh along. Jezebel noted that the boy featured in the video tweeted “some people deserve to be peed on” the night of the rape.
In the days to follow the rape, those involved would send thousands of texts, attempt to cover their tracks, only to find that no memory–whether human or machine–can ever be completely wiped.
This is far from over. Within one hour of the boys’ conviction, the Ohio Attorney General announced plans to convene a Grand Jury to investigate whether anyone else should face charges. Already, State investigators have interviewed 56 people, including 27 Steubenville football coaches. Sixteen of those interviewed have refused to cooperate. Immunities have been handed out to those who had agreed to testify against the two rapists. Text messages introduced at the trial suggested that the Head Football Coach was aware of the rape allegations early on. State law in Ohio requires athletic coaches to report suspected child abuse. This case has far-reaching implications, and we haven’t heard “Steubenville” for even close to the last time. The comparisons to Penn State are inevitable because people were so reluctant to come forward in the beginning, the hacker group Anonymous got involved and posted the vile 12 minute video to motivate the prosecution to do their job. In Penn State there were only a few emails, in Steubenville there were thousands of damning texts.
These boys are getting exactly what they deserve. But somehow, shockingly CNN’s coverage quickly lost focus on a victim whose life has been irrevocably altered, and instead mourned the “lost futures” of the rapists themselves. CNN made them martyrs to the athlete-turned-rapist cause, and sent their sympathies to the futures of rapists that now might never be.
This is how Correspondent Poppy Harlow described the verdict to Anchor Candy Crowley:
"...incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart...when the sentence came down, Ma'lik collapsed in the arms of his attorney....He said to him, "My life is over. No one is going to want me now."
She goes on say "alcohol a huge part in this" as if to explain away personal responsibility in the choices we make. Then CNN played footage of the player's tearful courtroom apologies, and Poppy finished off the Lifetime moment with the revelation that Ma'lik's deadbeat father told his son, "I love you" for the first time inside the courtroom.
Give me a freaking break.
Hello, CNN? America? When you penetrate someone without their consent, that’s rape. It doesn't matter if you use your finger, your penis, your keys, or the same iron rod that was used on that poor woman in India who died as a result of her rape-related injuries. Rape is a crime. Raping someone makes you a criminal. When you’re convicted of rape you register as a sex offender, and you go to jail. That's the law.
Was alcohol a factor here? Sure. High school students drink, and parties will happen. But if someone is passed out in a pool of their own vomit, your first instinct should be to sponge them off and call someone’s mom, not rape them.
Speaking of mom's, all of CNN’s rapist-coddling apparently took up so much air time that they couldn’t show the you the victim’s mother condemning her daughter’s attackers for a, "lack of any moral code," adding that the rape, "does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow, and move on." Nope, no time for that nonsense! Instead, Candy Crowley highlights the vulnerability and youth of the now convicted rapists, as she asks a legal analyst to elaborate on their tragically altered futures:
"Sixteen-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds...what's the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?"
Rape, ESSENTIALLY?!?!?! Essentially. This is the word she used. How about Rape, DEFINITELY WITHOUT EVEN THE SHADOW OF DOUBT? “Essentially” conjures memories of Todd Akin’s legitimate vs. real rape argument. What the hell is "rape, essentially” anyway? Judging from the way she set up the question I can imagine it means: this is juvenile court, these are 16-year-olds who are sobbing, it was just their fingers, they were drunk, so it's rape...sort of. This isn’t a video game, there aren’t levels of rape. One action, one definition, one punishment. THIS IS NOT NEGOTIABLE.
CNN played this as the sympathetic story of two extremely gifted young men who were dragged against their will to out-of-character criminal lows, all because of circumstances outside their control: alcohol, an absentee father, social media, Anonymous, the cult of football, etc. CNN wants you to know it is an incredibly difficult situation for these rapists, and CNN should be ashamed.
This story is not complicated. Trent and Ma'lik's lives didn't unravel in court. Their lives unraveled the night they chose to rape their "friend" and then brag about it on the internet. Trent and Ma'lik were not victims of a corrupt justice system, they’re rapists that were convicted and sentenced accordingly. They’re an example of the legal system done right. They deserve everything they are getting. In life, choices have consequences and Trent and Ma’lik are facing theirs right now. Hopefully, CNN will face theirs as well.