This past Sunday in Steubenville, Ohio, two adolescent males were convicted of a searingly self-defining crime, one that will mark these offenders, Cain-like…forever. They raped, by digital penetration, a 16-year-old female so drunk at the time of the offence that only through subsequent reconstruction – via the photos taken of the offenders by others and circulated among those present who did nothing to intervene, while she was repeatedly violated – did she actually understand the enormity of what had happened. The defence at trial was consent…..It is not the crime – horrible as it is. It is not the visceral trial evidence, where a judge was compelled to assess various versions of what happened in this microcosm of 21st century American youth culture, or its attitudes. Drunken kids, a kegger, and all those football player liberties that – hey! – nobody really got hurt. She was hammered anyway, and if she’d been sober, she’d have wanted me! More directly, it is not the trial outcomes, all bad, all permanent: the drunken girl the offenders claimed consented to their brutal advances, or these mere boys who were so seemingly empowered to conclude – no matter how intoxicated – a drunken girl is a plaything, not a person. Leave her on the curb, naked and puking…that’s alright. It is the national media attention so furiously directed to this sad, repulsive affair that caught this observer’s eye.
Please understand that there is no Canadian moral condescension aimed by this commentary at Steubenville, or the events here. The powerful interplay observed in our national junior ice hockey culture between the revered stud players and their ever-adoring ‘puck bunnies’ is as entrenched as any Steubenville high school football reverence and the big blind eye that gives sexual indiscretion its deeper, fouler meaning. The larger and far more vexing question is why it takes alleged (now proven) vile sexual crimes committed by (wait for it) Middle American high school football players to direct – however brief – a cold, dispassionate national media light on such awful, demeaning, and utterly inhuman conduct. The plain conclusion is revealed – if it was not for the Steubenville HS football connection, this criminality never moves past the local papers, if that far. Chances are, something just as bad will take place somewhere tonight…
Your somber scribe makes full disclosure – over 100 sexual assault prosecutions conducted in an earlier Ontario life, where each event ended without redemption for anyone. ‘Justice’ is a cruel word where the victim and her conduct receive more attention than the perpetrators of the alleged criminal violation…she wanted it, right? Shit, why did she get so drunk if she didn’t?
If these young men had been members of the Steubenville HS chess club, or otherwise reviled as loser layabouts in the battered old Ohio steel town where football is ace, king, queen, and jack – would the story have received a breath? More importantly…is the ultimate lesson learned reduced to this: when you rape someone, make sure no one takes pictures?