As I read the reports of the rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio, last month, my stomach churned. In case you missed the reports, in August 2012 a 16-year-old girl was violated by two male students, Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17 years old, while classmates recorded, photographed and encouraged the assault.
While the girl was passed out from drinking too much, her clothes were removed. Two boys sexually abused the girl in multiple ways and then laughed about the "dead girl." Afterward, another student witnessed the videos and photos and laughed, "She is so raped."
The following days 350,000 text messages circulated.
Crude, revolting details, admissions and "LOL"s flowed. Mays tried to cover his tracks by telling the victim, "Nothing happened." He was gutsy enough to text the victim's father, calling the whole thing a "misunderstanding" and saying he "made sure she was safe."
Even though a judge found Mays and Richmond guilty, I'd bet the convicted don't see themselves as rapists. A text from Mays read, "I should've raped her. Everyone thinks I did."
As I followed the trial, all I could do was wonder how this happened. How did so many students watch this happen and never intervene?
The answer became apparent during witness testimony. "It wasn't violent," one student said on the stand. "I always pictured [rape] as forcing yourself on someone."
There you have it. As long as people think rape is a stranger jumping out from a dark corner to forcefully attack someone screaming "No!" people will continue to think what happened to that 16-year-old girl was not a crime.
As long as people continue to believe that, "Because she was drunk," is an excuse to violate a woman - rape will go underreported and continue.
We must educate ourselves and our children to this reality. It has to start today.
"Rape culture" refers to beliefs and social attitudes that justify, make excuses for or support rape. It's the idea that sometimes rape is socially tolerable. It's victim blaming, rape jokes, objectifying and degrading women. It's the belief that rape is not a serious crime. It's the thought that many reported rapes are false - when in fact, as little as two percent of reported rapes are false.
Rape is never the victim's fault. It doesn't matter if they were being flirtatious, how many sexual partners they have had in the past, what they were wearing or where they were. It doesn't matter if the victim started to "fool around" with the attacker - if the victim says "no" at any point, what happens after that is assault and a crime. If he or she were incapable of saying "yes" - what happened was a crime.
Until these truths reach into schools, colleges, places of employment, clubs, bars and into the home - rape culture will continue.
Events like what happened in Steubenville will occur and nobody will stop it. Witnesses will blame the victim.
Education is key and there are great resources to help you advance this mission. The YWCA is one of those resources and we will gladly provide any help you need along the way.