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Teach Your Children Well: Men Must Be Leaders in Changing the Culture of Abuse

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Donald McPherson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Boy in a locker room

Men must teach the next generation of men not to rape.

We have seen much — and much-deserved — criticism of the mainstream media coverage of the Steubenville rape verdict. Some reporters, notoriously, have focused on what “good students” the convicted young men are and what “bright futures” had been squandered by their actions. While these may have been misguided analyses of the verdict, the outrage stems from the fact that such comments are part of a broader social narrative.

The lack of discourse and concern for the future of the Steubenville victim points to a deeper social problem; it’s a double-down on blaming the victim. Even identifying her as the “accuser” positions her as the one who was imposing upon her assailants. The reality is that her future and her life have been tragically altered by the actions of several boys. She deserves the love and compassion of us all who hope for a just and loving society.

The future of the perpetrators was tragically altered by their own actions. They must own that.

For those of us looking at this case from afar, disconnected from the emotion of the Ohio courtroom, we must resist lamenting the future of the perpetrators and consider their past if we are to make sense of this case and prevent it from happening again. Yes, these boys deserve our compassion and hope for a better future. However, we should not sympathize with the consequences of their behavior, but for the condition of their humanity that led to their actions. We must be honest in our recognition of the culture in which so many boys are raised and nurtured. As a society, we continue to teach boys that girls and women are “less than,” with language and attitudes that challenge and encourage masculinity through threatening and degrading comparison to girls and women (“you throw like a girl,” for example).

Further, very often the role of girls and women is ornamental to, or in support of, the male experience. In many contexts, sports cheerleaders, swimsuit models, and the like reinforce the deeply-held assumption that women’s social, and often professional, roles are subservient to men. The disparity in wages, especially in an economy that many men view as a meritocracy, is a glaring example of cultural patriarchy in which the goals and aspirations of men are seen as more noble and superior to those of women.

Those of us concerned for these young people, both victim and perpetrators, have a moral obligation to recognize how the messages of our culture are manifest in the behavior of high school boys at a party.

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From Big Dan’s to Steubenville: A Generation Later, Media Coverage of Rape Still Awful

10:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

The Accused

Like Steubenville, The Accused is loosely based on another incident where the mainstream media seemed to side with rapists.

This past Sunday, 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond and 17-year-old Trent Mays were found delinquent (the equivalent of guilty in juvenile court) of raping a 16-year-old girl in front of their friends at a series of parties in Steubenville, Ohio. Mays was also found delinquent on charges of the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for texting a picture he took of the victim while she was naked.

Almost exactly 30 years earlier, in March 1983, a woman was gang raped by at least four men—six were originally charged—in Big Dan’s Tavern in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The victim in the Big Dan’s attack was Cheryl Araujo, a 21-year-old mother of two who lived down the street from the tavern. (The 1988 film The Accused is loosely based on the incident.)

There are striking parallels between the two cases. And, notably, they illustrate how little the media’s coverage of rape cases has changed over the decades.

Reporters covering the Big Dan’s case openly struggled with responsible reporting issues, such as whether or not to name the victim and how to give context to victim-blaming quotes from community members.

Araujo was told in court that she had to “prove her innocence.” She was aggressively cross-examined and grilled about her drinking. “She was as much on trial as the defendants,” an advocate told the Associated Press.

In both the Big Dan’s and Steubenville cases, the public was shocked by the presence of bystanders who joined in, cheered, or did nothing to stop the attacks. That shock converged with anxiety over the role a new media format played in each case: As Columbia University journalism professor Helen Benedict noted in the landmark 1993 book, Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes, the newfangled media in the Big Dan’s case was 24-hour cable news.

The Steubenville case, of course, was documented on and subsequently unfolded through social media: The assailants took photos of the victim looking unconscious. A friend shot, and later deleted, video of Mays assaulting the victim in a car. A blogger named Alexandra Goddard helped the case gain attention by chiseling away at it on her website. Loosely organized hacker group Anonymous posted a video of the attackers’ friend laughing hysterically about the assault, which galvanized outrage about the case. Crime scene investigators didn’t need the victim’s underwear, which went missing after the assault, to get a guilty verdict; they had the assailants’ smart phones.

Swap “social media” for “television” in Benedict’s assessment of the Big Dan’s case, and it could apply to Steubenville: “The all-pervasive presence of television contributed to making the media part of the story itself, which elicited its own set of reactions among the public,” she wrote.

Benedict added that the Big Dan’s case “evolved into a blatant example of the way women are regarded once they become rape victims. And it put the press to an unusual test—a test of how to be fair in the light of violent feelings, extreme and opposing points of view, and vociferous criticism.”

Media outlets have been put to that same test of fairness while covering Steubenville. Many have failed in significant ways.

Take for instance this recent report from ABC’s 20/20. From the report’s opening lines: “The juvenile trial … is every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world.”

Is it a nightmare that there was a trial, or that a child was raped?

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