ABC News doesn’t learn the lesson of sexual assault

I haven’t really followed the story of the Steubenville, OH assault and rape case. Briefly, the story focuses on a girl who accompanied two high school football players on a night of partying, in a football crazy town, after a football game. Also, there is some very, very incriminating footage taken at the parties, which found its way to Youtube, and some photos, and of course, a rape. The boys were found guilty in a juvenile court.

Think Progress has a good round up on the media response to the story in general, and the guilty verdict, which has focused largely on the talent of good young boys, and a drunk girl. Not on the fact that rapists were found guilty of rape.

I don’t know the details. But I read this ABC News piece over the weekend, written before the boys were found guilty, and needed to write about it. The piece, written by Matt Lombardi, Lisa Soloway and Sean Dooley, begins:

The nation’s eyes will be focused this week on what happens inside a tiny Steubenville, Ohio, courthouse. The juvenile trial set to begin there is every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world.

That’s astounding. Is this really ABC News’ takeaway from this case? A cautionary tale of living in the digital world? Cautionary for whom, Matt Lombardi, Lisa Soloway and Sean Dooley? A couple of young men raped a young girl. It was caught on camera. What caution are you suggesting? Don’t get caught assaulting girls on camera? Heroic young athletes may continue to behave however they choose, but don’t worry your parents by getting your actions got on tape? They’ll sleep better not having to know you’re assaulting women. Good advice.

The authors continue:

Just as the season was gearing up late last summer, two Big Red football players were accused of participating in the rape of a 16-year-old intoxicated girl with friends documenting the alleged crime through cellphone pictures and video. The social media frenzy took on a life of its own, with reports going as far as calling the incident a “gang-rape” of an unconscious girl. In reality, prosecutors contend that Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, used their hands to penetrate her while she was too drunk to consent. By Ohio law, such a crime constitutes rape, as it does in many places.

In reality. That’s what you say at ABC News. Social Media said rape. In reality, though, they didn’t “rape” her, they just “used their hands to penetrate her while she was too drunk to consent.” Oh, that’s all that really happened? Well, then, what are we looking at? Its not like they used their penises to rape her, just their hands.

I cannot believe you would write this, ABC News reporters. That is a frightening, shocking, culturally destructive sentence; the kind that enables further assault and continues the glorification of athletes.What satisfies your definition of rape, Lombardi, Soloway and Dooley?  You seem pretty unconvinced that an intoxicated teenage girl being penetrated unwillingly by young men “constitutes rape”. But it does in Ohio, as you write, and of course many other places.

You know why that is? Because it’s rape. The sentence “penetrate her while she was too drunk to consent” is what rape is. Here’s your lesson: IT’S NEVER OKAY TO SEXUALLY ASSAULT ANYONE. EVER. No matter who you are or how successful an athlete you are or how drunk she is. You cannot, ever,  “penetrate her while she was too drunk to consent.” Period.

This piece, from ABC News, is a problem. It’s a 5-page feature length essay on the actions of a drunk girl and how young people use their phones to take pictures and share information. That’s not the story, ABC. There may have been a “social media frenzy”, but that’s not the lesson here. The story is not a cautionary tale for living in a digital world. The story is: society teaches young successful men, especially athletes, that they can do anything they want, including sexually assaulting a girl for kicks with their pals. They cannot.


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