Rape Prevention: Learning From Steubenville

Two high-school football players from Steubenville, OH, were recently found guilty in a highly publicized rape trial that has left many stunned not only by their behavior, but by the numerous witnesses who failed to come to the victim’s aid – some of whom decided to document the events on their phones. In order to obtain enough evidence to convict the two attackers, witnesses were granted immunity and will not be punished for their involvement. Their immunity adds to the controversy, as commentators express concern that the “above-the-law” culture football players experienced in the small town contributed to the atrocity.

Dan Wetzel’s coverage of the trial features graphic testimony that reveals an unsettling reality – many of those involved seemed to be unaware of the fundamental moral codes they were breaking. Engaging sexually with an unconscious girl unable to give consent fell into the category of normal behavior and didn’t trigger any alarms or cause concern. The casual manner that some of the witnesses refer to the events is chilling. Which brings up the larger question, what can we do to eradicate a culture where consent is irrelevant.

Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) programs are well-known and easily available as a tool to empower women to protect themselves if they are sexually assaulted. However, it often seems that the conversation about rape focuses more on the victims than educating the attackers. Rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell recently voiced her opinion that rape prevention needs to include educating men on consent while appearing on Fox News, which led to violent threats on several conservative media sites soon after. In an interview with Democracy Now!, Maxwell says:

“I think men can stop rape. I keep citing them in every interview that I do, because one of the things that I did as a journalist, I went and covered one of their bystander intervention workshops. And it was incredible…you want to prevent these situations before they come up.”

Without delving into the troubling aspects that simply suggesting men be educated about rape prevention triggered such a vehement negative response, I hope Maxwell’s recommendation is heard. Victims don’t cause rape, being intoxicated doesn’t cause rape, wearing a certain outfit doesn’t cause rape – rapists do. And until we start actively changing the culture that fosters an environment where this behavior is treated as acceptable, we won’t be dealing with the root of the problem.


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