This week, the rape trial begins for two high school football stars in Steubenville, Ohio.
At a party in August, teenagers behaving poorly allegedly soon turned into teenagers behaving criminally. Seventeen-year-old Trent Mays, and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond are accused of fondling the victim and penetrating her with their hands. The accused allegedly dragged the victim by her hands and feet, and witnesses at the party reported that the 16-year-old old girl was drunk and vomiting and was unresponsive at points.
Cellphone photos of the girl’s violation were snapped and shared, and Mays also is charged with “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”
This case has been leaked and argued at length on the Internet. Charges of adults and officials covering up for the boys because of they were athletes were raised soon after the incident happened. The judge decided that the courtroom should not be closed despite the ages of the parties involved. The trial will be open to the media, and certainly, the eyes of the world are watching. How will this trial be handled under such public scrutiny? And what, if any, lessons can be taken away?
No doubt there is a movement afoot across the globe to diminish violence against women. International Women’s Day was celebrated last Friday. Part of the day’s mission is to support a push to decrease violence against women. Just a month ago on Valentine’s Day, women flash-mobbed and danced to show their solidarity for a safer world for themselves, their mothers, sisters, daughters and women they will never meet. And, despite months of balking by the GOP, 87 Republican members of the U.S. House crossed the aisle and voted in favor of the passage of a Violence Against Women Act that did not strip away provisions for protecting Native American, lesbian and transgendered women and immigrants.
American women are still enjoying their show of political strength in November when their votes helped to defeat male candidates who made controversial comments about rape: One suggested that rape resulting in a pregnancy could be considered a gift from God and another declared that pregnancies seldom occur because of rape because a woman’s body has a way to “shut that whole thing down.”
On the other hand, earlier this month a state senator from Colorado challenged a woman who argued that she might have avoided being a rape victim had she been allowed to carry a concealed weapon. The lawmaker, who later apologized, told her that it is more likely her attacker would have taken the gun and used it against her. In the discussion days later on Fox News, a national political commentator was subjected to online racist comments and threats of rape and murder for suggesting that instead of focusing on what women should be doing to avoid being raped that men and boys should be taught not to rape.
Change is coming. But change is slow. The victim in the Steubenville case has been admonished for being drunk and at a party with the boys who are charged with raping her. But the fact that popular jocks are being tried for behavior that might not have been taken seriously in the past is progress.
The law will do its part. What this public trial has yet to do, and must do is to help Americans and the world looking on, to better understand that mores and cultures that hold men above women and treat the violation of women as just a thing that happens are not supported.
Each time a girl or a woman is asked “Why were you drinking?” “What did you expect would happen?” — or the question that is sure to be raised in Steubenville, “Well did you actually ever say, ‘No!’?” — there must be a growing chorus of voices to ask in turn, “Why did he force her?” ”Why didn’t he stop?”
This trial can help by teaching everyone that no one can ever use his size or his status or his or her intoxication as an excuse. This trial could serve to take on jock culture and use it to help dismantle rape culture.
These boys, of course, deserve a fair trail. And the girl deserves a fair place in which to be female.
Jamila Bey hosts the “Sex Politics And Religion Hour: SPAR with Jamila” on the Voice of Russia Radio Network. She’s working on a book that critically examines the role played by religion in the lives of African-American women. Follow her on Twitter at @jbey