When Steubenville, Ohio was brought up in class, I was already way too familiar with it. My biases started seeping out immediately, while others around me did a quick Google search on the small Ohio town, wondering what was so special about it. My mind flashed back to high school, sitting in my living room early in the morning before I left for school, watching the local news with my mother. The Steubenville star football players were being talked about again. And not in the frame they should have been discussed, as criminals, but as boys who had their bright futures taken away from them. What happened to her bright future, the girl who they repeatedly assaulted while she was unconscious? Why are we not talking about her future?
11 days. It took 11 days for the story to hit the local news, even though there was photographic evidence splashed across social media platforms. It took 11 days for the two primary assailants, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, to be arrested. One of the volunteer football coaches, Nate Hubbard, undermined the allegations of rape saying, “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something.” How is that vein of thinking supposed to instill upright morals for the players on the team?
The answer is, it doesn’t. “Some people deserve to be peed on,” a former Steubenville baseball player wrote on Twitter, after rumors circulated that people had urinated on the victim. This statement echoes the vocabulary of adjustment, which states that males will use certain language to demean, degrade, and dehumanize their victims to justify abusing them.
In our group discussion in class, we talked about Sanday’s Psychoanalytic Theory of Gang Rape, which theorizes that males participate in gang rape because of their latent homosexual desires for each other. Cooperative participation in a gang rape of one victim allows the perpetrators to release their sexual desires for one another, while not actually acting upon them. Multiple football players raped the girl that night in Steubenville, while others watched on or photographed the incident. Sanday’s theory is one possible explanation for the inhumane events that took place that August night.
We think of sexual assault as a dark, hidden crime. Not one that is witnessed by dozens, and shared with thousands. And yet, this case was still difficult to prosecute, even with multiple photographs, videos, and tweets recounting the night’s horrific events. The reality is that many factors were at play in Steubenville, Ohio. The football players knew they were praised and protected in their community, because nothing was considered holier than Friday night games. They knew they would not be held accountable for their actions. Homosocial groups perpetuate the idea that dominating and abusing women is acceptable, especially when alcohol is added to the mix. Males feel pressured to act in hypermasculine ways – assert their strength and dominance over a girl, have their way with her, and excessively drink – and they do not consider if their actions are morally sound. Finally, the football coaches, families, and people of Steubenville did not demand justice. Many obstructed the investigation or insisted upon the players’ innocence, even though there was a mountain of damning evidence. When you have a town so centered on gender norms and hypermasculinity, you have the perfect storm.