Rapists should not be treated like victims

I have a reputation for being quite hard on mainstream media for its coverage of events, like the fiscal cliff, sequester, resignation of the pope and election of Pope Francis.

It’s incredibly important to speak out against influential bodies like mainstream media. They give us the news, and they need to be careful about how they do it.

Let’s take this past weekend’s big story, for example. When I heard about the Steubenville rape case involving a 16-year-old girl, I was crushed. Why?

Sexual assault on its own is disturbing. Paired with a crowd of rowdy teenagers, excessive amounts of alcohol and social media, it’s mortifying. The result of this ordeal was a young girl, violated, unconscious and left naked on a floor.

And then pictures were sent around. They made a 12 and a half minute video, referring to the victim as a “dead girl,” making comments like, “that’s how you know she’s dead — cuz someone peed on her,” and even when a guy in the room said it wasn’t funny, the others insisted it was because she was “deader than they thought Gandalf was at first … deader than Caylee Anthony … deader than Treyvon Martin.”

They made it a joke. I bet their parents are proud.

But rape is not funny. Ever.

Not surprisingly, the judge found these two men guilty. One gets at least a year in juvenile detention, and the other gets two. They got off easy.

But what surprised me was CNN’s coverage of the case.

Moments after the judge reached the verdict, CNN anchors and correspondents commented on how emotional the courtroom was. Poppy Harlow, reporting from Steubenville, said it was incredibly difficult to handle, even as an outsider.

CNN said it was saddening to see two young men with such a promising future — star football players and good students — literally watch their lives fall apart. They also commented on the men’s “heartfelt apologies,” even showing one of the guilty, Ma’lik Richmond, breakdown in the arms of his attorney.

Richmond’s father was sure to mention his son’s difficult upbringing, as if that’s some excuse for his actions.

What a spectacle — a flood of tears filling the courtroom, as Harlow recounted. It reminds me of the musical, “Chicago,” where Roxy Hart breaks down in the courtroom after killing her extramarital lover in cold blood. She “razzle-dazzled” the jury and received a “not guilty” verdict. The media loves this.

I hope you’re seeing everything that’s wrong with this scenario. Two young men made the decision to go to a party. To drink. To rape an incapacitated girl. They made the decision to share photos. And now they have to face the consequences of their actions, even if it means jail time, tearing apart a community and forever being branded as “sex offenders.”

As I mentioned earlier, they got off easy.

So what have we learned here?

Media has agenda-setting powers. It may not always tell us exactly what to think, but it tells us how to feel. In this case, it’s how these boys’ lives are ruined because of a single bad decision. Not about how their victim’s life has been ruined.

However, CNN completely neglects to mention how their victim’s life is affected. Don’t you think she’s hurting? Don’t you think her family is forever changed? I’d venture to say that her life sucks a little bit more right now.

But an emotional rape victim isn’t as newsworthy as two grown-men crying about a court sentencing. Amazing — they weren’t sorry as they assaulted her, they weren’t sorry when they sent out the photo and video. They are only sorry because they have been caught and justly punished.

We also learned that actions have consequences. If cell phones weren’t a factor, this case wouldn’t be national news. The football coach would have “taken care of everything.”

Unfortunately, rape and sexual assault happen all the time, especially on college campuses. You could be the victim, or you could be the one who faces charges for your actions. Be careful, and think about the decisions you’re making.

Perhaps alcohol isn’t the best way to have a good time. Have a trustworthy friend go with you to parties and look out for each other.

If you’re a victim of rape or sexual assault, it’s not too late to seek help. The counseling center at 104 College Park has walk-in hours, and can be reached at 419-372-2081.

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