How Do We Make Sense Of This? Steubenville, Texts, Rape

Yesterday I put up a long post about the roots of rape and rape culture. Domination and a culture of power, lack of emphasis on empathy, compassion, self awareness, and sexual literacy.

I felt really good about the piece and also shared an amazing article from The Gynomite on bad sex that isn’t assault, the language of sex and how Girls got it right.

Then I had an amazing conversation with three highly spiritual women who actively work and minister in progressive Christian churches about sex ed for adults and how necessary it is. It was frank, progressive, funny, and just the kind of conversation needed. Sex is important, they get it, and they get how much damage has occurred in traditional religious communities. Like the Family Research Council, for example.

Between that, SXSW, Buck Angel and family being in town I was feeling really great.

Then I was looking through my Twitter feed (always a risky thing to do) and I found a very disturbing article on the Steubenville Rape Case.

If anyone isn’t following it…well, just google. It’s been all over the news, it’s launched a thousand blog posts and news casts, it’s even been part of the ongoing conversation about consent, teaching people not to rape, guns and protection that seems extremely exploitative, and which showed off just how hostile much of the US can be to people, such as Zerlina Maxwell, who dare to suggest that maybe something is going wrong here.

This article is about the trial. It’s triggering and difficult and sums up a huge amount of the roots my post mentioned yesterday. I don’t know how to process this, so I’m going to write and to rant. As I mentioned? Trigger warning now.

The article notes the literally hundreds of thousands of text messages and photos shared between the alleged rapists, their friends, and others regarding the night in question. It covers the trial and people listening to such horrors, and the callous and completely nonchalant attitudes of the boys on trial.

They included, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, bragging from the defendants, each of whom acknowledged at least some sexual contact with the girl.
“We’re hitting it for real,” texted Mays at 2:20 a.m. of the morning of the alleged accident, after he was asked by a friend, “Where you at?”
Soon there were texts from friends of the boys seeking lewd details: “Did you [expletive] her?” one asked Mays. Others friends begged for pictures that the state says were taken – and later deleted and thus unrecoverable – of the acts. “Hey buddy,” one texted, “you want to send me that pic because you love me?”


Later, she emailed him demanding: “Why the [expletive] would you let that happen … seriously, you have no [expletive] respect … why wouldn’t you try to help me?”
Soon, reality began setting in for everyone. One of Mays’ friends texted him joking that “the girl’s life is ruined.” Another scolded him: “You’re a felon,” to which Mays responded, “not really.”


Rumors have whipped around the region that Saccoccia, known simply as “Reno,” tried to squash the investigation initially and other boys weren’t charged because it might harm the team. Saccoccia and the Steubenville police have denied it. The Ohio attorney general has dismissed all talk of cover-ups. Even so, speculation on the street continues.
When word of the incident leaked out, a friend asked Mays what Saccoccia said about it.
“Nothing really,” Mays texted. “Going to stay in for awhile. LOL. And next time [someone is] into something, suspended for three games.
“But I feel he took care of it for us,” Mays continued. “Like, he was joking about it, so I’m not worried.”
In another text, Mays wrote: “I got Reno. He took care of it and [expletive] ain’t going to happen, even if they did take it to court.”

I didn’t even share the section where it discussed how boys were offering each other $3 to urinate on the victim, passed out on the ground.

I have no idea how to make sense of this.

These children, how have they grown up devoid of understanding a right action from a wrong one? How have the grown up believing that their status in a town will be protected regardless of their actions? How have they grown up without empathy for their own classmates and friends, seeing sexual acts as tools for entertainment and power rather than pleasure and friendship?

How have the adults in their lives coddled and protected them from actual deep emotional growth, building a sense of callous entitlement rather than connection to others? So arrogant as to think their texts wouldn’t be used in court and then…well, who cares? Coach will take care of it?

Money? Football? Greed? Status and power in small town? Anything new about this?

Why? Why in the ever loving hell do we think that this kind of world is a healthy place to live? Between this case with so much defense of “good boys” and victim blaming going on (even the defense is claiming silence is consent) and Newtown, and the caustic anger vomited up regarding gun rights, I just don’t know what to think. Why do we love our violence so much?

I feel crazy much of the time, wondering what it is we are doing and where we are going, and what we’ve done to get HERE in this place where might apparently makes right, where students who have grown up with each other can turn on one of their own with such casual cruelty.

It’s not like it’s happened before, neighbors turning on each other. It’s just happening here (and here, in my home state) is all, so I guess we are paying attention.

Why is it happening? Anywhere?

Biology? Is this just how we are, we primates? Culture? Is this what happens when societal pressures become too much to bear, perhaps influenced by the desire for wealth and power or made superstitious by religion and tradition? Group violence, prison violence, rape in war, humiliation of a victim as a bonding action just moving out into more mainstream areas? It’s not just gender at play here, men fall victim as well, it’s something else.

Is this where God is supposed to come in? That doesn’t seem to work.

I want to find my salve in this particular quote from Jim Gilliam, a man who has moved through evangelical faith towards a view of hope in human connection and the internet, which he now claims is his religion.

As he says,

“God is what happens when humanity is connected.”

Still, I don’t know. Those kids with their text messages sure seemed to be connected. To something. What?

I think we are doing it wrong, somehow. God, sex, families, our culture. I suppose it’s what humanity is connected to that’s the issue. How do we change that frequency from disregard to compassion? I can’t say I have answers save look at the roots.

Teach that compassion and peace. Teach sharing and empathy. Value collaboration and pleasure. Fight against power and dominance and hate. Fight kindly, if at all possible and do it with connection and with people and with mass groups of overwhelming love.

This isn’t about “God.” It’s about us and what we are willing to live with.

I’m not willing to live with this. None of us should be willing to.



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2 responses to “How Do We Make Sense Of This? Steubenville, Texts, Rape

  1. Truly sickening behaviour. I am wondering if group mentality played a part? I can’t for the life of me understand how people could get so out of touch with empathy that they would commit such a crime, if anyone asked me to pay 3 bucks for peeing on a victim I’d be reaching for a weapon, calling the police and try my best to keep that victim safe. Why didn’t others step in and stop? Do they not see it as rape and just think it was some form of silly prank?

    It’s tragic enough to have that happen on the night but the victim blaming, the sharing of the event makes it even more sick. They’re abusing her after the fact, anyone sharing any images is abusing her. I’m glad one seemed to realize it’s wrong and I hope people testify against them if they haven’t already.

    (Next part slightly offtopic, not sure if there is another article it’s better suited for?)
    Many of the comments on “thenation” have a lot of very disturbing themes. Comments like this “Men commit the horrific crime of rape often enough to lead to the logical conclusion that men are born rapists. They need to be trained to be civilized and live among women. ”
    Seems to be a lot of us vs them mentality going on, I think educating how often women rape men may make some realize that men are not some monolithic super tough oppressor style being that women can never harm, I truly do believe a lot of fear comes from this myth of men being immune to women’s violence. I’ve seen studies suggesting a lot of male rapists were raped by women let alone other men, is there a small portion of rape victims who do go on to rape the gender that attacked them? I know some people I’ve known have grown a hatred of a gender because of heartbreak n cheating, I’d imagine abuse may seal that hatred far more. Of course not all rapists experience this and still trying to find more studies into this issue as the study I saw had a pool of 60 male rapists but it definite warrants more investigation.

    My hypothesis is that by focusing solely on educating men to stop rape we are creating chasm where female perpetrated abuse goes untouched but furthermore and in relation to those comments I think it also creates the “men vs women” battle in rape debates where we have people seeing the rapists as men, the victims as women to the point we get such bigotry as assuming men are born rapists. This kind of talk DRIVES men away from the discussion fast, I know of some men who literally are sick to death of hearing rape portrayed as male on female that they just don’t talk about rape at all, even I feel exhausted discussing it and without our voices the information that is sorely needed is much harder to come by because we aren’t discussing it as much with our friends n family. It’s where stereotypes are born of these discussions being man-hating, unfairly being dismissed because of a few trolls n bigots.

    The other part of the comment discussion on that site is it’s very much teach women to defend themselves, teach men to stop rape. Why not teach both genders to stop rape, both genders to defend themselves, and stop the stupid us-vs-them bullshit.

    I saw that 6% of men admitting raping in one study, I’d like to see a study done on those men vs the rest of men, a study in their life experience, genetics, and brain scans to see if this is a case of lowered empathy from culture or even something like psychopathy. Why are the majority of men not rapists, and majority of women not rapists? What is different with that small section of the population that they would want to cause such harm? Of the physically violent people the link to that I’ve noticed is largely their childhood environment, many I’d say were abused at home, do most rapists have some similar traumatic event in their past?

  2. Pingback: Steubenville: “It Wasn’t Violent” — The Good Men Project

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