Sexual activity drives human existence and without it, it is safe to say that life would evidently become unsustainable. Yet, the notion of consent oftentimes seems to fade in the background for “the heat of the moment” becomes the sole fuel in the sexual act. Unlike animals, where mating more often than not is savage like and without the notion of consenting the female, in most cases, humans abide by rules of integrity and moral discipline for if one forces a sexual activity, it no longer becomes a simplistic sexual experience, but an act meant for personal sexual gratification that foregoes the pleasurable aspect for the other party involved. Once the line is crossed between engaging in any form of sexual activity where both parties are willing and taking advantage of a non-consenting individual, then the abuser has invaded the victim’s basic human rights. As in the Steubenville, Ohio case of sexual assault upon a sixteen year old victim by members of the local football team, the perpetrators disregarded the non-consenting individual for their own personal sexual gratification, but failed to take into consideration the repercussions of their invasive act as many other sexual assailants do. While cases of rape have become much more widely addressed in the media, it leaves lingering thoughts in the viewers’ mind as to how one can take momentary ownership of another’s body and what we, as a society, can do to prevent this from occurring in the large scale in which it does.
As the idea of invading one’s basic human rights comes to light, the general public becomes bewildered especially in regards to simplistically defining the act of non-consenting sexual activity. “The US Department of Justice [defines] rape as forced sexual intercourse that can include psychological and physiological coercion” (Carroll, 2010, p. 462). Carroll (2010) goes on to state that “psychological coercion would include pressuring someone who has not consented to sexual activity or taking advantage of someone because of his or her intellectual abilities, intoxication, or age” (p. 462). In the very male centric society that we inhabit today, the notion of appropriating oneself of another’s being seems to be done without questioning the content of the assailant’s character, but rather somehow putting the victim at fault of the unwanted sexual activity. Carroll (2010) mentions the “Victim Precipitation Theory: Blaming the Victim”, which explains how this theory “shifts the responsibility from the person who knowingly attacked to the innocent victim” (p. 466). For if the victim were not already feeling insecure and disgusted with the acts they had to live through, the fault of the unwanted sexual activity would now rest on their shoulders. As part of the victim precipitation theory, “the women who wear suggestive clothing and drink alcohol are viewed as being more responsible for a sexual assault” (Carroll, 2010, p. 466), this evidently takes away all blame on the perpetrator who forced themselves upon the non-consenting individual. To believe that a women is somehow “asking for it” because of their stance, clothing, or inebriated state allows abusers to fool society, foregoing all responsibility from the crime they just committed and subsequently putting it on the individual who tried to liberally expressing themselves without thinking there would be repercussions from representing their true nature. As part of rape culture and the victim precipitation theory we are taught to believe that “the women who wear suggestive clothing and drink alcohol are more responsible for a sexual assault” (Carroll, 2010, p. 466). Thus, if we keep blaming an individual for freely expressing themselves in any which way they like and diverting the blame from the true assailants responsible for claiming ownership on the non-consenting victim, we forego the notion of freedom of expression and allow all those that feel comfortable in “suggestive clothing” or those who want to participate in drinking alcohol in a social atmosphere, to live in fear of “taking risks”, inevitably depriving them of their basic human rights. As the victim precipitation theory states that “if we believe bad things happen to people who take risks, then we are safe if we do not take risks” (Carroll, 2010, p. 466), we subsequently rob ourselves from participating in basic activities, even though it should be our right to live as we please without fearing for our safety in a public setting.
Living in present day where mass media outlets allow for one’s personal business to become front page headlines in a matter of seconds, it is inevitable for the general public to remain unaware of a stranger’s experience even when dealing with something as personal as sexual assault. The Steubenville, Ohio case involved a 16 year old teenage girl and two assailants by the names of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, who participated in sexually assaulting the 16 year old young woman. (Wilson 2013). The victim “was raped last summer [August 2012] at a party; witnesses posted images of the assault on social media [outlets]” (Wilson, 2013), but not a single person among those witness reported any strange behavior or acts of sexual assault. Although various other participants were present during the events, only Mays and Richmond have been convicted and “will spend at least a year in a juvenile correctional facility, although authorities could decide to keep them in custody until they turn 21” (Wilson, 2013) after having been found “guilty of rape and disseminating a nude photo of a minor” (Guarino, 2013). “Both [Mays and Richmond] must undergo treatment and will have to register as sex offenders” (Wilson, 2013).
Pertaining to a case of rape and characteristics associated with sexual assault, some alarming stereotypes and socially accepted mentalities play integral factors in the Steubenville case. Carroll (2010) mentions that “rapists are primarily male, single, and between the ages of 15 and 30” (p. 464) with both Richmond and Mays falling in this generic category. As the female victim had attended a party where alcohol was present, this factor unfortunately plays into the mentality that much of society has, which is that “women who are drunk are more likely to be viewed as “loose” or sexually “easy” (Carroll, 2010, p. 470). Such circumstances as these allowed for the victim’s perpetrators to easily excuse the act of sexually assaulting the 16 year old individual. Along with the initial excusable mentality that Mays and Richmond may have had, Guarino states that, “Testimony in the Steubenville case suggested that many of the young people involved or present during the rape did not know the definition of rape” (2013). Carroll (2010) explains that “sexual assault is defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the recipient of the unwanted sexual activity” (p. 462), but witnesses seemingly failed to know the definition of any form of sexual assault being committed. As certain social acts and mentalities are accepted by the general public, it is unfortunate that the idea that one’s inebriated state calls for the loss of all basic human rights. Along with changing a perpetrator’s mentality to believe their actions are justified, witnesses need to play integral roles in relaying information on any form of sexual assault they have seen, which will only help spread awareness of sexual assaults and subsequently bring assailants to justice.
Rape culture seems to not only excuse the perpetrators, but inevitably allows for the victim of the assault to become the scapegoat in the situation. As part of a way to fight the victim precipitation theory, Wilson (2013) states that “the first thing that loved ones should do is believe what the victim has said”, which only further allows the victim to proceed with legal action against their assailants. As part of the victim precipitation theory, Carroll (2010) states that “it is not easy to proceed with legal action, so it can be really helpful to gather support from friends and family” (p. 478), which allows for the victim to feel a sense of support and compassion though everyone else speculates whether he/she is truly a victim of sexual assault. Oftentimes a victim proceeds to take legal action in order to “protect others or [because] they wanted justice to be served” (Carroll, 2010, p. 478). Not only will a victim taking legal action help prevent such assaults from taking place, but “women who report their rape to the police have been subsequently found to have a better adjustment and fewer emotional symptoms than those who do not report it” (Carroll, 2010, p. 477). As certain characteristics of rapists are more prevalent than others, Carroll (2010) mentions that “participation in athletics has been found to be associated with rape-supportive attitudes” (p. 471) and both Mays and Richmond fall into this category, for they both were participants of their high school football team. Of course such a remark does not mean that all that participate in athletics will be supporters of sexual assaults, but the fact that Carroll finds it necessary to mention that there is a statistical correlation allows one to begin to question these “football stars” and their actions. Guarino (2013) explains that “We, as a society, have an obligation to do more to educate our young people about rape. They need to know it is a horrible crime of violence. And it is simply not ok.” Part of the reason some individuals failed to report the sexual assaults they had witnessed was due to the fact that they were unaware that any form of non-consenting behavior was taking place, but with the knowledge of Steubenville, it becomes apparent that there is a “need to open a more honest and comprehensive conversation among young people about rape” (Guarino, 2013), that may not have been made possible unless light was not shed on the Steubenville, Ohio incident.
Although the notion of locking all men up until they learn to behave themselves and control their sexual urges seems very favorable, it does not allow for a successful solution for the prevention and further awareness of sexual assaults. In order for the idea of “victim blaming” to cease to exist, the general public needs to become aware of what sexual assault entails and what one must do when they have fallen witness to such a travesty. As part of sexual education in schools that failingly “focus only on abstinence or birth control, not issues like bystander intervention or violence prevention” the idea of bystander awareness and reporting needs to come into play (Guarino, 2013). Not only do schools need to teach the student body about the idea of respecting others and the fact that no always means no, but a possible further step to become more in control of one’s body is to join classes of self defense. Of course this does not help in situations where assailants appropriate themselves of an inebriated individual, but if witnesses are present, then they may be able to report it with the sexual education they have received throughout school. Regardless of the solutions presented, it is ultimately every being’s responsibility to have control over oneself in any given situation and to respect another individual’s basic human rights because appropriating oneself over another’s body is not only an infringement of the victim’s personal rights, but an offense punishable by law that deserves severe consequences for such animalistic behavior.
Carroll, J. L. (2010). Power and Sexual Coercion. In Sexuality Now (4th ed., pp. 462-478). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Guarino, M. (2013, March 20). Steubenville’s troubling question: Is rape just a part of ‘hook-up culture’? The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2013/0320/Steubenville-s-troubling-question-Is-rape-just-a-part-of-hook-up-culture
Harlow, P. (2013, March 19). Healing process after rape never ends. CNN. Retrieved April 26, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/19/health/rape-survivors-future/index.html?iref=allsearch