Rape Culture Revealed

Avatar of Ayla Conway
Opinion Column

Seeing stories on rape and abuse in the news is far from uncommon. You hear about a high school soccer coach abusing their team, some powerful CEO assaulting co-workers, or a college student who got raped by classmates. How these atrocities are told is often veiled in bias. Quite frequently, media shows sympathy for the offenders, and animosity towards the victim. They focus on attacking the victim’s clothing choice and analyzing their previous sexual history instead of  what the offender did wrong, even lamenting over how detrimental this could be to the offender’s future. 

In 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio two boys assaulted an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a party — and recorded it. In CNN reporter Poppy Harlow’s coverage of the case, she stated that it’s, “incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students … (have their) lives fall apart.” Similarly, another CNN reporter, Paul Callan, said, “There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed. But … the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders … That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.” 

ABC News published an article describing the trial as, “every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in the digital age,” implying that the recording of the assault that led to the boys’ conviction was the real problem. Many sources such as Associated Press and USA Today stressed that the victim shouldn’t have gotten drunk, and spent more time discussing regret towards the boys’ punishment (one year for one and two for another at juvenile correctional facilities). These statements portray the aggressors as the victims, suggesting that the victim was partly at fault due to her intoxication. This is so messed up, just flat out wrong, and incredibly harmful to the victim and every victim of assault everywhere. It perpetuates that abuse is trivial and should not be punished, and that the abused are to blame. 

This fuels our rape culture. When people hearing about this and similar trials hear only sympathy for the offenders, and people faulting the  victim, they’re swayed by the message this conveys and are more likely to feel similarly. When such an extensive group of people hears this, it’s a massive issue. People have proven to be incredibly susceptible to media bias, and when you have an entire nation being subtly fed this view, many are going to agree with it.

It is, in a sense, brainwashing. It creates a culture, a rape culture, where people feel sympathy towards sex offenders who get punished and blame the victims for what happened, or for responding to what happened. This causes further harm by normalizing sexual assault, and making it very hard for people to come out about experiencing sexual violence or harassment for fear of being ridiculed.