The Upside of CNN's Disgusting Steubenville Rape Trial Coverage

Well, yes, you knew I'd have an opinion about this one!

If you've missed the hoopla, here's the abridged version:

A 16-year-old girl got very drunk at a party. While she was unconscious, two boys at the party raped her, and more than a dozen party-goers watched, took pictures and videos, bribed each other to urinate on her, joked about it on Twitter, etc. The rapists were football players and the coach and town nearly let the whole thing slide, if not for this amazing blogger named Alexandria Goddard, who spent hours taking screenshots of the Twitter posts that provided evidence of what had happened and the bragging and laughing that happened after it. People were convinced she was dead and didn't care. People said she deserved to be urinated on. People laughed about the fact that she was being raped.

The blogger received death threats and was sued by one of the boys who participated, because, you know... football.

Again, somehow the ability to run across a field carrying a ball somehow gives you a get-out-of-rape-free card in the eyes of many. They'll freak out if you hurt dogs, but raping a young woman? Meh. She probably deserved it. FOOTBAAAAAALL!

Now, I tend to write off the sorts of people who excuse this behavior as simple wingnuts. People who are deeply stupid and lack any moral compass. What I don't expect is for educated and well-spoken CNN reporters to back them up.

What two CNN reporters did was to spend their whole segment reporting about the trial verdict wringing their hands about these two poor boys whose lives may be ruined because they have to register as sex offenders. These poor boys, one of whom even cried real tears!

Gawker has one of the best responses to sum up CNN's coverage (and includes the video so you can see the original report).

The Onion predicted just this scenario in 2011, when they made this video for Comedy Central:

And it's easy to get down about the whole thing, because it's further proof of rape culture. We live in a society that excuses rape-- that trivializes it, that blames victims, that engages in slut-shaming. One common reaction to hearing that a woman was raped is, "She probably wanted it and then just regretted it and cried rape." I even read that comment about this case-- which willfully ignores the fact that she was unconscious, and therefore not in a position to "want" anything.

CNN chose to play the "poor, poor rapists" angle rather than pointing out that, for instance, the "apology" that one offered was not an actual apology. He said, "No picture should have been sent around, let alone taken."

Wait, he thinks THAT's the problem? Notice that what he does not say is, "I should not have raped her." Just that someone else shouldn't have taken a picture of it, thus helping him get convicted.

But all of that is leading to the positive, which is the same positive I noticed during the Penn State trial: People are upset about this.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are blowing up with men and women alike who are furious with CNN for their coverage. There are multiple petitions on and other sites requesting that CNN issue an apology for their terrible coverage.

Thirty years ago, this probably wouldn't even have made national news. Rape was much more taboo back then. People didn't talk much about it because it was icky. Now people have opinions. Loud ones. They're not afraid to say, "This is wrong." People who've never been sexually assaulted themselves manage to care enough about this topic to speak out-- to make phone calls, to write blog posts, send in letters to the editor, etc. And speaking on behalf of the far-too-many of us who HAVE survived sexual assaults, I thank you for this. It helps us to feel less alone and judged when we know there's a community out there who is willing to step up and yell on our behalf.

There are many people who've been victimized who never tell anyone what happened because they are worried about being judged for it, as if they were "asking for it" based on what they were wearing, or who they went out with, or whatever. The fact that there's such a large and vocal community now speaking out in favor of a girl who went to a party and got drunk is actually a beautiful thing to me, because it shows we've made real progress. It's not okay to rape, no matter what. 

We're sending out the message to the media: We don't feel sorry for rapists. We don't care that they played football, or did reasonably well in school. These are not good people who made one teensy little mistake. There was a girl here who couldn't speak up for herself, and we're giving her a voice now.

We don't care what she was wearing.

We don't care what she was drinking.

We care that she was assaulted, abused, degraded, and left to die by people who all thought it was hilarious good fun.

These are not good people.

Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Luckily, the good men and women are not doing "nothing" anymore.

We're making strides against rape culture. Like any major social problem, it won't be fixed overnight, but it's important to speak out and push change forward a little at a time. Racism isn't over in this country, but it's come a long way. Victim-blaming needs to go through the same process. Name it, call it out into the light, examine it, and then extinguish it one person at a time until it would be absurd for a major news outlet to praise rapists again.

So thank you to everyone who's signing those petitions and talking about this and expressing their sympathy for and solidarity with sexual assault survivors. Even when you don't know who we are, we hear you, and it matters.


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