Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rape and Reason

If there’s any silver lining to the recent rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that saw two football player rapists get only a few years in juvenile detention for a vicious sexual assault, it’s that the media was kicked in the teeth with a swift backlash in the aftermath. And that while our society’s institutions are falling further into dysfunction, new informal institutions are rising to take their place.

From the beginning the police and mainstream media dropped the ball and it was left to a defiant blogger to dig up evidence.

Public pressure shaped in large part by online outrage over the case helped get officials off of their asses and eventually charge two football players, but only as juveniles.

Even before the trial, news groups were spinning the story as one of drunken excess. That the victim might have consented is pretty far beyond the scope of responsible journalism given the mountain of evidence that was forced into the open by snooping bloggers.

We expect as much from a defense attorney in such a case. What I couldn’t believe was the online headline ‘Steubenville Rape Case: How drunk is too drunk to consent to sex?’ And that’s before the guilty verdict and the weepy performances by the convicted rapists. The “too drunk” headline came from CBS News, not some Hustler-esque jerk-off magazine that would trade in those types of things.

Two football players were convicted by a judge but their sentences were slaps on the wrist considering the severity of their crime. One of them will only serve a year in a juvenile facility and the other two years. You would think that such light sentences would be the lead on the stories, but no.

When the verdict was handed down, the rapists wept and felt sorry for themselves; they shed some crocodile tears on TV, boo hoo. For some reason, the going sentiment among many media outlets was to feel sorry for them.

The thinking was we were somehow going to feel sorry for a couple of guys who raped and even urinated on their victim? They grossly miscalculated.

Rape is not bad judgment. Black socks with sandals is bad judgment. A face tattoo is bad judgment. Rape is a heinous crime. Being drunk does not lead to rape. Being a piece of shit rapist leads to rape. Trust me. In my life I’ve been every combination of drunk and horny there is and I’ve never contemplated raping a chick, even in my most aggressive drunken state. It doesn’t require some bullshit sensitivity training either, just be a decent human being.

As terrible as the rape and the media coverage of it was, what’s encouraging is that there was a swift backlash against both and a rise of an alternative media that can help shape real events. While the media ran their coverage according to some talking points provided by defense attorneys, people reacted to it swiftly. Outraged outliers may be the saviors of the day once again.


Laura Weinstein said...

I agree that the sentences given to the two rapists are ridiculously lenient. Sixteen is old enough to know that raping is bad, and I think they should have been tried as adults. The evidence in this case, including video, was overwhelming. Unfortunately, in most rape cases, there is little to no evidence beyond the testimony of the victim that she did not consent to sex. DNA evidence proves only that intercourse occurred, not that it was without consent. Therefore, the testimony of the defendant that the sex was consensual is a pretty easy route to reasonable doubt. Only cases where the rapists used extreme violence beyond the forced needed to subdue the victim present corroborating evidence. For these reasons, I have been advocating that a different standard of evidence be introduced in rape trials. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is an unreasonable standard of evidence for rape cases, which are usually not reported and beyond that, public distrust of rape victims acts to prevent most of those cases that are reported from going to trial. I believe that the civil case standard of "the preponderance of evidence" should be applied to rape trials to level the playing field for victims of a horrible crime that is rarely reported and rarely prosecuted.

Matthew Sheahan said...

I have to disagree on changing the rules of evidence for rape. I think if adopted it would have the opposite effect of what is intended and cause people to take rape charges less seriously. Also, defendants are entitled to all the protections afforded to them by the Constitution. Your point about DNA evidence is spot on though, and there have been instances of rapists acquitted by juries that suffer the "CSI effect," and thinking every crime produces volumes of DNA evidence. This is what happened in a recent trial of a NYPD officer who raped a woman in her apartment, even when they had a recording of his admission to the rape. Educating people will be the key, not changing the rules of evidence.