Content note: Rape and rape apologism.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has a new piece up blaming youth culture generally, and Miley Cyrus in particular, for the 2012 Steubenville rape. There’s a lot to hate in Cohen’s piece, from the rote victim-blaming to the arch condemnation of popular culture to the utter failure to comprehend the ways in which Steubenville’s upstanding, non-twerking adult citizens set the stage for, facilitated, and then attempted to cover up and excuse the crimes of that night. But I don’t want to talk about any of that right now.
I want to talk about one particular lie.
Here’s how Cohen describes what happened in Steubenville:
“The first thing you should know about the so-called Steubenville Rape is that this was not a rape involving intercourse. The next thing you should know is that there weren’t many young men involved — just two were convicted. The next thing you should know is that just about everything you do know about the case from TV and the Internet was wrong. One medium fed the other, a vicious circle of rumor, innuendo and just plain lies. It made for marvelous television…
…The Internet — in e-mails and tweets and Facebook…formed itself into a digital lynch mob that demanded the arrest of the innocent for a crime — gang rape — that had not been committed…
And yet what indisputably did happen is troubling enough. A teenage girl, stone-drunk, was stripped and manhandled. She was photographed and the picture passed around. Obviously, she was sexually mistreated. And while many people knew about all of this, no one did anything about it. The girl was dehumanized. As Levy put it, “[T]he teens seemed largely unaware that they’d been involved in a crime.” She quoted the Jefferson County prosecutor, Jane Hanlin: “ ‘They don’t think that what they’ve seen is a rape in the classic sense. And if you were to interview a thousand teen-agers before this case started and said, “Is it illegal to take a video of another teenager naked?,” I would be astonished if you could find even one who said yes.’ ””
That’s the entirety of Cohen’s summary of the case. There was no intercourse. The internet formed “a digital lynch mob,” calling for “the arrest of the innocent for a crime … the had not been committed.” A drunk girl “was stripped and manhandled.” Photographed. “Sexually mistreated” — “obviously.” But because the perpetrators didn’t know it was “illegal to take a video of another teenager naked,” because that act isn’t “rape in the classic sense,” they don’t know they committed a crime.
But the two young men who were convicted of rape in the Steubenville case didn’t just “take a video of another teenager naked.” They penetrated her digitally when she was dead drunk. One attempted — at a minimum — to force her to perform oral sex on him when she was in the same condition, and boasted that he’d had sex with her as well. (No rape kit was ever compiled.) Others witnessed these assaults, with at least one participating by videotaping one of the attacks. One partygoer was captured in a twelve-minute cell phone video joking about the incident, repeatedly describing it as a gang rape.
Because evidence was destroyed or not secured, and because several young men were given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony, the full list of perpetrators and their complete list of crimes will likely never be known for certain. But despite Richard Cohen’s despicable spin and obfuscation, one thing is clear — the girl at the center of the Steubenville case was raped.
Nobody — not the perpetrators, not the witnesses, not the victim — was in any way confused about that.