OAESV & NSVRC RESPONSE TO STEUBENVILLE

 

Turn off the victim blaming. Turn on support for survivors.

One day after the decision in the Steubenville rape trial, the victim blaming resumes: her name is shared in the media, threats are made against her and her credibility is called into question yet again. When will this stop? Why is society afraid to confront the fact that rape is predominately perpetrated by people we know and trust? In 8 out of 10 cases, the victims know the perpetrator.(1)

Let’s dispel the messages we have been hearing way too loud and turn up the volume on supporting survivors.

1. Victims aren’t responsible for “ruining” a perpetrator’s life. Rape is a crime of abuse and power. The justice system sent a message Sunday that rape is a crime with consequences.

2. Alcohol is not the cause of rape. While alcohol is often used to facilitate a rape, it is not the root cause of sexual violence.

3. Blaming victims and calling victim credibility into question will never end sexual violence. We need to stop shifting the blame onto victims, and instead realize that perpetrators are the ones responsible.

4. Victims’ identities should be protected. Their names should never be published in media. Ever.

And while this crime will have an impact on her, it’s important to note that over time, individuals can move from victim to survivor to thriver. Each survivor has their own healing process. Survivors are resilient. The Steubenville victim’s mother said, “This does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow, and move on.” To hear from other survivors about the impact of sexual violence on their life, click here.

Since high-profile cases garner attention and can be triggering for other survivors, the Ohio Alliance to End  Sexual Violence has compiled these resources to assist survivors navigating next steps:
Sexual Assault in Ohio: Legal Definitions
Understanding the Trauma of Sexual Violence
Understanding PTSD in the Aftermath of Sexual Violence
Supporting a Loved One Who’s Been Victimized
Criminal Justice Fact Sheet for Survivors
Contact Information for Rape Crisis Centers in Ohio

As survivors navigate their own path, we will never forget sitting in the courtroom during her testimony and hearing such strength and resiliency. She has brought hope to other survivors that they will be heard and that they do matter. So remember, your words and actions about what happened in Steubenville lets survivors know if you are someone they can talk to about what they may have carried inside, silently for years.

_____________

1 Miller, T. R., Cohen, M. A., & Wiersema, B. (1996). Victim costs and consequences: A new look (NCJ 155282). Retrieved from the U.S. Department of
Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf

 

 

Verdict: Two teen football players found delinquent in Steubenville rape case.

 

Daily Response to the Trial (March 13-16) from OAESV and NSVRC:

 

Day 1: Perspectives from Steubenville

Most people can identify with going to a party as a teen or young adult. The consequence may be a hangover the next day in some cases, but rape should never be the result of a night out with friends. Today, multiple witnesses voiced their concern for the victim. They mentioned she was stumbling, slurring her words and vomiting. As Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said, “they treated her like a toy” and exploited her substantial impairment. No one deserves to be raped ever under any circumstances.

Insignificant?
The defense hinted that the events on August 11 and 12 may have been “insignificant” to individuals involved that night in Steubenville, but to the rest of the world, the events are extremely significant. The defense played it off that these are just silly things kids do when they’re drunk. Rape is never funny. Rape is an epidemic that happens far too often in every community. Nationally, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.[1] Over two-thirds of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement were juveniles.[2] In Ohio in 2011, 60% of all victims reporting to law enforcement were juvenile victims and the average age of victimization was 15.[3]

Not Fine                                                   
Witnesses recounted that the victim said she was fine and wanted to leave with the accused, but she clearly wasn’t fine. Vomiting in the street and not remembering what happened is a sign of substantial impairment. Perpetrators look for intoxicated victims who have higher vulnerabilities.[4] The majority of drug-related assaults (96%) involved alcohol consumption prior to an assault.[5]

The defense teams attempted to shift the responsibility onto the victim today, rather than the alleged perpetrators. When, in essence, victims are never to blame. Calling victim credibility into question won’t stop rape. The victim isn’t on trial here. If it was any other crime we would not blame the victim. Yet, when it comes to rape, victims face many barriers. It takes an incredible amount of courage for a victim to come forward. High-profile cases make it even harder, because a victim may worry about how the media scrutiny will impact their lives/families, or some fear that they will not be believed. Others may face retaliation or fear for their safety. We need to support survivors everywhere. This case could impact whether other victims will come forward in future cases. This case will likely set a precedent on drug-facilitated sexual assault cases in the future.

Inaction
Witnesses also talked about just leaving the party and not doing anything. The inaction of bystanders is deeply disturbing. Peers had multiple opportunities to intervene, but instead they didn’t help the victim. Why?

We have to equip youth with the tools to help prevent sexual violence. A culture that allows sexual harassment, objectification, degradation and rape is harmful. Everyone has an active role in preventing abuse. To build safer communities, everyone must speak up against incidents or messages that normalize sexual harm, abuse, or exploitation. And if you feel powerless speaking up in front of peers, then reach out to someone  with the power and authority to make a difference.

The person in this story who made a difference is the victim. The courage and bravery she took in coming forward to seek justice is empowering to so many survivors not only in Steubenville, but across the world. Survivors will not be silent any longer. One voice has raised the voices of many. That is significant.

 

###



[1] Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect 14, 19-28. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(90)90077-7

[2] Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident and offender characteristics (NCJ 182990).  Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf

[3] Ohio Department of Public Safety, Office of Criminal Justice Services, Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System. (2013). Retrieved from http://portals.ocjs.ohio.gov/oibrs_portal/faq.aspx

[4] George, W. H., Cue, K. L., Lopez, P. A., Crowe, L. C., & Norris, J. (1995). Self-reported alcohol expectancies and postdrinking sexual inferences about women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 164-186.

[5] Lawyer S., Resnick, H., Bakanic, V., Burkett, T., & Kilpatrick, D. (2010). Forcible, drug-facilitated, and incapacitated rape and sexual assault among undergraduate women. Journal of American College Health, 58, 453-460.

 

Day 2: Something Doesn’t Add Up

+/- 700                  students go to Steubenville High School

+/- 50                    teens were at one of the parties August 11th

362,972                 cumulative texts were recovered from 12 confiscated phones and an iPod

307,977                 cumulative photos were recovered from 12 confiscated phones and an iPod

+/- 140                  students at Steubenville High School are estimated to be survivors of sexual assault

           0                    the # of people who intervened that night.
———–

Something doesn’t add up.

Today’s testimony in the Steubenville rape trial focused on technology and it provided a detailed, disturbing look at how the events of August 11-12, 2012 unraveled. In the courtroom we heard graphic, appalling text message exchanges between the defendants, the victim and their circle of friends. The prosecutor’s witness, Joann Gibb, Computer Forensic Specialist from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, provided a play-by-play of what happened that night when she read text messages from 12 seized cell phones and an iPod.

The text messages painted a vivid picture of:

  • the victim’s level of impairment, with multiple accounts referencing her as “a dead body”
  • how she was exploited while impaired (nude photos were exchanged and a video was shared)
  • being degraded by derogatory language, laughing, using “LOL” in nearly every text, while others denied the severity of her victimization.

First, it’s important to define rape. Rape is not funny and it is not a “misunderstanding.” According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), rape is defined as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”[1] “A dead body” cannot give consent.

Second, technology is the way teens communicate. We heard more than four hours of testimony today detailing the exchanges between teens in this case. While not all of the data on each device could be obtained, due to encryption, they did retrieve thousands of pages of information from one defendant’s phone alone. Nearly three quarters (73%) of online teens use social network sites. Technology can help facilitate sexually-violent acts, before, during and after an offense. Before a sexually-violent act: Social networking can provide a false sense of connection between offender and victim. For example, the act of ‘friending’ enhances the feeling of ‘trust.’ During the act of sexual violence: Technologies can be used to record non-consensual sexual activity. Threats to distribute this material can be used to further coerce and victimize. After an either consensual or non-consensual sexual activity, offenders can distribute images to cause further harm to victims.[2]

We learned today that several people were aware of what was happening that night, and they were texting and tweeting about it, but no one did anything to actually help her. Many teens are afraid of intervening in sexual assault, partly due to peer pressure and other factors. In a study released this week, conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, it highlighted the following: “53 percent would find it difficult to intervene, and 40 percent wouldn’t even know what to do if they witnessed such a crime. 62 percent of young men and women said they would be willing to help if they witnessed dating violence or a sexual assault, but only 46 percent of males thought they would recognize such a crime.”

The victim first found out about what happened through social media. If someone would have spoken up and helped her that night, it could have turned out differently. We have to change things, so that when things don’t add up, it only takes ONE person to alter an outcome.

 

###

 

About OAESV and NSVRC

As Ohio’s statewide coalition, OAESV advocates for comprehensive responses and rape crisis services for survivors and empowers communities to prevent sexual violence.
For more information, visit www.oaesv.org, www.twitter.com/OhioAllianceESV and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ohio-Alliance-to-End-Sexual-Violence/333035558365.

Founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in 2000, NSVRC identifies, develops and disseminates resources regarding all aspects of sexual violence prevention and intervention.
For more, visit www.nsvrc.org, www.facebook.com/nsvrc and www.twitter.com/nsvrc.



[1] U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation(2012). Attorney General Eric Holder announces revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/attorney-general-eric-holder-announces-revisions-tothe-uniform-crime-reports-definition-of-rape

[2] Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, K. (2010b). Social media and young adults. Retrieved from the Pew Interenet & American Life Project: http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Social_Media_and_Young_Adults_Report_Final_with_toplines.pdf,

Zweig, J. M., Dank, D., Yahner, J., & Lachman, P. (2013). The rate of cyber dating abuse among teens and how it relates to other forms of teen dating violence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-9922-8,

Bluett-Boyd, N., Fileborn, B., Quadara, A., & Moore, S. (2013). The role of emerging communication technologies in experiences of sexual violence: A new legal frontier? (Research Report No. 23). Retrieved from the Australian Institute of Family Studies http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/resreport23/rr23.pdf

 

Day 3: Perspectives from Steubenville

 

“Now, you know this stuff has gotten real.”

The defense team uttered those words during the third day of testimony in the Steubenville rape trial. Indeed, this has gotten real. Real serious, real fast.

Contrary to what the defense teams want you to believe, rape is not a misunderstanding, nor is it funny. It is a crime, one of the most underreported crimes — nearly 63% of all rapes are never reported to the police (Rennison, 2002).

A lot of today’s testimony highlighted the fact that teens who testified were unaware of what sexual violence really meant. One teen said, “It wasn’t violent. I don’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.” Apparently, he wasn’t the only one confused. Others didn’t know what digital penetration or voyeurism meant. So let us clarify things.

The CDC defines sexual violence as any sex act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. Anyone can experience sexual violence, including children, teens, adults, and elders. Those who sexually abuse can be acquaintances, family, trusted individuals or strangers, and of these, the first three categories are most common. Sexual violence is a broad term and includes rape, incest, child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), rape is defined as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Three witnesses testified to take the Fifth, so that they wouldn’t incriminate themselves. All three witnesses were compelled to testify to further the administration of justice. And although they were there to testify, they frequently could not recall or even say for certain significant events that had been documented in text messages. Things mentioned on the stand:

  • Victim-blaming texts downplayed what happened: “If we get questioned … that’s her fault. It’s not like we had sex.”
  • Defense attorney basically told an eyewitness to butt out: You made it your business and that’s why you’re here today. Wish you didn’t?
  • Defense attorney applauding sexist “boys will be boys” mentality: “Teenage boys talk about their sexual exploits, right? When your friend gets a blow job, you say, ‘good for you.’”

For the second day in a row, testimony referenced that the football coach not only “took care of it,” but was also joking about it. In a show of solidarity, two of the witnesses even wore their school colors, red and black, as they took the stand.

The video “threatened my future.”

What happened that night will impact the victim for the rest of her life. There are long-term and short-term effects of sexual violence including nightmares, flashbacks, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), eating disorders and substance use or abuse. Those impacted by the case can also experience secondary or vicarious trauma. The teens testifying today said they were worried, devastated and anxious.

So what can we do to change this thinking, culture?

  • Parents, teachers and coaches need to be positive role models and form relationships that are respectful.
  • Parents need to talk early and often to their kids about consent and make sure they know what that looks like. They need to open the lines of communication and let their kids know they can talk to them about anything. Next month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The theme for April’s campaign is “It’s time to talk about it.”
  • The world needs engaged bystanders, aka people who will speak up when they see or hear things that are harmful.
  • Invest in prevention in schools, on the field, and in the workplace.

And as we heard today, it’s “gotten real.” It’s time to elevate the conversation a notch and take a look at what policies and training need to be in schools, and how to hold individuals and systems accountable for addressing these issues. “This isn’t a test.” It’s her life, and she matters.

 

Rennison, C. A. (2002). Rape and sexual assault: Reporting to police and medical attention, 1992-2000 [NCJ 194530]. Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsarp00.pdf

U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012). Attorney General Eric Holder announces revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/attorney-general-eric-holder-announces-revisions-tothe-uniform-crime-reports-definition-of-rape

 

Day 4: Victim’s Testimony

“The things that made her an imperfect witness made her the perfect victim. She did the best she could to piece it all together. They knew she wouldn’t remember. She was the perfect victim.” Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter mentioned this in her closing arguments on day four of the Steubenville rape trial. When the victim testified today, she displayed courage and bravery and moved many to tears at points during her testimony.

Testimony heard for the first time this week revealed text messages between the victim and one of the defendant’s, in them one defendant apologized under the pretext to persuade her to not press criminal charges. And while he claimed to allegedly be “taking care of her” the night of Aug. 12, 2012, the victim was quick to point out that “anyone with a heart” would not do what he did.

In a text exchange, one of the defendants says, “I’m gonna get in trouble, but I should be getting thanked for taking care of you.”

“Taking care of someone” doesn’t mean taking advantage of them in their most vulnerable state. The victim was substantially impaired – slurring her words, stumbling and vomiting – and the prosecutors point out that the two boys knew it.

Later, the defendant hints at exploiting her by saying “I want to apologize for the video and the misunderstanding … yeah, I admit, I did take a picture of you.”

Note to the defendant: Rape is not a misunderstanding. It’s a crime.

The defendant goes on to what appears to be pleading with the victim via text message, saying, “I’m about to get kicked off the football team.” To that, the victim bravely responds, “The more you bring up football, the more [expletive] I get because that’s all you cared about. “In her testimony, the victim described waking up with no memory of what happened and not knowing where she was. She said it as “really scary,” and she felt embarrassed because she “didn’t know what happened at all.” Not remembering every detail is not uncommon with victims of sexual violence. These events are traumatic and trauma affects people differently during and after rape.[1] Similarly, when her friends picked her up the next day, the victim was very quiet, and others described her as “tired.” After a sexual assault, victims may be monotone without emotional reaction.

She said in the courtroom that she “didn’t want to believe what happened was true, because [she] knew everyone would just try and blame [her].” Her friends’ response to what happened that night was just that. Instead of being supportive, they proceeded to yell at her for her behavior that night. When someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, believe them. Support and listen without judging.

Today, she showed the world that victims will be silent no longer. Through her bravery, she’s ignited a worldwide conversation and outrage that has traveled across the globe. She is one voice and the voice for many.

On Sunday, Judge Lipps will announce his decision on this case at 10:00 a.m. We’ll be there and will follow up with an update.



[1] The OAESV and NSVRC gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video Interview with Dr. Rebecca Campbell on the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.