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Diane Mufson: Ohio case shows rape dynamics must change

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Last Sunday, in Steubenville, Ohio, Judge Thomas Lipps ruled on the much publicized rape case of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl. It's been a difficult and emotional case highly fueled by the extensive use of social media.

The judge sentenced two Steubenville high school students who digitally penetrated the victim last summer to at least a year in juvenile jail. One of the two abusers also received an additional year sentence for illegal use of nude materials.

The lives of these three teenagers, and possibly more who were involved in observing and using extensive social media to expose this event, are forever changed. The result of this trial should be that young people understand that rape and any form of sexual assault are never acceptable.

Rape has occurred throughout history and is often fostered by those who believe that women are inferior to men, exist only for their pleasure and should have no say about how they are treated. It has nothing to do with sex; it is about control and dominance. Aggressors in war and conquest frequently rape women and children.

Unfortunately, even in the 21st Century, some countries and communities view rape as "acceptable." With all the publicity regarding the damage that sexual assault brings, you would think that by now parents, families, churches and other social groups would be spreading the message that rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are not tolerable.

Obviously that is not happening. As the media reported on this case, there was often reference to the assailants being part of the local football team and how important a successful football team was to a "rustbelt" community that has lost thousands of jobs.

It was as though the important part of this case revolved around the community's status, which is dependent on the high school football team. One message seemed to be that if the football team suffered because some boys were a little too wild, it would be unfair, as it would hurt the whole community. High school football can be a positive force in any community, but it cannot be an escape from the reality of wrongdoing.

In this case the victim was judged to be so intoxicated either from consuming large amounts of alcohol or because others had put something in her drinks that she was incompetent to agree to sexual relations. The obnoxious and indecent photos displayed on the media apparently testified to her state.

Yet, a lawyer representing one of the accused football players used the familiar and ridiculous technique of placing the blame on the victim. According to an Associated Press article by Andrew Welsh Huggins, Walter Madison said, "The reality is she drank, she has a reputation for telling lies." According to this point of view, if one drinks or tells lies, victimization is acceptable.

The judge who ruled in this case rightfully reminded all those concerned "To have discussions about how you talk to your friends, how you record things on the social media so prevalent today and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by friends."

It's a pity for all involved in this case. There are no winners. The victim, the two football players and all those close to them have had their lives inexorably changed.

But even beyond Steubenville's experience, it is high time that American young people learn what decency, civility and appropriate sexual behavior require. This judicial decision reminds us that for everyone's sake, rape dynamics must change.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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