Protesters gather at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, in January, to demand justice for a girl allegedly raped by Steubenville High School football players last August. The case goes to trial this Wednesday. (AP)

Chilling video taken at a high school party in Steubenville, Ohio in which attendees laugh and joke about an unconscious 16-year-old allegedly raped by members of the football team, propelled the case into the national spotlight earlier this winter.

The deeply disturbing video focuses on Steubenville High School alum Michael Nodianos as he holds court with a grim comedy show, cracking up to quips such as, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!” and “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team!” Those with the stomach to endure the entire 12-minute video hear the victim repeatedly referred to as “dead,” offering ugly details including, “They peed on her! That’s how you know she’s dead because someone pissed on her.” The death motif is so amusing to those involved that it leads to a litany of references to her being “deader than” everyone from Caylee Anthony to Trayvon Martin.

The video combined with other digital remains of the attack mined from Twitter and Instagram stirred public outrage at the accused perpetrators, at the bystanders who failed to intervene, and at adults — coaches, police, prosecutor, and parents — perceived as having been complicit in covering up the assault, preferring to sweep the violence under the rug to protect the football team and the young men on it. Protests sprouted around the courthouse and are expected to resume on Wednesday as the trial begins.

Victims aren’t the only voices we need to hear in order to understand rape. These new, digital residues of sexual assault remind us that there is another silence at play: that of the perpetrator.

This video and other digital souvenirs of violence, such as the photos taken and circulated of Savannah Deitrich while she was sexually assaulted, may or may not have significant legal consequences. Yet their cultural legacy — the opportunity they have to undermine our most resilient rape myths — has the potential to be even weightier.

Advocates have spent decades trying to ensure that rape is taken seriously and that survivors are treated with respect and compassion. They have problematized the victim blaming that permeates conversations about rape, fought to make clear that rape is not only perpetrated by strangers, but also by acquaintances and partners, and worked to improve the way survivors are treated when they enter emergency rooms, police stations, and courthouses. But the truth of the matter is, when it comes to rape, the shame and blame heaped upon victims is still often so great that it keeps survivors silent. Much is said about the importance of breaking that silence, but in a culture that stigmatizes victims, speaking out is a lot to ask of people — mostly women — who are already suffering.

Instagram image of the alleged victim being dragged. (Anonymous)

Instagram image of the alleged victim being dragged. (Anonymous)

But victims aren’t the only voices we need to hear in order to understand rape. These new, digital residues of sexual assault remind us that there is another silence at play: that of the perpetrator. The social media emerging from the Steubenville case breaks that silence, giving us a rare window into rape.

What we find makes the cultural myths that serve to silence victims and excuse perpetrators far more difficult to maintain. Watching the video and seeing the laughter, hearing the braggadocio, it becomes harder to assert that those football players are “nice kids,” and nearly impossible to sustain the idea that the event was an unfortunate “miscommunication,” or that this was “just a stupid mistake.”

And as for the victim, seeing a photo her of her body being dragged around like a corpse makes the idea that she “sent mixed signals” or “was asking for it” laughable, unless you are of the knuckle-dragging variety — of which there are too many — who think a woman being incapacitated absolves her attackers of culpability.

Watching the video and seeing the laughter, hearing the braggadocio, it becomes harder to assert that those football players are “nice kids,” and nearly impossible to sustain the idea that the event was an unfortunate “miscommunication”…

Acceptance of rape thrives on myths like these that highlight individual decision-making and deny the existence of a broader rape culture that promotes male aggression and trivializes women and the violence against them. The Steubenville digital trail makes this culture visible, as the various pieces combine to paint a picture of a teenager dragged unconscious from party to party, and assaulted multiple times over the course of several hours, while participants and bystanders laughed. “Some people deserve to be peed on” one tweet proclaimed. The very desire to document reveals a pride in accomplishment. We share photos of the moments we wish to remember, not the moments we regret. And when this 16-year-old victim went to the police she was attacked for making the team look bad, not only by team members, but by adults in her community. Why protect her? She was no longer an honor student or athlete, she was “the dead girl.” That’s rape culture.

But the broader public response has been different. Early accounts on CNN treated the rape as unacceptable male behavior and a failure of adults to talk in depth about appropriate conduct with young men, instead of focusing on what to tell girls about how not to get raped. That shouldn’t feel as revolutionary as it does.

Advocates, academics, and survivors have been talking about rape culture for decades, but rarely do we become witness to its most unsettling manifestations. Actually seeing it has been so shocking that it is tempting to push it away as a problem unique to these young men or to Steubenville, but such denials would also be myths. Rather than deny, let’s dwell on these new uncomfortable insights and allow the rupturing of this silence to shift the shame and blame where it belongs.


Tags: Football, Law

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  • JustanotherVictim

    As a rape victim survivor, I could not watch that video with Michael Nodianos making those comments about what was happening. It brought back too many memories. Even though most of the world will see that Rape is not the victims fault, there are still a few out there that will still blame the victim. Most of those are the people who are related to the perpetrator. Even with proof of what happen, they will still blame the victim.

    • You are Awesome

      I give you props for even beginning to watch that video, just knowing their was such a video was enough to bring a lot of painful memories flooding back into my mind ( I am a survivor of rape as well as abusive relationships) . You are very strong.

  • Wally

    Sobieraj’s analysis is spot on. This event with its unusual transparency brings to light what victims have been experiencing and advocates have been fighting for years. Masculine culture is in many ways dangerous and veiled in innocent jokes.
    Standing up to this – beyond survival – is true courage.

    • dust truck

      Some still don’t even bother “veiling” their misogyny. Just look at all the hatred and vitriol (even death threats) that followed Anita Sarkeesian’s attempt to shine a light on the misogyny in Video Game culture. As a man and a gamer it shames me to think I share a passion with these apes.

    • Ralph850

      This is not Masculine culture. Masculine men respect women. This is a demonstration of a world gone mad, a culture of personality, a world where children learn they are never wrong, that they can have whatever they want.
      This is not masculine, this is criminal.

      • Melissa Baern

        If your reference to “a world gone mad” is meant to equate the culture of rape with modernity, or to imply that somehow our contemporary world is worse than previous eras in the way that men view and treat women, every bit of evidence points in the opposite direction. The devaluation of women and the normalization of sexual violence have been the norm throughout recorded history, not the exception.

        • Ralph850

          “Culture of rape”? please, I do not see a culture of rape. I see children spoiled, raised to believe that there are no consequences in life, that they can do no wrong. I see the idolization of sports to the point that these criminals feel entitled, immune. The great majority of people do not entertain themselves with the mis-treatment of women, or anyone for that matter. There is some small segment of our society that has no conscience, they are psychopaths. To imply or blatantly claim “Masculine culture” whatever that is, is to blame is just wrong. It sheds blame from these criminals onto the society as a whole. It in fact excuses these actions by taking responsibility away from the individuals. I dis-agree with your contention “devaluation of women and the normalization of sexual violence have been the norm throughout recorded history”. I call bullcrap on that. Were that true things would be much different now. Stop worshiping sports figures like Kobie Bryant, Sandusky, Mike Tyson, entertainers like Micheal Jackson, there are scores of them. They have no regret, no empathy, they are treated as gods. We tell our children that these are role models, these mega-Rich psychopaths who can do no wrong. We tell them to strive to be that. It’s not a rape culture, it’s lost self responsibility. Masculinity has nothing to do with abuse of anyone. These children and their parents are criminals. The society that created the environment of Idolization is guilty.

          • MelissaJane

            If you are unaware of the historical evidence that women have been treated as chattel for most of human history in the majority of human cultures, I can only suggest you do some original research; it’s certainly not an idea I came up with. The problem with dismissing the perpetrators of this crime as pyschopaths is that it makes it far too easy to dismiss them. There’s nothing really wrong here, no bigger issue, no problem in the way women and girls are perceived or treated; it’s just a few crazy people who are, apparently inexplicably, without conscience, or missing some gene, or heaven knows what; but they’re crazy. They’re not like us. They’re not OUR kids, not people we know. Nope, they’re crazy, so we don’t need to examine our culture at all. Except that you then double back on your own argument to say that it’s celebrity worship of sports figures that’s to blame. Which is, you know, a cultural problem. And a problem in the way that masculinity is constructed and perceived.

  • Tina Fetner

    The brilliance of this piece is that it focuses on a larger context for this horrific action. This is not simply the attackers vs. the victim, but rather about a larger community that first devalues women, then overvalues these particular men in their role as athletes, actively covering up, denying, and protecting them. This is what is meant by the term rape culture. It is a larger problem than the (horrific, awful) crime of rape.

    • dust truck

      Not just about women either. After all, even when Jerry Sandusky was convicted there were still MANY Penn State fans who blamed the victims for ruining Sandusky’s “reputation.”

      • KM5085

        That is absolutely untrue – I am a PSU alum, and I have not met a single person from Penn State who believe the victims are to blame. Unless you can site specific instances, please don’t make these blanket statements… Perhaps you are thinking of Joe Paterno? Many people believe Sandusky ruined Joe Paterno’s legacy… but even then, absolutely nobody has blamed the victims. Your comment is ill informed.
        On a side note, this is a fabulous and well written article.

        • Really?

          While dust truck’s wording may not have been ideal “…blaming victims..”, your reply was “I have not met a single person from Penn State who believes the victims are to blame”. His reference was to fans, yours seems to be to students/facutly/alum.

          The sentiment is generally fair. Here is a link to comments made after the NCAA sanctions were announced and the reference is Penn State Fans reactions.

          Here are two good examples (copy/paste), which I believe justify dust truck’s comment-

          Who got it worse? Sandusky’s victims or the 13 years of entirely unrelated athletes and student body of Penn State? #psu #pennstate #ncaa

          Is it really worth ruining the lives of so many others for the sake of 10 victims? #psu #pennstae #joepa #wearepennstate

          The sentiment is very clear here, football program more important than the victims. This was an institutional cover-up that went on for many years and if you do a very basic search you will see many, many folks suggesting that Stuebenville is Penn State revisited. You can argue either way about whether the reference is appropriate, but clearly many other folks see it similarly

          Joe Paterno ruined his own legacy by not making sure that this was handled properly. As soon as he knew, he was either part of the solution or part of the problem. He decided to be part of the problem.

          The gist of this article was regarding a widespread culture that plays down the crime at the expense of the victim. There were many people in positions of power at Penn State that knew about the Sandusky issue and they made decisions that were clearly not in the best interest of the victims to protect themselves, the football program, etc.

          The response of the NCAA was to make it very clear that the kind of culture that existed at Penn State was not going to be tolerated in the NCAA.

          Based on what Sandusky did, to ‘at risk’ children that already had their share of challenges to overcome, the burden those people face for the rest of their lives…people at Penn State should have gone to jail for letting him continue to have access to children and to use his association with Penn State for further abuse.

          • dust truck

            thanks for going into the detail that I didn’t have time for researching. Sadly, the media was exceptionally good at rooting out some of the most vile comments so they could drive up page-clicks, and I saw a lot of those tweets you mention right after the conviction.

          • km5085

            I think your response is awesome, and you make a ton of valid points, all of which I completely agree with. But while I totally agree w/ you, I think we’re on completely different pages regarding the original reason I responded to dust truck. I think you, dust truck, and I are all here for the same reason & had similar reactions to the article… however, I feel compelled to address the PSU “lumping” that occurs far too often – I have been called a pedophile just for attending PSU! Is that not an injustice?

            My comment was not to defend the university or Sandusky, or even to wade into the details of the scandal. My comment was to defend the PSU fanbase against the accusation that “MANY” of them blame the victims, because it is categorically wrong. Of course some morons made comments like the ones you cited, but unfortunately the world is full of stupid, ignorant people. As the article deftly points out, “…seeing [rape culture] has been so shocking that it is tempting to push it away as a problem unique to these young men or to Steubenville, but such denials would also be myths.” I am genuinely sorry that those morons made such disgusting comments, but my issue remains that 2 comments (and yes I know there are more) do not constitute “MANY psu fans”. <– that is my problem with the post.

            The vast majority of the psu fanbase (minus the morons referenced above) see Sandusky and those who covered for him as the bad guys- not the victims. The vast majority of the PSU community was absolutely outraged, disgusted, and devastated by the actions of Sandusky, and the University's inaction. To state otherwise is ignoring the facts. In less than a month after the story broke, the same PSU fan base you claim "blames victims" raised more than $500,000 for RAINN. No, I understand that money doesn't change the facts of the case, but I think its a good indication of the psu community's actual feelings regarding the victims. The vile & disgusting comments of a few should not be used to define the "many".

            My second issue with Dust Truck's comment is that the various parties involved with the scandal seem to have been confused… I would put a small fortune on the fact that outside of the Sandusky's family, there are VERY few people who believe that the victims ruined Jerry Sandusky's reputation, as stated by dust truck.

            On the other hand, and I think this is what dust truck was referring to, there absolutely ARE people who believe that Sandusky ruined Joe Paterno's reputation, as they believe Joe Paterno did not know about the sexual abuse.

            IMO, I don't know what JoePa knew, I think the NCAA fines were appropriate, and I'm glad Sandusky will die in jail. Graham Spanier, Tim Curly, & Gary Schultz will have their day in court, and will likely also do jail time. Those responsible for engaging in rape culture at psu WILL be punished – but I'm not one of them, and I don't take kindly to being implicated by association.

            I was hesitant to respond, but it is pretty important that dialogue be specific and accurate. Anonymity is all too easy with the internet, but if you're going to engage in a comments box – we should have reasonable expectations that we will be held accountable for it… myself included!

    • Shane Simmons

      “overvalues these particular men in their role as athletes”

      I think that’s a big part of it. Growing up as a non-athletic male, star athletes can nearly get away with murder. I’ve spent 20 years of my adult years watching school system make pants-on-head stupid decisions to save sports programs at the expense of everything else, and our culture values people who are famous and athletes over everyone else. This is why Penn State covered up raping little boys, and why Chris Brown, Michael Vick, Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan are free people.

  • Shae


  • handmaid99

    Nothing has changed, but in some ways we should be grateful for the development of some of the easy, handy social media that perps and their fans have in their pockets. In their inability to resist complicity, they film, they tweet, they post pictures and video to facebook, and they leave a trail of evidence. No more Mr. Nice Rapist. These were never nice boys

  • JMT

    What has so troubled me about this case is the real possibility that it was a premeditated crime planned by a group of teens – including (an)other girl(s) – to avenge her breakup with a fellow player who then drugged the girl with a “roofie” and set out to humiliate her as completely as possible. And all went according to plan. For me, a chilling level of teen rage and violence.

    Further, I continue to wonder where parents were in this mix. I don’t see on iota of adult supervision anywhere in any of these stories. Parents, police, teachers, coaches are all bent on preserving reputation. Could be media, could be culture.

  • Megan McHugh

    Thank you.

  • Melissa Baern

    “Give me a break about “teaching” proper respect for women to these boys. If you need to be taught that gang raping an unconscious girl is disrespectful, you are beyond hope”. Well, OK. But these children learned to be the people they are SOMEWHERE. They didn’t spring full-grown from the brow of Zeus; they were born into families and raised in a culture that somehow or other managed to teach them that drugging and assaulting a girl was funny. You can say they shouldn’t need to be taught otherwise; it’s easy to feel that. But how did they learn to do what they did? Saying that they are products of their culture in NO way absolves them of responsibility, and in fact, I think that everyone who’s pointed this out would argue that they should, indeed, go straight to jail. I don’t see anyone here in these comments, in the article above, or in the general outcry against this saying “oh hey, let’s give these kids a pass, society made them do it.” The reaction has been entirely the opposite. It’s their hometown enablers who’ve tried to explain a horrific crime away as no big deal, a misunderstanding (!), the victim’s fault, and on and on. It’s important to recognize that trying to figure out what motivated a crime, and what societal conditions led to that crime, is not some automatic mitigation of that crime. There has been no call to excuse these kids’ behavior simply because they were influenced by a larger culture of rape.

    • Cabanator

      Melissa, I appreciate your comment and do see your point. I was also interested in your previous comment in which you said that, “The devaluation of women and the normalization of sexual violence have been the norm throughout recorded history, not the exception.” That is actually the point I was trying to get at. While certainly cultural contexts influence behavior, I think culture only provides a very loose framework within which we as individuals exist on a very wide continuum. Throughout history and among many different cultures, rape, murder, and other violent acts have always occurred (mostly carried out by men of course). I am sure that different cultural contexts have affected the rate at which these events occur, but I have a hard time thinking of any culture in which violence did not occur at all. Therefore, I am always a bit skeptical when people use terms like “culture of rape,” as if this is some new or unique phenomenon. Frankly, I don’t think that all of a sudden society decided to teach kids that rape is okay, or funny. At some point, no matter what kids are exposed to, they have to develop enough of a conscience to be able to determine themselves what is acceptable behavior. If our kids aren’t learning how to do that, we have a very big problem.

  • Pat

    I was glad to see this thoughtful, well-written article, and salute its author, but I was shocked at the end by the following sentence: “Advocates, academics, and survivors have been talking about rape culture
    for decades, but rarely do we become witness to its most unsettling
    manifestations.” Rarely? Surely this writer is aware of the widely quoted estimate that 1 out of 3 women in America will be raped at least once in her lifetime. That’s not very rare, in my arithmetic. And many who study the subject believe this number is too low.

    • MassCentral420

      Yor numbers come from weher??? You do know your wrong,,, right??

  • Kirsten Olson

    Incredibly powerful piece about the horror of this action and set of events, which sadly, has become routine in some all-too-close-to-here cultures. Thank you for this STANDING UP and giving voice to what is horrifying and wrong. Patriarchy must end.

  • MassCentral420

    So the girl bears no responsibility in getting drunk and allowing herself to get into that position???

    Oh, I forgetshe has no free will!!!

    • geez louise

      If they hadn’t raped her, she wouldn’t have gotten raped.

      Blame the responsible parties, not the victim.

      • MassCentral420

        and if no one got on the Titanic it would not have sailed,,,

    • ElBean

      So every time you get drunk you should expect to be violated? You must be trolling because no one could possibly be that stupid. And if you are, I hope I never meet you because you obviously have no heart, no moral compass, and no humanity left in your shriveled soul.

      • MassCentral420

        No, every time you drink you should drink responsibly! Oh, and be 21 years of age.

      • MassCentral420

        better to get stupidly drunk and raped than to get stupidly drunk and get behind the wheel of a car!!

    • Kate

      Getting drunk is not illegal or punishable by rape. When I see drunk people in the street or at a party my instinct is to help them, not rape them. These men exercised their own free will in choosing to commit a violent crime against a vulnerable person. She is not responsible. They are.

  • cc9388

    Dont think she was that out of it , we will see her on all the talk shows , and made for TV movie , and since when weren’t women devalued ? this is a profundity? they have been devalued since the beginning of time , thats why they need not to be stupid and put themselves in that position , OH they should’nt have to I can hear it now , but they do and if they dont this is what happens

    • MassCentral420

      Geee,,, I’m going to get really drunk and not have to pay
      for any consequences!!!

      I am woman, watch me puke!!!