While the concept of rape itself is abhorrent by every stretch of the imagination, every trial for rape brings two very real — and at least in principle diametrically opposed — thought processes into the mix and in stark contrast with each other. In any crime, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. And I’d hate to imagine someone truly falsely accused of raping someone; that would be pure hell for the accused. Thus, the accused has the right to a fair and reasonable defense. Again, that’s true in any crime; I’m not singling out rape here.
The big problem with rape trials, then, is that — at least if you factor out the situations where someone threatens greater violence if the victim doesn’t accede to the wishes of the attacker — the only real way to put on a defense, is to deny that the crime has been committed.
There has to be a better way, pure and simple. I don’t know what it is.
Steubenville raised a glaringly bright light to one other aspect of rape trials that is equally troubling. I would consider this kind of trial second only to murder trials in that the pursuit of justice will not undo the crime that was committed. In a theft trial, the stolen goods can be returned or the victim can be compensated for their loss. The best the victims in a rape or murder trial can hope for is that the guilty parties will have learned their lesson and won’t commit their crimes again. Maybe with a bit of deterrence for others who might think they can do the same thing and get away with it.
Small comfort for the victim. Add in a community that rallied not around her, but her attackers, and I wonder how much the trial added to the trauma she had already endured. After all, her attackers were stars of the high school football team, popular, boys will be boys, and all of that bullshit…
A feminist appearing on Fox News recently suggested that the solution to the problem of rape is to teach men not to rape anyone. Although somewhat simplistic, she’s right. It’s not as easy as she made it out to sound, but it’s the right thing to do. In Steubenville, surely the culture of entitlement that the boys felt (thanks to their prowess on the gridiron) was a huge contributing factor. And we saw that in the way the community rallied around them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of their guilt.
The way the boys reacted to their sentence, I think they thought that entitlement would acquit them of their crimes. That’s at least the impression I got; the fact that they broke down when their conviction was handed down, proves that they’re human. When they get out of prison, I sincerely hope that they’ll allow themselves to be a cautionary tale. I hope that they’ll be willing to talk about the horrible crime they committed, how they sincerely regret having done it, and being a message of reason: telling other people not to rape. Just like that woman on Fox News suggested.
Without regard to what the boys do, though, I wish the victim can find some degree of consolation in the outcome of the trial. It’s not going to be easy for her to move beyond the trauma of both the crime and the trial itself. But she must. For her own sanity and self-worth. She was exceptionally brave just getting this far. Whatever can be done to help her move forward can and should be done. Let her become a survivor and let her example be an empowering example to women everywhere.
It’s the least that can be done, for a crime that can’t be un-committed.