With the verdict announced on the Steubenville Ohio gang-rape case, there has been renewed outrage at the way this case was handled from the beginning.
The 16-year-old rape survivor's own community is divided, with some citizens vocally defending the rapists and making light of the rape report. That would be outrageous enough on its own, but many of the media reports have been following in those citizen's footsteps.
Much has been said about how the verdict has destroyed the lives of these two young men, with the rape portrayed more as a bad career move than a heinous crime. Excuses have been made for the rapists and the atrocity of their actions has been minimized. The survivor has received threats, and the media is quick to stress that she was drunk and at an all-night party. Many of the comments on social media are far more blatant in their victim-blaming.
The Mays' apologies show an equal lack of understanding and remorse. Trent Mays apologized for taking and sending the pictures which led to his arrest and conviction (but not for the rape itself), while his father apologized to "Ma’lik’s family, the community, the school, everybody else" for putting them through this. The other offender, Ma'lik Richmond, did apologize directly to the girl and her family.
People talk about a "rape culture" because too often, the blame is placed on the victim - after all, "boys will be boys" and "teenagers will be teenagers". Women are asked why they were wearing those clothes, in that location, drinking that beverage, leading him on. Offenders are excused on the grounds of being drunk, being young, getting carried away, and besides, it wasn't really violent. Women are told to get over it, move on, let it go. (Don't you know what it will do to his life if you pursue this?) Men are told they are slaves to their desires. Rapists hide behind churches, militaries, and arcane laws. Women are told to prevent their own rapes.
And these two young men? They seemed to truly believe that because what they were doing wasn't "violent", it wasn't rape. This is where the idea that "no means no" fails. Instead, it's time we started to stress that "yes means yes," and everything else means no.
Is the person unconscious? That means no.
Is the person too drunk to form a coherent sentence? That means no.
Is the person hesitant? That's a no.
Is the person reluctant? That's a no.
Is the person uncertain? That's a no.
And the person's reputation? That's irrelevant.
What the person is wearing? Irrelevant.
What the person had been drinking? Irrelevant.
Had they been flirting with you? Irrelevant.
Did you buy them dinner? Irrelevant.
Did they leave a party with you? Irrelevant.
Did they come back to your place? Irrelevant.
Yes means yes. Everything else means no.