I can’t stop thinking about what happened and is continuing to happen in Steubenville.
For those of you unaware of the story: Several high school football players drugged an ex-girlfriend of one of the playes. After she was unconscious they repeatedly raped her and carried her naked to several parties where they kept on raping and humiliating her. Many fellow students were aware of this, as they texted and tweeted about the events while they happened. Nobody stood up and defended the helpless girl.
When the allegations of the rapes in question first were made, key players in the town of Steubenville decided to protect the rapists and to slut shame the girl. The girl got death threats. The girl was vilified. The town wanted to keep the whole thing quiet. They wanted to make it go away. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Now two of the rapists have been convicted of rape and the mainstream media feels sorry for them, because their bright futures are destroyed by having to go to jail for one or two years and for having to identify as the sex offenders they as matter of fact are.
So far, so bad. If any of this outraged you, believe me, you and I are in the same boat.
However, there is something important going on, that I want to highlight.
The rapists did not get away with it.
Why not? Because their own hubris and stupidity made them use social media to document the events. The rapists live in a tight knit community that values their talents as football players very much. Their community upholds rape culture to an extensive degree. The rapists felt secure in their believe that they were above punishment and accountability. After all, she was just a stupid girl, right?
Well that might have been true for their little town, for their little community, where the lines of power were clearly established and everyone who dared to speak up risked punishment. It does not hold up for the internet community at large though. People from the outside became aware of the situation. People from the outside researched, got outraged, called attention to and condemned the rapes. And those people could not be intimidated and therefore would not shut up.
Because social media was involved from the very beginning, there is not only evidence in the case, but also a discussion about the despicable acts of the rapists. It is a public event now. People are speaking up and saying: “This is wrong.” There is no way anyone can put a lid on this scandal. It won’t go away. And I for one think that this is a very good thing.
Also, the football team of Steubenville is not the only group who has to adjust to this new reality. Much larger organizations have learned the hard way that you can’t spread a deadly silence over embarrassing topics anymore.
In the German language, to keep silent is an active word instead of a passive one. It is ‘Schweigen”. The word implies a choice. You can either talk or (stay) silent. And if you do not want to talk about something ever again, the German word is “Totschweigen” silent to death. This is also a very active word. It is something you do/you commit, instead of something you omit. The saying: “Wer schweigt stimmt zu.” the one who stays silent, agrees, also shows very much the active nature of the deed.
Keeping unwanted news silent has been one of the tools of oppression since time began. Hushing things up or only focussing on one agreed upon facet of the scandal was the order of business. Nowadays you can still try to spin a story in the traditional media. However the traditional media are not the only media anymore. And just as you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, you cannot intimidate all of the people all of the time.
For better or worse, the world will talk about what these rapists did. There will be a continued public discussion and there will be a continued condemnation of behaviors that are just horribly wrong.