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Steubenville: Whatever Happened to Human Dignity?Keith Srakocic / AP
Steubenville: Whatever Happened to Human Dignity?

Steubenville: Whatever Happened to Human Dignity?


Mar 20 2013
A discussion of rape, responsibility, and redemption.

"My life is over. No one is going to want me now." These are tragic words spoken by a key figure in the Steubenville rape trial. But no, they weren't spoken by the young victim, but rather one of the rapists.

A case like this calls into question so many issues surrounding rape culture, youth culture, sports culture, absentee parents, and the justice system. The ways to tell a story like this are countless. As The New Yorker points out, the tale that a young rapist's life is over because his victim dared to tell the truth is just that: a tale. This story is about far more than the "ruined" futures of the rapists. It's about the onlookers who did nothing, the youth culture in which these sorts of things happen far more often than anyone wants to know, and about what happens next for everyone--most of all the victim. As many have said, unlike that meted to the rapists, hers is a life sentence.

It's hard to pick just one aspect of the troubling Steubenville rape to address. So at Her.meneutics, we're coming together to bring up several.

- Karen Swallow Prior

The big question looms: What does redemption look like in a situation like this? Justice for the victim is a start. When rapists are justly punished, our culture collectively affirms that rape is never permissible in any circumstance. Just punishment also affirms the value of the violated, names the evil committed against her, and stands with her in solidarity. And hopefully, just punishment will further stigmatize an action that does not belong in our society or our world.

Redemption also means learning from this crime. It means that our work is far from done. Clearly, men in our country still believe it is okay, or even fun, to see women as objects and violate them accordingly. Redemption means that we continue to resist the objectification of women with all our might.

But what about the rapists? What does redemption look like for them? Much has been made of the media's seeming sympathy with these men. On the one hand, sympathy for rapists and murderers is inappropriate at best. Grieving their "ruined lives" adds injury to the victim. On the other hand, this inappropriate sympathy does not negate the Christian call to love even the most unlovable. We are to yearn for redemption and renewal for all—not just the privileged or those who "really had potential." No one, not even these Steubenville teens, is beyond the grace of God.

Just punishment is an important step toward the change we hope to see in our world. But justice is not enough. If victims are to be healed, and perpetrators to be reformed, then just punishment is only the beginning of redemption.

- Sharon Hodde Miller

This is something I'm not supposed to say out loud in Christian circles, but here goes: On a visceral level, I have no sympathy for Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the two young men convicted of raping a 16-year-old woman, then recording and posting their actions online as a sort of victory cry. In fact, at this time, I'm not all that concerned about what redemption looks like for these men. On the level of intellect, I believe that God knows them, loves them, and extends his mercy and full restoration to them in Christ. On an unredeemed gut level, they are dead to me.

Kind of like their unnamed victim was dead to them the night that they decided to rape her. A description from Monday's hearing:

As these messages were read aloud, Judge Lipps heard Mr. Mays state that he had used his fingers to penetrate the girl, whom he referred to in a separate message as "like a dead body."

In another account, the men repeatedly referred to the victim as "the dead girl."

This choice of words--the dead girl--sums up everything we need to know about the Steubenville rape trial. See, when you violate and humiliate someone to the level that Mays and Richmond (and likely others) did to the victim that summer night, you effectively kill them. You rob them of their dignity, their agency, their glory--everything that makes them a living, breathing human being. You take life that was never yours to take. And the Old Testament says that death begets death, and that murderers will not see life. So I'm going to let God figure out how to resurrect these men to new life. In the meantime, I expect the tomb of prison will do the work it needs to do.

- Katelyn Beaty

These young men are individually responsible and should be held accountable individually. But as sportswriter Dan Wetzel pointed out, there remains an element of communal culpability that needs to be addressed. This case is illustrative of the good 'ol boy culture where some get away with bad behavior because of their status and privilege. This happens too frequently; it's just not always recorded and uploaded onto social media sites, as in the Steubenville case.

With the ubiquitous influence porn culture has on our sexual mores, Mays and Richmond showed no signs of guilt or embarrassment over violating her together in a threesome, without her consent and while others recorded it. Moreover, when their friend walked in on them, he seemed not to bat an eye at the perverse scene before him. While there are aspects of social media use that I believe are harmful to souls, it certainly can act as a deterrent to wrongdoing, promote accountability, and make it difficult to hide our sins.

- Marlena Graves

With 24-7 connectivity, there are also even more opportunities for abusive behavior within high school relationships, from hurtful language to nude photos, according to a recent Washington Post article. Researchers found that 25 percent of teens have been harassed online or through text. Sadly, even after being taught how to identify dating violence and why it's wrong, many of today's teenage girls engage in victim-blaming, saying women like Rihanna "had it coming." Their attitude goes to show that while we've got to teach kids about what's wrong with sexual assault and other forms of dating assault, the way we're doing it isn't enough.

Our lessons need to be broader and deeper and more comprehensive. Kids have to be taught from the time they are small that every person has worth and value. Every person should be treated with respect. They can't be taught this just once—they have to be taught again and again until it's ingrained in them. It has to be a way of life. And this is what the church has to offer our society: this belief.

- Gina Dalfonzo

The most powerful response I've read about the Steubenville case is related to Gina's point. It's called, "I am not your wife, sister or daughter" and makes the argument (with some strong language) that anti-rape rhetoric that appeals to men by asking them to consider that a victim could be a woman they love actually perpetuates rape culture "by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man."

We didn't discover any big answers or clear conclusions from the Steubenville trial, nor did we get to examine every issue tangled into this troubling situation, but as Christians, we know our worth and dignity before God stands at the center of this case. Indeed, we are all human beings, deserving of respect regardless of circumstance. For societal change to take place, we must first recognize that in each other and teach it to our children.

- Karen Swallow Prior

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Steubenville: Whatever Happened to Human Dignity?