Interrupting the brave/hopeful narrative of Women’s History Month: a shocking, tragic reminder of the misogyny, violence and degradation that women still suffer in these United States, even in “the best” of places.
Steubenville, Ohio is not some fearsome, impoverished slum that Middle America might so easily dismiss as not being of much concern to the God-fearing righteous mainstream. Until now, Steubenville’s main claim to fame has been its very conservative university, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, known for its strict adherence to Catholic principles. Oh, and a football team, the “Big Red” of Steubenville High, one of the most successful high school football teams in the country.
Steubenville’s sterling reputation began to come apart in the aftermath of a drunken party involving members of that famous football team and other high schools students in August 2012. The facts are now well known: two members of that famous football team, including the quarterback, raped a 16 year-old girl who was so drunk she didn’t know what was happening to her. Other students took photos and videos of the whole tawdry event. The crime went viral when the students posted their photos and videos online, and then texted incessantly about what they saw with glee and salacious vigor. One report says that more than 100,000 texts went out from just 17 cell phones during the few days after the crime.
This past Sunday, March 17, 2013, the two men who committed the rape were convicted and sentenced to at least a year in juvenile detention — Trent Mays, ’17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 are technically treated as “boys” under the juvenile laws of Ohio, but they are surely men in the depravity and violence they committed.
Ohio’s attorney general is still investigating the case and says that more indictments may be coming, since those people who texted and sent around videos may have also broken laws that require reporting of crimes against children. The 16 year-old victim is a young woman, but also a child in the eyes of the law, so those who knew about the vicious acts against her may well be legally complicit in the rape, and surely they are morally reprehensible.
In the aftermath — don’t you hate that phrase? — Steubenville is asking how such a bad thing could happen in such a nice place.
Let’s get real. Women and girls continue to suffer horrific violence, degradation, humiliation and oppression in many startling places. Contemporary culture is sick with violence of all kinds, and violence against women is so prevalent that the United States needs a special law to address the problem.
Some people might say, well, there we go again with football players out of control. Oh, stop it. The boys get their ideas from the failure of the larger culture to respect women completely. Major institutions continue to demonstrate confusion and contempt for women. While we can be glad that the military have finally recognized women’s ability to serve equally with men in combat, in fact, women in the military suffer constant abuse. While women are the majority population in this country, women remain a small minority of executives in corporations, partners in law firms, board members and editors, members of Congress — women’s absence from the corridors of power and influence demeans women generally, leads to a climate that devalues women. When women are not taken seriously, it’s a short step from devaluation to humiliation and real oppression.
I am particularly saddened that some Catholic bishops last week came out against the Violence Against Women Act. Their reason is that the act specifically includes reference to sexual orientation, and the bishops claim that this legitimizes gay marriage, to which the Church is unalterably opposed. It’s fair enough for the bishops to teach the Church’s position on marriage, but in a culture where women are horribly abused and discriminated against every single day, I wish the bishops could have found a way to support the purpose of the law rather than picking apart its language.
The Steubenville case is a sad, stark reminder that in spite of all of our gains, women have a long way to go. I am often asked why Trinity remains a women’s college — isn’t that “over” the critics ask me, isn’t the revolution over?
My sisters, we have hardly begun. The revolution must continue….
See my blog “Church Reform Priorities” on the Huffington Post
See my comments on proposed changes to the student loan system in the National Journal
Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez