Will Steubenville be the Beginning of the End of Rape Cover-Up Culture?

Steubenville_OhioOhio Attorney General Mike DeWine might just be the nation’s newest champion when it comes to changing the culture of protecting schools and student athletes at the expense of sexual assault victims.

This week DeWine announced four more grand jury indictments against school officials, including the Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey and a former assistant football coach, in what increasingly is looking like a cover-up in the case involving the 2012 sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by two Steubenville, Ohio high school football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Mays and Richmond were convicted in juvenile court earlier this year for their actions, but DeWine and others vowed to keep investigating after it was revealed that some evidence had been deleted from social media accounts, and as it appeared that officials who were required by law to report what they knew about the incident had failed to do so.

“We must treat rape and sexual assault as the serious crimes they are,” DeWine said as he announced the current group of indictments. “When it is investigated, everyone has the obligation to help find the truth, not hide, tamper or destroy the truth.

“How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?”

But in a world where many often default into victim blaming and protecting the status of star male athletes in cases like the one in Steubenville, are parents and other school officials ready to step up and truly be accountable for their own actions?

DeWine was able to seek indictments against adults, mostly school officials, as a result of Ohio’s laws about who is legally required to report cases of suspected child abuse, including alleged sexual assault of minors. While many states have been exploring the idea of passing similar laws, few have. So without such mandates, law enforcement officials can only rely on those who feel a moral obligation to report possible sexual assaults.

While the details of the Steubenville rape, and the subsequent sharing of salacious photos via social media, were shocking, it wasn’t the first time we’ve heard stories of communities trying to protect star athletes at the expense of rape victims. What is shocking is the relatively common refrain —what about those boys and their futures?

We’ve seen the compulsion to protect athletes and strong sports communities before
in the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case, in the reporting of the gang rape of a Texas middle-school girl, in media coverage of the Steubenville verdict itself, and most recently, in the alleged rape Maryville, Missouri high school girl.

So have we become a society where it’s easier to lay the blame for rape and sexual assault at the feet of victims because of the perceived upset to a community if those with power and popularity are the alleged attackers? Even a well-known advice columnist recently advised girls and young women that if they don’t want to get raped, then they shouldn’t drink alcohol, reinforcing the notion that rape victims are really the ones who should take responsibility to avoid their attackers.

Now that DeWine has made a public stand on behalf of rape victims and against a cover-up culture in schools, which state will be next to spend the time and resources to dig deeper into cases like the one in Steubenville to help stem the tide of incidents where protecting student athletes and school systems trump the well-being of underage victims of rape and sexual assault? That idea doesn’t seem like it should be a crazy one.

Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist who is also the author of the book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. She is also the publisher of the digital magazine, The Broad Side. You can find her on Twitter at @jlcbamberger.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/Mike Sharp

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