This is the last week of my Occupy Wall Street course, and so we discussed themes that the class agreed needed to be expanded upon. One of these themes was sexual violence, and in light of recent events, we contrasted the incidences in OWS compared to Steubenville.
The differences were obvious, but they still enrage me. The combination of media-framing and the journalistic rush for sensationalism rendered the OWS assaults as symptomatic of the movement itself. While of course these assaults are just as disturbing as any other, an important point to remember is that social movements do not exist outside of current systems of power and inequity. That is not to defend these events. However, it is debatable whether the number of assaults in the camps were any greater than the number of assaults that happen every day on the streets of New York City.
Thus through media-framing, the OWS assaults were picked up by mainstream media to perpetuate imagery of this social movement as violent, uneducated, barbaric and downright anarchical. This imagery was used as propaganda to promote resistance and destroy the movement.
So why is it that we refuse to frame instances of violence on school campuses in the same light?
The mainstream media response to the Steubenville case has been absolutely atrocious. The perpetrators are constructed as victims of the legal system, lost football stars who were just being boys.
(See CNN for victim-blaming and justification of sexual violence due to alcohol, and emotional aggregation in support of rapists).
But everyone loves a redemption story, right? It will be interesting to see in a year from now, once they are out of prison (because a year is all the sentencing that they received), which college or university will jump on the chance to give them a scholarship and help get their life back on track. This might not even be necessary, as one of the convicted rapists is filing an appeal citing that as he is 16, his brain is not “fully developed.”
I remember two years ago sitting in an Ottawa courtroom and watching a 16-year-old boy receive over 300 hours of community service for being caught with a small amount of marijuana. I remember the shock I felt when the next individual, an older man, received a lesser sentence for beating his pregnant girlfriend, pushing her down the stairs, removing all communication technologies and her keys to their home, leaving her bleeding and bruised with nowhere to go and no way of contacting anyone.
This is how our society values women’s bodies. This is how we value the bodies and actions of young athletic men compared to those of activists, social movement actors, anarchists, fringe groups, outcasts and outliers.
Where is the redemption story for survivors of sexual violence? At the very least, where is the redemptive language in the media coverage of her experiences? The victimization of both the survivor and the rapists does no good, for anyone.
We as journalists have a degree of legitimacy and certainly a lot of power. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and do our jobs properly. This includes not releasing the identity of a rape survivor, whose family is now receiving death threats for “ruining the lives of two young boys.” I hope that in a year from now the mainstream media will have received an education on rape culture and violence.
For an excellent response to this media coverage, check out Laci Green and her Steubenville edition of Sex+.