My friend’s son is a smart, handsome center forward on the basketball team – he’s got everything going for him. College scouts coming out to see him play, tons of friends and a sweet, lovely girlfriend. His mom is so proud of him; she’s looking forward to seeing what his future will bring.

Then everything changes. One night he goes to a party where he isn’t familiar with the crowd, drinks one Jägerbomb too many, and passes out. There are some guys from the rival basketball team there, and they decide it would be hilarious to mess around with him.

These boys (also intoxicated) carry him upstairs, strip him naked, film themselves making lewd comments about how he’s “a big homo and takes it up the ass,” and begin inserting inanimate objects into his anus. Numerous partygoers take photos of the crime and film themselves laughing and taunting my friend’s son (still unconscious). After assaulting him for hours, urinating on him and taking numerous photos that are shared over social media, they finally tire of him, dump him in someone’s front yard and go home.

My friend’s son wakes up the next morning not knowing what happened but possessing a deep sense of foreboding – until later that day, when someone forwards him a picture of what was done to him the evening before. He is shocked, disgusted, angered and hurt. But he cannot yet imagine how bad things are going to get.

And my dear friend, his mother? She is utterly distraught and outraged. Her son was innocent – he didn’t deserve this treatment, this brutality, this cruel “joke” that she knows will haunt him for the rest of his life. She gets a community group together and they take a stand to get justice for what has been done to her poor son. Everyone is sympathetic – even the parents of the perpetrators and the rival team’s coaches have to admit that this was a vile, inexcusable act, from which my friend’s son may never fully recover. The community truly unites around the victim, lifting him and his family up in a time of need.

Except that I made this whole story up.

When something equally terrible actually happened to a 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio last August – when she was raped by multiple star members of the “Big Red” football team while so intoxicated that she was unconscious – this is a little how the reactions went:

“The rape was just an excuse, I think …What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.” – Nate Hubbard, Big Red volunteer coach

“Everybody on those Web sites kept saying stuff that wasn’t true and saying, ‘Why wasn’t this person arrested? Why aren’t the police doing anything about it? Everybody wanted to incriminate more of the football players, some because some of the other schools in the area are simply jealous of Big Red.”
– Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty

“He didn’t do anything” – Nate Richmond, defendant Ma’Lik Richmond’s father

[To the victim] “You ripped my family apart. You made my cousin cry. So when I see you it’s going to be homicide.” – Unnamed 16-year old relative of Richmond via twitter

Only some stopped to think – Does it make sense to blame and attack the victim and not the perpetrators of the crime, football stars Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond?

Other school officials protected the boys. Steubenville Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia told the principal and school superintendent that he had no reason to suspend the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties from play – because they didn’t think they had done anything wrong.

When approached in November, Coach Saccoccia claimed that he did not “do the internet” and therefore he hadn’t seen the photos and other evidence from the night of the rape. One reporter questioned him again on why he didn’t discipline the players, and his response was “You made me mad now. You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” It appears that Saccoccia took further action to shield the players from prosecution, despite being aware that they had raped the young woman. Evidence introduced by the prosecution includes a text message that Trent Mays sent in reference to the attacks, in which he claimed that Saccoccia “took care of it.”

Fast forward: the two accused boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, are handed a guilty verdict on Sunday, March 17. They will both face time in juvenile detention centers for their crimes. At the scene of the trial, the boys cry; they apologize to the victim. And then, most shockingly, CNN cries with them. In news coverage immediately after the judgment is read, award-winning news anchor Candy Crawley and CNN reporter Poppy Harlow talk at length about how the verdict will negatively affect the boys’ lives.

The victim is a passing thought as Candy asks a legal expert what this charge’s lasting effect will really be on Mays and Richmond – and how being registered as sex offenders will make things difficult for them. Poppy also mentions that this was an “alcohol-fused party” and “alcohol [was] a huge part in this” – almost seeming to excuse the boys’ actions because of their level of intoxication. Harlow, appearing incredulous, adds that just because Mays took a nude photo of the girl and disseminated it publicly, he will serve an extra year in prison.

Sexist double standards like these are often published as legitimate news. In 2011, 18 men ranging from middle school age to 27 years old were charged with gang-raping an 11 year-old girl. This article from the New York Times focuses primarily the devastation of the town and the ruined lives of the boys, barely mentioning the young victim. In passing mention of the assaulted child, the article criticizes her style of dress and tendency to wear makeup, and places blame on her mother for not knowing where she was. Instead of asking what demented sense of morality these boys might possess in order to commit such a heinous crime, the article asks “how could these young men have been drawn into such an act?” Sheila Harrison, a 48-year old woman who was familiar with some of the offenders adds “It’s just destroyed our community.  These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” It’s as if the important question is, how much future trauma and bother will they be subjected to because they gang-raped an 11 year old girl?

The question I want to ask: what can be done to help the victims of rape and to prevent these horrendous crimes against women from being so commonplace, and so accepted, in our society?