On Rape, Cages, and the Steubenville Verdict


by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous:

Today, the two 16-year-old football players who were accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty. The boys’ emotional reactions to the verdict, including crying in court, led several different CNN personalities to lament that their young lives have been ruined. That’s right. With no mention of the rape victim and how her life has been affected by being raped (and having the assault photographed and videotaped and tweeted about by the people who watched it all happening and did nothing), CNN went all boo-hoo for the boys who did it.

​ Now, I’m no fan of CNN, and I wouldn’t have expected much. But this is beyond the pale, even for them. And it’s a continuation of the rape culture that exists in this country and in this world that has been so highlighted by the Steubenville case, a case which “polarized” Steubenville because, while many folks seem to know that rape is bad, many people there, and elsewhere, seem to think that football is more important than 16-year-old girls not getting sexually assaulted. Rape culture has us always blaming women for rape, whether it’s because of how we’re dressed or how much we drink or whatever. Somehow, underneath it all, it’s always kinda the woman’s fault. After all, men and boys have penises and those things are just so hard to control, it can’t possibly be their fault. So, women and girls have to take on the responsibility of not getting raped. Because, you know, boys will be boys and stuff.

It’s sickening. Really, it is. ​

What happened to this girl is horrible. Her life has been affected in serious ways by the unbelievably terrible actions of these boys. And CNN should not be talking as if her pain, her experience, and her life do not exist. It is unconscionable for them to do so and they need to be held to account for it. Elevating the experience of these boys above the experience of their victim is not okay.

But, you know what is okay?​ Also feeling sorry for these boys.

Not in the way that CNN did it. Not at the expense of the girl who was raped by these boys. ​But including these boys in our feelings of sadness is okay.

​I, unlike many people reacting to today’s verdict, am not just thrilled to death that two 16-year-old boys are going to jail. What they did was terrible. There is no excuse. They have to be two seriously fucked-up kids to have done what they did. But what I know for damn sure is that jail does not fix broken people. It only breaks them harder.

The fact is that once these boys enter the prison system, even ​in juvenile detention, chances are that they will return to it. It will, with little doubt, fuck them up more than they are already fucked-up. They will not likely emerge from prison as two well-adjusted men who respect women and understand that sexual assault against them is not okay. That’s not what prison does for people.

As a Black woman, I especially am not thrilled to death to see another Black boy put in a cage. Black boys are disproportionately put in cages and I am not in any way happy that it’s happening again. What this boy did is terrible and I do not in any way excuse it. It is inexcusable. Thinking about it makes me feel crazy and hopeless. But adding another Black body to the Prison Industrial Complex just ​doesn’t make me feel any better about it. It only makes me feel worse.

The system of incarceration is an evil system. ​There is NOTHING good about it. It does not deter criminal behavior or fix it. It is a severely fucked-up, entirely ineffective, ever-growing, for-profit monster. And there is nothing good about two more people being locked-up in it.

​Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays need to be held to account for what they did, that’s for damn sure. And the girl who was sexually assaulted by them deserves justice. But justice does not and cannot exist in the system of incarceration, in the practice of putting people in cages. The Prison Industrial Complex continues to grow and grow and grow precisely because when very bad things happen we are all too happy to see the people responsible locked away and few of us ever consider the need to find better and more effective ways to deal with violence within communities.

I do feel sorry for these boys. And not only because they will be put in cages that will not make them any better. I also feel sorry that two 16-year-olds are capable of the things these boys have been found guilty of doing. That makes me deeply, deeply sad. ​That we have created a world in which, at just 16 years old, and even younger, boys can already hate girls this much. That they can already dehumanize and degrade them. That misogyny is so insidious and so effective as to make 16-year-old boys incapable of respecting this girl, of seeing her as a human being with the right to make her own choices, even when drunk, and the right to remain unviolated, even when passed out. I am sorry for these boys that, at 16, some of their humanity is already gone. The cruelty of kids is not new, and I guess it should not shock me, but this specifically gendered cruelty, at such extreme levels and at such a young age, is shocking to me. And I do feel very sorry for these boys.

Just not as sorry as I feel for the girl they raped.