When CNN broke the verdict of the Steubenville rape trial, I was momentarily disappointed by the lack of throbbing hologram-action, but I was overjoyed that defendants Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 had been found guilty. Considering that they digitally penetrated an intoxicated 16 year-old, instructed other boys to urinate on her, live-texted it, disseminated naked pictures of the victim, and used the defence that because she was unconscious, she was consenting, I am relieved to know that they will see their day in jail.
While you would expect CNN to express heart-felt empathy for the innocent victim whose life has been forever scarred, Candy Crowley spent most of the segment sharing her deep-seated concern for the convicted rapists instead. When she asked Poppy Harlow, the correspondent on the ground, her thoughts on the verdict, Harlow responded:
"I've never experienced anything like it Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising future, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart."
Cue the footage of tearful apologies from the rapists in court and emotionally titillating account of one of the rapist’s estranged father having whispered "I love you" for the first time to his son during his court hearing. Thank you, CNN, for making sure we know who to have sympathy for in this story. Where is your emotional concern for the rape victim? Why is your empathy directed for the convicted boys instead? Why is there ANY sympathizing with rapists at all in this segment?
That’s when CNN got Paul Callan, a legal expert, to comment on the case. Did they get him to explain how the defence managed to trivialize the meaning of consent or how they tried to call the victim’s character into question during the trial (which is illegal in sexual assault cases in Ohio)? Nope. They preferred to stick with their rape apologist narrative and discuss the faith of these poor young rapists instead.
Candy Crowley asked the legal expert: "16-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds ... what's the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?"
Paul Callan answered:
"The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law ... That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see that they're registered sex offenders. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet, where these things are posted, neighbors will know that they are registered sex offenders."
CNN's framing of the Steubenville story implies that the only thing these boys did wrong is get caught. As Jessica Valenti rightfully points out, the "verdict didn't 'ruin' the 'promising' lives of #Steubenville rapists. Their decision to rape did."
CNN's coverage blatantly exemplifies the many forms of victim-blaming that continue to permeate our social narrative. When we don't hold men accountable, we are holding women responsible. As long as we publicly sympathize with rapists, we are glorifying them. Rapists deserve no apology; rape survivors do.