Voices raised in Steubenville

March 19, 2013

Alex Robbins reports from Steubenville, Ohio, on a gathering of protesters standing against sexual assault during the trial of two teens who raped a young woman.

I DROVE to Steubenville, Ohio, on March 15 to stand with others who were showing solidarity with Jane Doe outside of the trial of the two teenage boys who were found guilty of raping her.

While the daylong rally, which drew 20 or so people at any given time, was smaller than some similar events held earlier, the sentiments that drew out members of the Steubenville community and others were the same: a desire to see justice for the victim and to speak out against rape and sexual assault.

The vocal crowd gathered outside the Jefferson County Justice Center, where the trial was being held. Those in attendance were mainly participants in the online activist "Anonymous" movement, which helped spur action in the case after leaking video of Steubenville High School students joking about the rape of Jane Doe. Others came from the Steubenville area.

Before the day was over, signs decorated the chain-link fence surrounding the courthouse, with messages like "End to Corruption" and "Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere!" Drivers honked their horns and thrust their hands out of windows, forming peace signs. Many shouted their support and raised fists in solidarity.

Supporters of Jane Doe gathered outside the courtroom during the rape trial in Steubenville
Supporters of Jane Doe gathered outside the courtroom during the rape trial in Steubenville

Members of the community who I spoke to were outraged at the circumstances surrounding the rape of Jane Doe. A woman from Steubenville who came with her daughter minced no words: "I blame the parents and the coaches. It's all connected to the home and the school."

Fed up with the history of hero worship of the athletes who perpetrated the crime and other young men in the community, she stated that she wants to see a better education for young people regarding sexual violence. She explained that this is not the first time something like this has happened in this community, and feared it will not be the last.

Another woman, who called off work and traveled from a nearby town to show her support, had hard questions for the movement regarding the liberation of women everywhere. "We still have so much work to do, obviously," she said.

After listing events to celebrate advances for women's rights, she said, "There are many celebrations for advances we've made. Why are we celebrating when there's so much that needs changed?" She went on to elaborate her frustration with law enforcement agencies whose mandate is to investigate such crimes, but who often fail when it comes to stopping violence against women.

"THIS NEVER would have happened if it had been players of any team other than Big Red," said a friend of Jane Doe who attended the rally--in reference to Steubenville High School's illustrious football team.

Several of Jane Doe's friends maintain that there is an elitism that goes along with being a star football player in the town. Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, the two football players convicted of raping Jane Doe, were part of a culture around Steubenville football that many say allows athletes' bad behavior to go unchecked.

This is not a new criticism, and it's one that was on the lips of many at the rally. Other friends of Jane Doe at the rally said the young woman was trying to handle the media firestorm and the anger and attacks from many residents who are upset that she came forward to report her rape. They explained that she was understandably shaken, but was holding up well.

Some members of Anonymous in attendance were also residents of Steubenville. One stated, "When something like this happens to one person, the wrong is also done to the community, to the rest of us."

Another Anonymous member and resident of Steubenville wanted to emphasize that while this crime took place in one small city, the problem of sexual assault is not an isolated one: "Everyone has to look at it as more than just Steubenville, it's everywhere."

A resident of the community who wasn't able to attend the rally emphasized the hope that the protests against this case of sexual assault will develop into a movement for long-lasting change: "I have to wonder what will happen when the trial is over, and the protesters leave. Will there be real change?"

It was an important question that resonated with many who came out that day. Steubenville is obviously not an exception when it comes to rape, which take place in towns and cities across the U.S. and around the world. Those who have held protests and rallies in support of Jane Doe, however, have also helped make Steubenville into a site of resistance against sexual assault, and of solidarity with victims of it.

One Anonymous member at the rally raised his arms and emphasized, "Everyone here who's from the community and everyone who isn't are all here for one thing--and that one thing is support. It's about support for the victim."

Those protesting against rape in Steubenville--both community members and those from outside the community--are showing that it is possible to stand against a culture of rape and violence against women.

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