Steubenville, Ohio is the typical all-American small town. Citizens regularly pack the town’s crowned jewel – Harding stadium – to cheer on the Steubenville High School football team. With nine state championships, the players on the team were seen as role models, some even celebrities.
However, when two high school football players were accused of raping a drunk and unconscious 16-year-old girl, the admirable and glorious image Steubenville once had instantly shattered.
Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, both star athletes at Steubenville High School, faced a hard reality when found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at a house party. Not only did the athletes sexually assault the minor, but Mays was also charged for releasing pornographic pictures of the unconscious girl. Both students were given the maximum sentence of prison until the age of 21.
Rape and sexual assault cases like this are not only prevalent in high schools, but also in colleges across America. Horrifically, one in four college women will be sexually assaulted during their academic career, and every 21 hours there is a rape on a college campus, according to clevelandrapecrisis.org.
“The Hunting Ground,” a recently released documentary, includes a variety of stories from rape victims on college campuses. More specifically, the documentary analyzes the unfair response that victims received from universities after reporting a rape. The documentary seeks to openly and honestly talk about rape on college campuses – something that’s been difficult for American society in the past years.
Annie Clark, a student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was immensely excited to be starting her college career at such a prestigious and well known university. “I really had a great time there,” she said in “The Hunting Ground.” “The first few weeks I made some of my best friends and we’re still really, really close to this day.”
However, when Annie and a friend of hers were sexually assaulted before classes had even started, her dream of having the perfect college experience quickly faded. She immediately reported to an administrator but was only left disappointed, humiliated, and confused.
“Rape is like a football game,” an administrator told Annie, “And if you look back on the game, what would you do differently in that situation?” Annie remembers being stunned – she came into the meeting expecting “resources, [and] support [but]instead she gives me this metaphor that rape is football and it made no sense.”
Annie recalls being questioned by the administrator, being asked whether she was drunk when the rape occurred, and what she would have done differently. “I was just getting blamed and blamed and blamed for this,” she said.
Unfortunately, there have been many rape victims that share this similar experience, where they themselves are blamed of being raped. Victims, both men and women, are constantly asked questions as to what they were wearing at the time, what verbal usage they used, or whether they were intoxicated, leaving the victims feeling guilty and confused, and the rapist acquitted and free to commit another rape.
This victim blaming has only a silencing effect, with a total of 88 percent of college rape cases not being reported. Clare Bond Potter, a former associate professor at Wesleyan University, concludes in the documentary that from this victim blaming, “if a student comes to an administrator with a problem, it’s not as if the administrator wants that student to be harmed, it’s not as if the administrator wants that harm to be perpetuated, but their first job is to protect the institution from harm, not the student from harm.”
This is the problem American universities face today. The pressure to maintain a perfect image to sell to students nationwide prevents administrators from openly talking to and seeking help for those sexually assaulted, in fear that reports will damage their reputation. David Lisak, a clinical psychologist, said, “Universities are protecting a brand, they’re selling a product.” Campuses are afraid of being labeled as the “rape campuses.”
Although many universities receive reports of sexual assault, there is little to no expulsion of the rapist. The University of California Berkeley was among the prestigious schools with questions towards their punishments when it came to students who rape on campus, having 78 reported assaults and only three expulsions. Other schools like University of North Carolina and University of Virginia all had 100-200 reported assaults and zero expulsions.
When asked about her thoughts regarding universities decisions to cover up rapes, junior Michelle Fan felt disgusted. “I think it’s inhumane for colleges to do that,” she said. “Colleges should have the best outlook and interest for their students.They should help the victim instead of blaming them, because it’s not their fault.”
However, Tate Chavez, an SAS alumni who is currently studying at the University of California Berkeley, believed the school was “proactive” when it came to “helping rape victims and listening to them.”
“There are all these posters and ads about sexual assault like everywhere on campus and a lot of them talk about listening to victims,” he commented.
As for safety, Danielle Dirks, the author of “Confronting Campus Rape” believes, “On college campuses it is not the person jumping out of the bushes or in the parking lot who is going to rape or sexually assault you. It is the person whom you know, the person you may have classes with, the person you see at a party. It’s really the people you do know that you should be worried about.”