Social Media and ‘Rape Culture’ in Ohio

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Most of the evidence in this trial was found on social networking sites, as shown to the right.

In our age of social networking sites, text messages, and camera phones, it’s easier and faster to share information with the world. However, this increased connectivity comes with a huge responsibility. Most people under 25 have been told countless times to be careful about online posts, but mistakes are still commonly made.

On the night of Aug. 11, 2012, high school football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond raped an intoxicated girl of 16 at a party in Steubenville, Ohio. Mays and Richmond were convicted on March 17 and sentenced to juvenile detention which may last until they are 21. Upon release, it will be determined if they will be required to register as sex offenders.

This case has caused major international controversy due to the involvement of social networking sites during and after the rape. In fact, most of the convicting evidence came from confiscated text messages, photos, and videos on cell phones, as well as posts on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram. Reprehensible content on social networking sites is nothing new, but the extent to which the rape was documented and shared is shocking.

Perhaps more disturbing than the rape itself is the acceptance of such acts by other attendants of the party. Not only did other students do nothing to stop Mays and Richmond, but many of them took photos and recorded videos, then distributed the material through the internet and cell phones. Additionally, two 16-year-old Ohio girls have been charged with aggravated menacing for threatening the victim through Twitter posts. They have both been placed on house arrest and ordered to abstain from social networking sites as they await their trials. There has also been mention of possible future arrests of students who documented and distributed photos and videos of the rape.

Information found online, as well as on confiscated cell phones, shows the reaction of the students in what has been called a ‘rape culture.’ This is a reference to the indifference (or even encouragement) of onlookers, and the harassment of the victim following the rape. Students made jokes about the incident in comments under online photos and videos, which shows the attitude toward such behavior.

More than just the reaction to the rape, this says a lot about the role of social networking in our society. What made these high school students feel that it was alright to post such condemning information to the internet, where anyone can find it? Michael Martin, head of the Professional Writing Minor at Bloomsburg University, said that a large part of the problem is societal. According to Martin, the increased role of social networking has blurred the line between private and public. Not everyone realizes that what they post online is permanently visible to whoever can find it. He added that children are now given the adult responsibility of safe online communication at a very young age. This is a problem that we as a society have created, and must now deal with.

Nobody would argue that these students are blameless. What they did during and after the rape is inexcusable. However, we need to ask what made the students decide to share the story of this rape in such a public location. A desire to send a message or shock the world can probably be ruled out and left for an episode of CSI. The students aren’t criminal masterminds. They’re children. They didn’t understand the need to be responsible in their online activities, and probably had no idea that the photos, videos, and comments they posted would be seen by police officers.

The bottom line is that no interruption came from onlookers at this party. Instead, they pulled out their cell phones and turned on their cameras. If this incident was so heavily documented and joked about, maybe ‘rape culture’ is an unfortunately appropriate term. The students’ indifference toward this act of violence and their failure to consider the consequences of their online activity are two separate issues highlighted in one court case. Although a widespread change in attitude toward both sexual violence and social media will be difficult to enact, it is a necessary change.

The staff at BUnow.com would like to remind readers to consider the consequences of their actions, both in person and online, and the effect they have on those around them. For more information on events described above, please click here.

Alexander Evers is an English major/professional writing minor at Bloomsburg Universtity with plans to graduate in May 2013.

 

 

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