Steubenville: Humiliation Was The Point Of The Exercise
One thing we say sometimes, those of us who talk about Yes Means Yes, and enthusiastic consent or affirmative consent, is who wants to have sex with someone who isn’t enthusiastically participating? The implied answer is, “nobody!”
But that’s not a complete answer. The truth is that some people do want sex with someone who isn’t participating - who is actively resisting, or who is too out of it to respond. And who those people are tell us a lot about rape and why it happens. In particular, it tells us a lot about gang rape and why and how it happens.
I’ve been struck by the similarities between this case and both the Glen Ridge, New Jersey rape in 1989 and the Haidl case in Corona Del Mar, California in 2002. All three produced convictions, all three involved high school boys, several of them and one female victim, and all three involved extremely privileged boys — in Steubenville and Glen Ridge, football players, and in Corona Del Mar, a really rich local politico’s kid.
One other thing they have in common: nothing about them seemed like they were oriented around physical sexual stimulation for the boys. The key, driving dynamic was a shared group experience of sexual humiliation of the girl.
[Content note here — graphic descriptions of three gang rapes]
In Glen Ridge, the girl was not drunk or passed out. She was mentally handicapped, and she specifically had great difficulty saying no to people who said they were her friend; she had an overwhelming need to please. So a boy she had known her whole life offered her a date with his brother, who she had a crush on, if she’d go down to the basement with them. When she got there, the chairs were all arranged to watch a show. And of the thirteen boys in that room, six very quickly decided that what was going on was wrong, and left. Of the ones who stayed, four were convicted of sexual assault, and a trial of two others was cancelled because the first trial was so traumatic for the victim that the prosecution dropped the charges.
What did they do? Did they all line up and put their penises in her and thrust to climax, like one would expect if they were primarily concerned with getting to orgasm? No. That’s not what they did. They talked her into going down on one boy, but in the main, what they did was to stick things in her vagina, including a practice bat with a bag over it and a dirty stick. It’s not clear to me from what I’ve read on it, which includes the best book on the subject, Our Guys, that any of them even ejaculated.
Then, they tried to get her to come back for a repeat performance.
It shouldn’t be terribly surprising, since when they were in their single digits, some of the same boys talked the same girl into eating dog shit. Yeah, you read that right. They got the mentally disabled girl to eat dog shit, then a decade later, they raped her. Who was surprised?
Corona Del Mar
She’ll tell you who she is now. Her photo is in OC Weekly because she refuses to act as though she’s the one who should hide her face. She’s done being humiliated by what they did, especially because humiliating her was the core of what they were after:
they threw her limp body on a pool table and, in a despicable coup de grâce, repeatedly shoved a Snapple bottle, apple-juice can, lit cigarette and a pool stick into her vagina and anus.
They filmed the whole thing, twenty-one minutes of video proving (to the satisfaction of the second jury, though somehow the first jury hung) that she was passed out cold, completely nonresponsive. And then, the defense team sent investigators to school and put up flyers, trolling for dirt on her, in effect continuing the rapists’ work for months and years, through two trials, alleging that the whole thing was a porn film that she orchestrated. The entire judicial process, both trials, were part and parcel of the assault on the victim’s dignity.
There was video of Trent Mays shoving his fingers in the victim in a car (before it was deleted). There is a picture of both convicted defendants carrying her by hands and feet. One defendant tried to put his penis in her mouth, but she was completely nonresponsive. There is a picture of her completely out of it with what looks like ejaculate on her. She had vomited on herself. Nothing about this says, “hot and sexy” as those things are traditionally constructed. What attracted them then was not the promise of sexual fulfillment, but the opportunity to humiliate a girl too drunk to defend herself.
Now, look at the infamous Nodianos video, where Steubenville alum Chris Nodianos holds forth for more than ten minutes on how “dead” she is and how much they “raped that girl.” Here we have three gang sexual assaults in three states in three different decades by three different groups of entitled teen males, and in each, the sexual activity is mostly not things that can cause them to climax, but mostly things that make a spectacle of the humiliation of their helpless victim.
Looking back on it, here’s the awful conclusion: the social media blitz, and pictures, the video, the bragging, the guy who raised the idea of paying people to urinate on her — these were not byproducts of the exercise. Humiliating her wasn’t something that happened because they raped her. Humiliating her was the reason they raped her. That was the exercise. Humiliating her was the point of the whole thing.
They didn’t get caught because there was an audience. If they wanted to rape her in secret, they could have found a bedroom and locked the door. They wanted to do it and celebrate it. They wanted to put on a show. They didn’t get caught because when they raped her there was an audience; they raped her because there was an audience. The whole thing was for the attention. They thought it was funny. Nodianos could barely contain his laughter, and his glee, and he wanted everyone who saw that video to laugh along with him, laugh at the helpless victim and how completely she had been mistreated.
Who and Why
Gang rapes need ring leaders. There are a lot of people who will go along with a lot of really wrong stuff in the right circumstances, as the world learned from Milgram Experiment. But a bunch of people who go along will not start a gang rape. There has to be at least one or more who really, really want it to happen. For example, in Glen Ridge, Chris Archer was the one who talked her into that basement. He was the brightest of the bunch, the only really good student. And there is some evidence that he had sexually molested her on other occasions. And according to Lefkowitz’s book, he sexually assaulted another women between his arrest and the trial and she swore to it in an affidavit for prosecutors, though the jurors never heard that. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Steubenville, and there have been allegations about the involvement of at least two of the witnesses who were immunized in exchange for testimony; I think I’ll wait to see the book-length treatments of this one before I draw a conclusion about ringleaders. I already have my suspicions.
Deliberate humiliation for the sake of spectacle, orchestrated by a guy who is really invested in making it happen, bringing the followers along with him down the road to depravity, not getting off on the sexual aspect so much as using the sexual aspect to get off on the victimization. That’s the grim reality of what happens, what these gang rapes by privileged man-children look like up close. It’s not succumbing to the urge to be sexual. It’s a ritual degradation.
(It’s “We saw your boobs” drawn to its logical conclusion. Rape culture has its towering peaks, and its little foothills.)
Now think about this and the media narratives about boys, drinking, temptation and bright futures. Think about the kind of man or boy who goes out of his way to create a tableau of degrading and sexually victimizing a helpless girl, not to get off, but because it’s funny, it’s just so funny, it’s just hilarious, side-splitting, riotous fun to sexually assault the passed out girl, the stumbling drunk girl, the girl with the cognitive powers of a second grader. That guy … that’s not a nice young man who gave into temptation. That guy is an overgrown crab louse on Seth MacFarlane’s ball sack, perhaps so much that even MacFarlane himself would shiver and say, “dude, that’s not funny, she’s a human being.”
And that guy will make someone, somewhere very miserable so he can laugh. He’ll do it, and he’ll get as many people as he can to go along with him as far as he can, and he’ll act like it’s normal and he’ll try to get you to do the same. And he’ll keep doing it until someone makes him stop.