Author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
The tragic hero is a common literary trope, defined as a seemingly invincible character brought down from greatness by an intrinsic but tragic flaw.
In the case of the Steubenville rape, there has been an effort to paint Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two boys convicted of sexually assaulting a female classmate, as tragic heroes — “promising” young men with “bright” futures turned to ashes in the wake of their highly-publicized trial.
This is not only a disgusting example of victim-blaming and rationalization, it is a complete perversion of the concept of tragedy.
The tragedy in Steubenville is not, in the words of CNN’s Candy Crowley, that “16-year-olds just sobbing in court … still sound like 16-year-olds.”
The tragedy is not that Richmond and Mays were found guilty of rape and sentenced accordingly. The tragedy in this story is that the two football players raped the girl, and she only found out about her attack when videos and photos were posted on social networking sites.
Furthermore, that the same girl was pressured by her attackers and later threatened by two other students for considering coming forward with her story.
After all of this, for prominent figures in the media to sympathize with the attackers is not only inappropriate and irresponsible journalism; it is downright twisted.
The sports world is unfortunately no stranger to the specter of sex crimes. After the Penn State sex-crimes scandal involving Jerry Sandusky was partly covered up by head coach Joe Paterno, it hardly comes as a shock that Steubenville High School’s football coach, Reno Saccoccia, allegedly knew about his players’ misconduct and helped to cover it up. He, along with several others, may face prosecution when the Ohio attorney general convenes a grand jury investigation into the matter.
One unnamed eyewitness, who was offered immunity in exchange for testimony, was quoted as saying that he “didn’t know exactly what rape was.”
This is a failure not only of the attackers and those who did nothing to intervene but on a higher level. For teenagers to not know that such actions are wrong is a failure of our culture as a whole. Commentators have a phrase for this: rape culture.
A culture that polices the victim rather than the perpetrators, says rape survivors were “asking for it” and says that heavy drinking invites unwanted sexual advances, that lack of a “no” is a de facto yes. This is rape culture, and it is the ongoing and unrelenting tragedy we should take greater measures to counter.
The fault of rape lies on the rapist, and the rapist alone. It is a choice. To prevent rape, we need to teach our children not to rape. End of story.
“No” is a complete sentence. Ignoring a “no,” or a lack of a yes, is not inevitable. It should be unconscionable.