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Lessons from the Steubenville Rape Trial

PHOTO: The Steubenville rape trial has gained national attention and those working to end sexual violence say itís time to stop blaming victims and support survivors. Photo courtesy of OAESV.
PHOTO: The Steubenville rape trial has gained national attention and those working to end sexual violence say itís time to stop blaming victims and support survivors. Photo courtesy of OAESV.
March 20, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Steubenville rape trial has gained national attention, and those working to end sexual violence say it's time to stop blaming victims and focus instead on supporting survivors.

Two high school football players were convicted Sunday in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old. Since then, said Katie Hannah, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the victim's name has been shared in the media, threats have been made against her and her credibility has been called into question.

"It wasn't just that the victim was victimized when the rapes happened," she said. "It was ongoing, with social media and pictures and texts that were sent worldwide. And so, we need to stop the victimization and victim-blaming from happening any further."

Two teen-aged girls were arrested on Monday for making social-media threats against the victim. When a victim of sexual assault sees another victim being blamed, Hannah said, it makes them less likely to come forward.

"It's important for survivors to speak up if they haven't already," she said, "because oftentimes, these are silent crimes. And we know that rape happens in every community, every day, all across Ohio."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women will be a rape victim in her lifetime. In Ohio, more than 740,000 women are rape survivors.

The majority of people who report rapes are telling the truth, said Hannah, who added that it is critical for others to help them access the support services they need. She said she hopes this case can prompt changes in policy and training that help prevent sexual violence.

"We want coaches and teachers to engage youth in conversations about healthy relationships and consent - what sexual violence is - and want you to intervene if and when you do see something occurring that shouldn't have happened," she said.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office continues its investigation of the case and could file charges against anyone who failed to speak up after the attack. Today, he is expected to announce new efforts to provide services for sexual assault victims. Rape crisis programs currently offer support in only 37 of 88 Ohio counties.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH