This week, it was revealed that Brad Pitt would continue his successful streak of telling the stories of marginalized communities by focusing on one of America’s most infamous rape incidents — the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
The 12 Years a Slave producer and his production company, Plan B Entertainment, have purchased the rights to the Rolling Stone article, “Anonymous vs. Steubenville,” written by David Kushner. The article focuses on the real-life story of an Anonymous hacker who was jailed and given more time than the convicted rapists for his part in exposing the small town scandal.
If you recall, two Steubenville high school football players were accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl at a party in 2012. With the help of Anonymous, graphic photographs of the unconscious victim were discovered and information suggesting authority figures in the town were covering up the crimes to preserve the boys’ futures was revealed. In the end, both teens were sentenced to a year in a juvenile detention center and a handful of adults were indicted by a grand jury in connection with the assault.
It’s a welcome announcement — bringing America’s inability to deal with rape and the media’s continuous victim shaming to Hollywood will surely back anti-rape activists and feminists who have fought tirelessly for the protection of rape victims and an anti-rape society. Sadly, it will take the big screen to make rape culture — no matter how pervasive — less taboo.
But with the onslaught of attacks on rape victims who come forward, the continuous socialization of young men who see women as objects, and the twisted societal idea that women are responsible for protecting themselves from rape instead of teaching men not to rape, it’s clear that it will take a lot more than a Brad Pitt cameo and a blockbuster movie to make an effectual shift in rape culture.
If Pitt’s plan is to become a real ally, he’ll have to make sure he does…or doesn’t do…the following:
Refuse To Celebrate The Convicted Rapists a la CNN:
While football (and football on the Big Screen) is certain to draw American audiences in, Pitt and his production team must be careful not to glorify the culture of small town football and the promise of a professional sports career it brings for many teen boys. Shortly after a judge read the verdict for Steubenville High School football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, CNN anchor Candy Crowley and reporter Poppy Harlow delivered a sympathetic segment that focused more on the promising futures of the boys than the lasting effects the rape would have on the victim.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — we literally watched as, they believe, their life fell apart,” Harlow said. “One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed in the arms of his attorney. . . . He said to him, ‘My life is over! No one is going to want me now.’”
Focusing on the victim’s trauma will undoubtedly give her, and many rape victims, the power to tell their stories without being eclipsed by patriarchy — and sadly, America’s beloved sport.
Change The Protagonist:
The article on which the film will be based on focuses on Deric Losutter, a member of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, and his activism story. No doubt Losutter played a critical role in exposing Richmond, Mays, the football coaches and authority figures who attempted to bury the assault, but focusing on how Losutter got his start in vigilantism will do more harm than good for rape victims.
Quite frankly, the movie is telling the wrong story.
When one of America’s most infamous rape cases is being told through the eyes of the savior, not the actual rape victim, we’re perpetuating rape culture and oppressive patriarchy. And while it may be hard to focus on the teenage victim — the media did not have the consent to identify the victim, therefore we know little about her — refusing to focus on the gross victim shaming of the media and stories of other rape victims will continue the accepted practice of silencing the voices of rape survivors and dismissing their experiences.
It’s true, Losutter’s story should be examined. After all, the justice system failed tremendously when they gave him more time for hacking than the convicted rapists. But to be clear, the superhero in this story isn’t Losutter. It’s the victim.
Disregard What The Victim Wore, Or How Much She Drank:
Here’s the honest truth — it doesn’t matter what you had on when you were raped.
A recent Twitter exchange between rape survivor and Twitter user Christine Fox and her followers proved that to be true. Creating a space where victims could tweet to her what they were wearing at the time of their assault, she received thousands of responses that included sweat pants, jeans, sweaters, and pink pajamas — proving that the faux-responsibility society places on women’s shoulders to dress “appropriately,” so as not to be attacked, isn’t actually effective.
(We have decided not to post the responses to the tweet to protect the privacy of those who participated.)
And in fact, it’s ridiculous. If an attacker wants to rape you, he will.
If Pitt chooses to focus on what the 16-year-old girl was wearing — or how many alcoholic drinks she had that night — he’ll be supporting the same socialization that teaches our young men that a woman (or hyper-sexualized beings as they are viewed) deserves to be assaulted and that there is no such thing as “consent.”
To be an ally, Pitt will have to frame the Steubenville film around that building block of rape culture in America and then aim to destroy it through the duration of the film.
Highlight FACTUAL Rape Statistics:
Last month, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, one of the biggest sexual assault prevention groups in the country, released a questionable statement that seemed to excuse the role of rape culture in America:
“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ‘rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
The truth is, rapes aren’t caused by a small percentage of the community. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to know how many women are raped yearly, because just 17 percent of rapes are reported to police nationwide. It’s reported that 1 in 5 American women have survived a rape or attempted rape. And shockingly, 80 percent of female rape victims are raped before they turn 25 years old.
Rape and sexual assaults aren’t mutually exclusive to women, either. According to the CDC, nearly 1.6 million men are raped at some point in their lives.
Let’s face it, rape statistics are extremely high. We cannot attribute the violent act of sexually assaulting a woman to a few bad apples. They are the symptom of a far bigger problem that continuously encourages, teaches and excuses that behavior — rape culture.
It’s alive and well. And if Pitt wants to explore the Steubenville tragedy, it’s something he’s going to have to face.
Highlight Rape Culture In Media & Society:
With that being said, it’ll be important for Pitt to highlight some actual examples of rape culture in practice — from the media to our justice system.
From “rape sloth” memes and the hyper-sexualization of women on television, to judges who give convicted rapists lenient sentences, it’ll be important to have these examples on hand for naysayers who don’t believe our culture actively oppresses rape victims and celebrates rape.
Specifically for Steubenville, it will be important to highlight the shaming that came from news outlets, political pundits and Twitter users on how SHE should have conducted herself that night.
It might seem negative to highlight the vitriol directed towards the victim, but it’s needed to paint an accurate picture of how rape survivors are silenced daily by a patriarchal and rape-accepting environment.
Get Consent (from victim) & Define Consent:
No means no. Unconscious means no. Rape is bad. It’s a simple enough takeaway for the film, but it’ll be interesting to see if audiences buy into it…if Pitt decides to take the film in that direction.
Let’s hope he does.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Screengrab, YouTube,
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