Steubenville, Ohio, is like many small Midwestern towns that were part of the manufacturing “rust belt” region of the U.S. Its population has dwindled due to the decline in steel production and resulting unemployment.
Like other small towns, the local high school football team, known as Big Red, is Steubenville’s prized possession. Its successes bring needed state funds to the school and recognition and status to the players.
It came as a shock when, on March 17, two of Big Red’s star players, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’Lik Richmond, were convicted of raping an intoxicated young woman, age 16, who was incapable of resisting, last summer.
Mays tweeted photos of the nude, unconscious woman. Dozens of their “friends” who witnessed the assaults didn’t stop them. They circulated videos showing them cruelly joking about the “dead girl,” all in fun.
Reportedly, 50 people knew about the attack and did nothing. There was no action on the case for months — until bloggers through social media publicized the case, and Occupy Steubenville organized protests demanding justice for the woman. They alleged a possible cover-up and demanded the team’s legendary coach, Reno Saccoccia, resign.
During the trial, some media, especially CNN, sympathized with the young men, not the young woman, who had been harassed on social media and received death threats.
Yet now, the two young men face imprisonment in juvenile jails, a “solution” which in itself presents contradictions. They will be in the hands of the racist, sexist and growing prison-industrial complex, which will not re-educate them about women’s equality, teach them that sexual assaults are acts of violence or to treat women respectfully.
Moreover, prisons generally don’t rehabilitate anyone. These youth face abuse by prison authorities, with Richmond, who is African American, also having to deal with racism.
What can be done to try to stop anti-woman attitudes and attacks in schools?
Educational programs should be implemented in every high school and college focused on stopping all violence against and degradation of women. Sports funding should be used for this purpose. There should be a zero tolerance policy on campuses for sexual harassment and assaults — and for team coaches or members even joking about rape.
Workers World cheers on campus groups, some of which are quite large and led by women, that are actively organizing against sexual violence. They are making demands on university administrations and holding them accountable for their policies, protesting cover-ups of assaults by athletes and others.
Sports culture in schools engenders sexist and racist attitudes as with professional teams. Anti-gay attitudes are part of this culture, too. Noted sports writer, Dave Zirin, says: “Rape culture — conversation, jokes and actions that normalize rape — are a part of sports. Far too many athletes feel far too empowered to see women as the spoils of jock culture.” (edge of sports.com, March 13)
However, misogyny and disrespect for women are bigger than just phenomena in the sports world. These problems are systemic and go up to the very top. In the U.S. military — which perpetuates rape, a war crime, in countries it occupies — one in three women within the ranks is sexually assaulted while the Pentagon brass look the other way.
During last year’s election campaigns, wealthy, white, Republican candidates uttered racist and sexist comments with impunity, some trivializing or excusing rape as “non-rape.” The media repeated their remarks daily and right-wing talk show hosts kept up the hostile barbs.
A New York State politician and a former “star” California governor — who’ve sexually harassed or violated women — kept their offices, free of legal charges.
The zero tolerance policy should be extended to any public figure or media personality who promulgates anti-woman views or encourages hostile acts toward women.
Capitalism propagates callousness, dehumanization and disrespect toward people. This profit-driven system promotes the mistreatment of women; people of color including immigrants; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities; low-income and unemployed workers; people with disabilities and others.
Women’s oppression is embedded in this system. Capitalism has to be overturned to eliminate sexism, racism and all of its other evils.