Steubenville rape case has many West Virginia connections
It isn’t just the fact the anonymous victim is from West Virginia that makes this case at least as important here as it is in Ohio.
It’s that the 16-year-old girl—an honor student and an athlete at a religious school from just across the Ohio River—has had to endure what many of us have experienced for decades in this rural area of Appalachia. That is, being raped by boys who think there’s nothing wrong with having sex with a drunk girl.
No sooner had I begun talking about this case last week than I learned a friend actually knows someone who personally knows the Weirton victim. That’s because in West Virginia, there’s only three degrees of separation—compared to six in the rest of the world. It’s this level of familiarity that makes news of similar such rapes travel up and down the gossip corridor faster than drug dealers crossing the Maryland border on Interstate 68.
And we’ve all seen these wannabe men: they’re the ones who give sly, knowing glances to each other at parties, football games and elsewhere, as the girls hanging on their arms stumble, spilling the beer, booze or even moonshine from their plastic cups all over their own shoes.
Another friend tells me that football is king in Steubenville. Which makes it no different than State College, Pa., Wheeling, W.Va., or even right here in Morgantown. I’d argue that in Anytown, U.S.A., the problem is the same: football players—indeed, many student athletes—get preferential treatment. One can only hope that doesn’t include turning a blind eye to the athletes who dabble in, or even practice, rape. But because stories like the Steubenville case are legendary, I’m guessing it probably does.
Being touted as the hero, the star player of your hometown football team, can play some funny tricks on your mind. It can make you think you’re better than everyone else, that the rules don’t matter because you’re above the law. Or that a girl who can’t even utter a coherent sentence because she’s so intoxicated, just has got to want you. Or that you are entitled to take what you want, regardless of her mental and physical state.
Much as this might be about the football mentality, there’s a deeper problem at work. Like the bituminous coal seams that run far below Jefferson County, home to Steubenville, this cultural attitude toward the female gender is entrenched long before these boys reach high school. It begins in the home, when babies hear their fathers’ raised voices, yelling at their own womenfolk. It continues when they’re toddlers, and they watch their fathers hit their mothers. By the time these boys enter school, such wrong conduct toward women is part and parcel of life. As normal as breathing.
So parents, stop letting your sons treat our daughters like trash. Like they have no value, and are only good for one thing: not sex, but tools, useful only to satisfy male sexual desires. And moms, I don’t know how else to tell you this, but if you live with a man who treats you like trash, your son is going to become a carbon copy. Which means you’ve got to accept some responsibility for your own actions. You can start by making better decisions. And expecting more from the men in your lives.
I believe Aretha Franklin’s version of that great R&B song got it right. In it, she demands respect from her man. If Appalachian women would demand respect, and accept nothing less, we might just get it. That would certainly help put an end to the degrading behavior coming out of Steubenville, as seen around the globe on YouTube.
It would also mean one less damaged girl, who must now live with the visible reminder of how rural men treat women here in our little corner of the world.
Editor’s note:Please join Daleen Berry when she takes part in “Knowing Who We Are,” part of Penn State’s University’s Cultural Conversations 2013. Berry will present a soliloquy of her memoir about rape, Sister of Silence, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2013, at The Penn State Downtown Theater Center on Allen Street. Tickets are $3 at the door.
Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.