In Steubenville Ohio, a juvenile court judge will decide the fate of two young men who allegedly participated in the rape of a 16-year-old girl. But it will be up to the supporters of Jane Doe — especially working-class fighters — to determine the path forward: toward true justice, toward a world free from sexual assault, toward a society ridding itself of the bastions of power that, like stagnant ponds where mosquitos multiply, support the proliferation of rape culture. Steubenville seems to have the passion, the courage, and the determination: but do they have a plan? And what will it be?
From an outsider’s perspective, I see three key assets enriching the Steubenville rape-culture resistance.
- A critical eye toward court-determined “justice”
- A horizontal network of bold, moral people eager to get involved
- An orientation toward media and education by the people, for the people
Rape culture is about power, and the Steubenville case has opened up serious questions about how people in a community can take back the power to safeguard their own well-being — free from the small-scale despotism of patriarchal cops, coaches, or classmates.
1. No Justice, “Just Us.”
The reason working-class and ordinary people, people historically oppressed, marginalized, or forgotten, will play such an important role in Steubenville and in similar fights, is that these are the communities who are closest to true disillusionment with the court systems. As one protest sign at the February 2nd Steubenville rally put it, “Sometimes There’s No Justice, ‘Just Us.'”
Partly it’s the result of being burned by local law enforcement. While some lead organizers are quick to praise and thank police who they feel are doing a stand-up job (“We know there are some good guys on the force,” I heard on the livestream today), others conclude from past experience that law enforcement overall is its own morass of impunity. When I went to Steubenville myself, on the weekend of that rally (flying from Oakland to Boston, then bussing overnight to Pittsburgh, spending less than 48 hours in Steubenville), I wasn’t in town 45 minutes before someone told me they had personally experienced racism and corruption from Steubenville police. That same man said he was afraid to show up at the rallies for Jane Doe because he thought the police might use it as an excuse to harass him afterward. In a town you can drive through in three minutes or less, people recognize each other. Perhaps that’s one reason Anonymous’ Guy Fawkes masks have been popular. Luckily, the small-town scope also seems to have encouraged relationships of solidarity with people outside Steubenville — like the Anonymous organizer who could emcee the protest with (perhaps) a little less fear of reprisal.
Apart from problems with the cops, the hopes of the people have chafed against the protocols of the courts. On January 24, a brigade of students from the feminist organization Choice USA delivered a petition with 70,000 signatures (collected online by the group UltraViolet) to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, pressuring to prosecute more of the boys involved in the rape — including bystanders. In Steubenville, I heard people stressing the moral standard of the Good Samaritan: stopping to help a suffering stranger, rather than ignoring their plight. Bystanders to the rape, they maintained, are just as guilty of the crime. This ethical sensibility actually is enshrined in Ohio state law, and this week the news broke that the Ohio AG is investigating the possibility of prosecuting more of the boys for failing to report the crime.
Plenty of people would love to see more of these young men go to jail (“Adult time for an adult crime” is a popular slogan in the campaign, and one online petition to try the offenders as adults garnered over 30,000 signatures). Some are especially keen to bust Michael Nodianos, the ignominious star of the stomach-turning YouTube video that made the Steubenville case go viral. But does justice simply mean locking these people up for a while? What about the coaches who let it happen — who let a group of football players known as “The Rape Crew” coalesce under their very noses? What about the broader problems of impunity? The insidious “too big to fail” mentality — that certain people are too important to be punished — permeates not just sports culture and government, but even the progressive and Leftist organizations that claim to be fighting oppression. And what about the fact that the institution that purports to serve justice — the criminal justice system — is one of the worst institutional perpetrators of racism, gender oppression, and corruption?
Many oppressed communities have been knowing that interventions by cops and courts will not necessarily make situations any safer or better. For example, some of the smartest commentary on the controversy surrounding the Violence Against Women Act (which was first rejected, then later passed by US Congress) has pointed to the need for indigenous communities to avoid seeking justice and power in the very same settler-state model that continues to decimate Native American communities. Instead, author Lindsey Catherine advocates that First Nations “take power by making power … creating [our] own responses to crimes that do not rely on recognition from the US government.”
Some feminists fighting rape in India are similarly looking beyond appeals to police to “do a better job.” Often, as in the U.S., police are part of the problem. In rural communities, the Gulabi Gang has been taking justice into their own hands, organizing bands of women using martial arts to respond to sexual violence.
And in the U.S., communities who know that the police and criminal justice system is not meant to serve them (especially poor Black communities) have been working to develop models of safety and justice that rest directly in the hands of affected communities — not cops and courts. The current struggles in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where 16-year-old Kimani “Kiki” Gray was shot multiple times and killed by New York Police, testify to the we’ve-had-enough-of-this attitude among Black and brown communities who’ve been profiled, harassed, and murdered by cops for decades. NYPD is running shady shit in the domestic violence arena as well, with a recent order directing police to run criminal checks on the accused and the accuser. So if you’ve got outstanding parking tickets and you call police needing help with a domestic abuse situation, you could be the one going to jail.
Struggles for justice outside and against policing need to continue to build bridges among each other. In time, it could be a gorgeous expansion of the networks of solidarity like the ones being forged in and around Steubenville, at the corner of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
2. More Leaders, Not Followers: Building For Mass Organization
One thing is certain: none of the steps toward legal justice, halting and probably insufficient though they may be, would have happened without the bold interventions of ordinary people. If Alexandria Goddard hadn’t grabbed those horrific tweets before the cretinous creators had a chance to delete them; if Anonymous and KnightSec had not continued releasing media to the public; if people of Steubenville, Wierton, Pittsburgh, and other surrounding towns had not come out to protest LOUDLY, over 1,000 strong in a town of 18,000; the police and the courts would have dampened and silenced the story of the assault, and Jane Doe would never have received support from all over the world — Malaysia to Minnesota, Warsaw to Wheeling.
Having spent some years in the activist scene of the Bay Area and other places, I’ve seen a lot of rallies and protests. But the February 2nd protest in Steubenville was one of my favorites. For one thing, it felt truly “survivor centered,” without losing touch with the political context — a difficult balance to achieve. Brave people stepped up to the mic to tell their own stories or read aloud the stories of others: for some, this meant breaking a silence of 20, 30 years, or more. It was breathtaking.
I also admired the rally because the audience would just shout out their opinions, unsolicited! It was a call-and-response with the emcee; it was a conversation. In an era of progressive NGOs in bed with politicians, or top-down protest styles that expect only two responses from the audience — cheers or silence — this protest was a refreshing example of mass participation, though still in small, nascent form.
We need more of this. We need democratic, mass organizations linking up rural, exurban, and urban areas so that when shit goes down (and it will, again and again), we can decide, through organized bodies of people, how to take action. When it comes to that democratic participation, and weaving together of neighboring towns, the Steubenville area could really get ahead of the curve.
Thinking ahead toward sustainable democratic structures is important because, commendable as all this work has been, flashpoint responses to sexual violence are not enough to reach the root of the scourge. Already, in recent months, the devastating case of “Baby Jane” — a two-year-old girl raped in Weirton, a town neighboring Steubenville — has drawn attention, energy, and support from the same people supporting the Jane Doe victimized by the Rape Crew. Support is clearly necessary, but the problem is rampant, so the danger of burnout looms large. We can easily get stuck in crisis response mode. In addition to supporting survivors of sexual assault, we must ask ourselves how to drain those stagnant pools: how to intervene in the conditions that allow rape culture to thrive.
While mainstream U.S. feminists have helped to keep the Steubenville case on the national radar, the vast majority have failed to even suggest serious strategies for creating justice in Steubenville outside the courts. We can infer from some of their other work that they believe in education around consent, gender oppression, and gender empowerment. But without a way of going after institutions, education ultimately amounts to preaching to the converted, leaving intact the power dynamics that, for instance, put chauvinistic asshole coaches in charge of socially powerful teenage boys. What material tools and strategies are actually available for working-class communities to fight against rape culture?
One point to keep in mind: in recent years, Ohio has spent over $1.4 billion in an attempt to develop its economy, and attract more businesses to make a home in the state. For better (jobs: we need ’em to pay the rent) and for worse (jobs like fracking: they light our tap water on fire), this means that the ‘job creators’ in Ohio are in a somewhat vulnerable position. How will they attract investments and capital into the state? The more organized the working class becomes, the more powerfully it can act on political questions like rape culture, by exercising control over economic functions in Ohio industries — from trucking, to waste-to-energy conversion plants, to domestic work, to the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, to agriculture. Paralyzing the flow of industry — a literal take on the concept of “Occupy Wall Street” — is a classic tactic of the global working class that mainstream U.S. feminists have largely ignored. Time to bring it back.
3. Internet, Sports, and Schools: Key Arenas
What would justice in Steubenville look like? What would a shift in power consist of? With the interventions of Anonymous, Sisters of Jane, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, and concerned individuals in the anti-rape struggle, the shift may already be underway. Practically every media outlet describes Steubenville as a town that “revolves around football,” but increasingly, it may also be a node with branches connecting to national and global struggles: through media, creative education, and strategic building for self-determined education that serves the needs of working-class communities.
The fact that people are connecting and participating through the Internet is exciting, because it means that people can play significant roles even from far away (i.e. Alexandria Goddard, whose remote blogging set the whole exposé in motion), even as local people take the lead on the ground. It also means we can get creative (as in: beyond petitions) in developing online actions that people can easily participate in. When I reached out to someone active on one of the Operation RollRedRoll Facebook pages, her heartwarming, comradely response spoke to a need for actions that hit this online sweet spot:
I appreciate you contracting me regarding this matter. And I must say I admire your efforts and zeal regarding the issue! Sadly, I am a single mother of two young handicapped children, a part time student, and a part time employee with ZERO benefits. I would LOVE to help put pressure on these fools; they are all elitist bullies and that is something I cannot stomach!! But I’m stick here until graduation in two years. However, I would like to be involved in at least Some way. I will accept your request so I can better watch your timeline in case anything does happen to come up that I can indeed help with.
Much respect and admiration,
One specific Steubenville-related online strategy is a recent petition calling on the National Federation of High School Associations to “educate coaches about sexual assault.” Personally, I think this target is a promising angle, for three reasons.
Sports. A focus on sports institutions as locations of rape-enabling power and authority would be great. This is not to vilify organized sports, or lump all athletes together as domineering scumbags. But statistically, athletes are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes. And let’s remember: playing on a sports team, especially in high school, is a PRIVILEGE, not a RIGHT — even if the football team is the biggest social or economic game in a deindustrialized town. It’s a little mind-numbing that Big Red has yet to exact any penalties on other players associated with the Rape Crew. Why should they leave it up to the courts? The Ohio High School Athletics Association specifies penalties for playing on unauthorized teams, for using drugs and alcohol, and other infractions. NO MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. That needs to change. Parents, teachers, staff, students, and supporters, together, can make it change.
It says something profound about our economy and prospects for young people, as well, that commentary on the Rape Crew includes hand-wringing about whether the case will ruin Mays’ and Richmond’s chances at a decent future. If their prospects are so bleak, what about other young people who would never qualify for an important sports team? Throughout the country, as sports maintains its role as an economic juggernaut (from high schools to colleges to the pros), we need to demand decent resources for everyone, according to need — not just for the MVP’s.
Accountable Coaches. The second reason a school-and-sports-based strategy is useful is because it reminds us that we, the people, ought to be able to demand high-quality, well-trained anti-rape role models, educators, and resources in public schools. Young people deserve nothing less. And while the intention of the NFHSA reform is commendable, it’s also naïve. A single mandatory course is not going to significantly shift the attitudes of those coaches (not all, but many) who’ve believed their whole lives that “boys will be boys” and sluts deserve what’s coming to them. Again, these misogynist views are opinions held by a significant proportion of our society. Why wouldn’t we demand more of our public figures, our educators, our mentors? Instead of offering education to incumbent coaches, why not make them prove they are capable of upholding the anti-rape responsibilities that (should) come with their position? An exam or licensing process, with a certain Pass/Fail ratio and follow-up training to support even those who pass, might not be out of the question. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?) And it’s weird that we’d even have to say this, but here goes: any coach who allows something like a “Rape Crew” to form among their players, under their watch, is clearly incapable of doing their job properly, and should be relieved of their duties.
Meaningful Education. Finally, in addition to demanding accountability from educators and coaches, working-class people can demand relevant and meaningful education for students — including education about rape (tellingly, many of the witnesses on the stand today didn’t seem to know what it is), rape culture, and the failures of the criminal justice system to address the root causes and conditions that allow sexual assault to flourish. When public school teachers in Seattle, Washington recently organized with students and parents, refusing to waste precious life energy on useless standardized testing, the struggle awakened people’s imaginations to all the important knowledge that could be created in the classroom, instead of teaching to a test. Rather than perpetuating a culture where survivors are shunned and silenced, we could be supporting students, young and old, in developing their own brilliant responses to sexual assault independent of the legal system.
Justice can be bigger than punishment.
This fight is far from over. Despite the fact that, by the time I got up to the microphone, I’d been standing with everyone in the falling snow for three hours and my mouth was practically frozen shut, I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank the February 2nd protesters for all their hard work and courage. Though Steubenville may have lost the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant, and suffered one of the steepest population drops in the country because of it, working-class power is not impossible to rebuild there. Anti-rape resistance in Steubenville and the surrounding towns has been an inspiration to resistance all across the world. I look forward to hearing more thoughts from people about where this struggle should head next, how to make it sustainable, and how to connect it with other movements for justice outside the courts.
See you in the streets.
Special thanks to Andy and Adam for amazing hospitality during my short stay!
More Resources On Steubenville
On Anti-Policing in Black & Brown U.S. Communities
Please feel free to add more!
thorough analysis and tactics to get to building our communities so that we can feed ourselves politically, spiritually, economically and with support, love and warm bodies/// to feed us to be strong enough in our unity and our dope fucking revolutionary and grounded strategy to smash the institutions of capitalism and create that which heals our insides and outsides.
thanks for feeding me <3
why you always got the perfect words, huh? :)
you know, i’m curious to read more of marx on alienation, because i get the sense, from what i’ve heard, that it’s where his spiritual sensibilities shine through the most. it seems like the marxist / communist rejection of religion and spirituality had so much to do with the political / material conditions of the time, with the catholic church being an enormous force, basically like a state, which it no longer is, really. but whether or not we reject the religious institutions, we are spiritual beings! we need healing inside and out! and it doesn’t happen automatically — it’s work! the temporary dictatorship of the proletariat (if that’s the way things are gonna go down) would / will need to be So On Point with the spiritual and emotional healing… would / will need to re-indigenize work (roxanne dunbar-ortiz told me people are using this word “indigenize” now) to include active prayer, a deeply felt sense of interbeing.
our society calls us fools for believing in interbeing. capitalism pushes us toward the fetishism of the commodity, having no idea where our food, shelter, clothing comes from, who made it… in the absence of healthy, meaningful connection, collectively creating a society democratically, we fall prey to severe hungry-ghost feelings, craving celebrity status, getting high on power, dominating others, numbing ourselves out…
anyway. grateful for your holistic revolutionary healing sensibilities and commitment to figuring out strategy, together. won’t happen overnight, but. i’m glad we’re in it together, friendship.
thank you, love you.
Let’s unpack this line a bit: “But statistically, athletes are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes.”
First of all, I think (ironically) that there’s some unintended sexism here. Roughly half of all athletes are women, and I’m guessing that you’re not referring to them. Using the general term “athletes” when you mean (again, I think) male athletes only kinda discredits all of the hard work and awesome achievements of women in sports. Given the broader tone and content of this post, I’m quite sure that wasn’t your intent.
When I read “Statistics show that athletes are more likely to have rape-supportive attitudes,” I become skeptical for two reasons: (1) What statistics? If you’re going to make claims like this, it’s probably best to source them. (2) What’s a “rape-supportive attitude?”
As to the second point, I have a feeling that this is an argument anyone is bound to lose, because “rape supportive attitude” is vague enough to mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean. Is it to be taken literally, i.e., someone with rape-supportive attitudes is actually an explicit proponent of sexual assault? Does it just kinda mean that anyone who enjoys competition or feats of strength is, ipso facto, a little more likely to support rape in some vague sense than someone who doesn’t? (And again, what about the women who participate in – and love, and excel at – these kinds of sports–does this apply to them as well?)
I’m not naive: I understand that the huge popularity of football in rural Ohio played a real (and really ugly) role in this incident. If these kids were chess stars instead, we’d never be having this conversation because they’d already be in prison. I think it’s well worth exploring why athletes seem to get more forgiveness than other sectors of the populace. I also think your idea to train coaches (figures that athletes look up to and obey, on the whole) about sexual assault prevention and awareness is a really, really good idea.
But I think that there has also been a lot said about athletes, sports and sexual assault (not just here but in coverage of this incident as a whole) that feels pretty reflexive and unconsidered. It reminds me a bit of the whole Duke Lacrosse thing, when people pretty much rushed to the (wrong, it turned out) conclusion that those guys were guilty, based on evidence that basically boiled down to “They play lacrosse, and guys who play lacrosse are jerks.”
In short, I think your ideas here are pretty good, but I think that, as a rule, it’s dangerous rhetoric to throw around negative generalizations about large groups of people, especially without a lot of careful thought about phrasing and support for your points.
Thanks for challenging me a bit on my assumptions — you’re right, when I looked more closely at the trail of sources I had relied on for that claim, it looks like the research conducted by Scott Boeringer in the mid to late 90’s focused specifically on male athletes (basketball and soccer). I had actually assumed, when I read someone else’s summary of his and other research findings, that the findings extended to all athletes, regardless of gender. Internalized patriarchy and misogyny is very strong among people who aren’t men, as well. How strong, statistically speaking, I’m not sure — I wonder whether there’s been more recent research on rape-supportive attitudes among women and trans* athletes. Good question.
As for the term “rape-supportive attitudes” itself, it’s a well-established research category in studies going back at least 30 years in English, as far as I can see… In a nutshell it usually includes some of the basic myths and attitudes underpinning rape culture: i.e. that women’s behavior can provoke rape; a high value placed on sexual aggression rather than responsible consent; views subordinating women or other groups of people in a way that diminishes the value of their opinions.
So the way a study like that would go, is a group of athletes and non-athletes (historically, it’s usually been boys and men surveyed, but you’re right, it should be expanded) would be asked a series of questions, some related to vignettes about rape (without labeling it rape), and researchers calculate, based on the answers of control groups and test groups, whether certain groups tend to have more rape-supportive attitudes. In the 1999 Boeringer study,
From what I understand, other peer-reviewed studies since then seem to corroborate the findings, not just for all-male athletic groups but also for fraternities and other ‘male-dominated’ associations. (Peggy Reeves Sanday, 2007; Walter DeKeseredy, and Rana Sampson, 2003.) And apparently, according to the work of Gerald Burgess in 2007, certain rape-supportive attitudes may actually tend to predict, sexually aggressive behaviors. So if you believe A, you’re likely to enact B. If you justify sexual aggression based on women’s behavior, you’re more likely to be someone who enacts sexual aggression.
Asking people what they think about various scenarios of rape seems to me like an okay way of assessing whether different groups of people do tend to have significantly different levels of rape-supportive attitudes… and it’s one way that we might be able to determine whether political education around sexual assault is actually effective! But there are probably other ways, too — I’d be curious if you know of any you’ve found useful.
A bit of a delay getting back to you here, but I appreciate the link to the source material. My inclination is that we should probably be a bit suspicious of these types of findings for a few reasons: (1.) The research relies on the premise that what they term a rape supportive attitude is, in all cases, actually a belief that works to facilitate rape. That’s a pretty powerful charge, and I don’t know that it’s beyond dispute. BUT, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the researchers are correct and they have identified attitudes which are, to a certainty, rape-supportive.
(2.) I am strongly cautious of anything that suggests confirmation bias. I have no proof of this, of course, but my guess is that the researchers who conducted this study take a pretty dim of athletes and frat boys. My guess is that their hypothesis was that athletes and frat boys were, on balance, more rape-supportive, and, like most people, they wanted to be proven right. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t right, it just means that I highly doubt they were going to publish something titled “We Were Wrong, Athletes and Frat Boys are OK After All.” It reminds me a bit of oil companies finding a way to publish research which “concludes” that climate change is a hoax.
(3.) This is my biggest issue: The Bollinger study surveyed 477 men on a “large southeastern” college campus and sorted them according to whether they were athletes, frat boys, or none of the above. No other attempt was really made to control for other variables. Demographically, socioeconomically, and politically, at an SEC-type school athletes, frat boys, and the general student population are likely to be quite different. Fraternities at those schools tend to be much, much more politically conservative than the general student population, so the conclusion of the study, based on the same data, could just as easily have been “Conservative students more likely to have rape-supportive attitudes” instead of “Frat boys are more likely to have rape-supportive attitudes.”
Now here’s where I start to get really uncomfortable with this study: The basketball and football teams at a “large southeastern university” are likely to be 75% (or more) African-American. So, based on the same study, and the same data, it’s entirely possible that these researchers could have concluded “African-Americans are more likely to have rape-supportive attitudes” instead of “Athletes are more likely…” No way would that have gotten published – it would be (quite rightly) called racist, offensive nonsense. So, what justification do the researchers have to conclude that other factors separating the groups they polled (race, socioeconomic status, etc.) are not important? The idea that athlete/frat boy/other is the only meaningful distinction between the groups polled in the study is kinda silly. To not control for any other variables is of questionable intellectual honesty at best.
Ultimately, I think my problem is that it’s just counterproductive to point at a group of people and say “You guys are the problem,” which, frankly, seems to be the goal of that study. Much better, to my way of thinking, is to do what you’ve done in your post and ask “What can we all do to help solve this problem?”
Hi Kloncke, thanks for your excellent article. In this blog post, I quoted you extensively and wrote some commentary on your strategic proposals : http://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/jock-culture-rape-culture-and-the-need-for-educator-hiring-halls/
Here is an excerpt: “Rape culture is so pervasive that it can seem overwhelming and impossible to confront. I think Kloncke’s suggestions provide some concrete starting points for possible struggles in the schools. They highlight the kinds of demands we might be able to win if we develop our capacity and build a broad-based and militant teacher-student-community alliance.
Kloncke’s point about accountable coaches also gets at a core issue in teacher/ educator/ staff organizing that I’ve written about here. In reaction to the corporate ed reformers’ emphasis on teacher evaluation and accountability through standardized testing, a lot of Leftist and liberal teachers have fallen into the trap of trying to defend the public schools as they currently exist. This is not tenable, because our schools are breeding grounds of white supremacy, patriarchy, and class stratification. We need to transform the schools, and this means being accountable to working class communities, NOT corporate think tanks and hedge funds. Teachers and coaches should welcome working class feminist efforts to fire coaches who condone “rape crews” and to replace them with coaches who can serve as anti-sexist role models. In fact, we should join such efforts, and look for moments in our schools where we can initiate them ourselves. No amount of seniority and no union contract should protect a coach if there is clear evidence that he is complicit in encouraging rape.
As a long term goal, I think we should fight for the power to make hiring and firing decisions that affect all teachers , coaches, and anyone else who works with youth, instead of leaving these decisions up to unelected administrators. Teachers, students, and community members should be able to decide who teaches and coaches our youth. Port workers demanded and won control of hiring and firing on the docks in the 1930s, ending the racist and humiliating shape up system (similar to the process by which day laborers are hired at Home Depots today). However, over time these hiring halls became nepotistic and exclusive because they were run by the union itself as a private club, not as a public organization run by the working class as a whole. Hence workers had an incentive to try to get their brothers, sons, and inlaws onto the job, which in Seattle has resulted in discrimination against Black workers. To avoid this kind of outcome, a teacher/ coach/ education worker hiring hall would have to be run democratically with input not only from teachers but also from students and their families.
Ultimately, this would be a revolutionary demand, because it would point the way toward a society of popular councils, assemblies, and committees instead of one that is run by professional classes above society. In the meantime, we can prefigure this goal by organizing ourselves and taking direct action to push the administration to fire individual misogynistic coaches and to hire coaches who know how to challenge rape culture.”