Why are you so angry over the Steubenville trial coverage?

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“Human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us.“–mother of Jane Doe, 16 year old rape victim whose attackers were convicted in Steubenville, OH, Toronto Star.

Jane Doe’s mom is right. Moms are usually right. But she and I differ in opinion slightly. I think compassion is taught. It was the lack of any “God-given gift” of compassion that led to this heinous crime being committed in the first place.

There’s a lot of anger growing over the Steubenville trial media coverage. Many are saying that too much emphasis is being given to the reactions of the offenders and not enough sympathy is going out to the victim. I’ve seen news articles and even memes generated over this anger. The fact that the girl’s face and name have NOT been leaked to the media shows that compassion still exists, at least in among members of traditional media. Despite her body being violated and then plastered around the internet, no one disconnected from Steubenville really knows who Jane Doe is. The media is respecting her privacy.

As her lawyer pointed out, “She is a 16-year-old girl still, and she’s a high school student. She just wants to get back with her normal life, as does the family.”

Instead, the media is reporting on the reaction of the offenders. These are human beings, young men, and their reaction to life-altering news is valid. The fact that they openly show remorse through emotion and apologies is a good thing. The media is not choosing to report their empathy for the rapists over the victim—they are reporting on the trial, and that includes the reactions of the offenders and their families.

But there’s a lot of anger stewing on the internet over this.

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Anger is a valid reaction. This was a terrible crime that exposed a lot of sins in a small Ohio town—one that resembles a lot of small American towns. Many Americans cherish the “Friday Night Lights” sentimentality of growing up surrounded by football. The reports out of Steubenville show us that the movies and TV shows that we watch are based in more than just fantasy. However, the reality is much darker. We must face that fact. Anger is good. Anger means we’re talking about it. But is it right to get angry at one town and not think about what communities can do to prevent another Steubenville?

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All of the hubbub can be summarized by this Raw Story post: CNN grieves that guilty verdict ruined ‘promising’ lives of Steubenville rapists. Instead of reporting on the actual verdict, The Raw Story chose to focus its eye on another media outlet. It’s no secret that CNN is a shitty news service. They use sensational news to prop up their ratings. In this case, they focused on the grief of the offenders because it was the most visually compelling part of the verdict. If the victim had been present at the hearing, chances are the cameras would be focused on her face and her reaction.

What 16 year-old girl wants that kind of scrutiny after enduring so much pain and humiliation already? It was enough that her parents were present and were able to read a victim impact statement. One of the boys apologized directly to them. That showed that they have learned a lesson and are remorseful. As author Chuck Wendig pointed out, “we don’t need to ask for heads on pikes.”

The question now is has Steubenville and other towns like it learned their lesson? You can get angry all you want but if you live in a town that also gives teenage football stars the means and capability of “acting above the law”, ask yourself what can be done to prevent it from happening in your community. These kids knew where to get alcohol. They knew which parents would look the other way so they could party. They didn’t know how to help each other when they were in trouble. They thought it was all fun-and-games. “God-given” compassion? Compassion needs to be taught. It’s not something that comes down from heaven in a beam of light. Otherwise these kids, who thought they had sunshine coming out of their asses, would have been walking on water.

And compassion goes both ways. What these boys did was fundamentally wrong. However, not giving them the opportunity to repent and make amends for their sins? Where is your compassion? I respect both Chuck Wendig and Mike Monteiro for the work that they do for authors and graphic designers/freelancers. I have listened to them in the past and will continue to turn to them for advice on these matters. But their reactions to what is more than just a black and white story of rapists vs victims is alarming.

The town of Steubenville itself is also not evil. When authorities were informed of the crime, they were quick to investigate and this is why the boys were caught, tried and punished. But the fact that these acts were committed in the first place—and the fact that there are places that still exist where such things still go on—is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed. A community needs to nurture its children, not just athletically, but morally as well.

If you’re interested in further discussion about the Steubenville trial, I urge you to read xoJane’s profile of blogger Alexandria Goddard whose investigative reporting brought this case onto a global platform. Who says bloggers can’t get shit done? 🙂

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