Our view: Man's capacity for inhumanity made vivid in Steubenville rape case

March 20, 2013 10:10:05 AM



Many and sharp the num'rous ills 


Inwoven with our frame! 


More pointed still we make ourselves 


Regret, remorse, and shame! 


And man, whose heav'n-erected face 


The smiles of love adorn, -- 


Man's inhumanity to man 


Makes countless thousands mourn! 


-- Scottish poet Robert Burns 




In the few days since the guilty verdict came down in what is generally known as "The Steubenville Rape Case," the crime and its aftermath have generated all sorts of discussions, issues and debates. 


On Sunday, an Ohio judge found two teen boys, characterized as good students and promising members of the city's vaunted high school football team, guilty of raping a drunk, incapacitated 16-year-old girl at a party. The victim reported no awareness of what had happened until the next day, when texts and images sent by the perpetrators through social media began to spread far beyond the select few for which the information was intended. Essentially, the teens built and prosecuted the case against themselves through social media. 


But social media was not the only media that fell under withering criticism. The attention paid to the teen rapists by media -- the lament of how the incident had ruined their futures, of how they wept upon hearing the verdict, of the pain it caused their families -- showed an alarming lack of sensitivity for the one and only victim of the crime, whose own "sentence" cannot be characterized in terms of months or years.  


As is often the case in highly publicized crimes of this nature, the victim herself was considered in some quarters as being partially culpable for what happened by virtue of her drunken state. It is appalling that this attitude persists, even among a small minority of people.  


The image that should be fixed in the minds of everyone who might be tempted to mitigate the actions of these boys is taken from testimony in the case: 


A teen-aged girl sits on a curb, vomiting from her binge drinking, unaware of her surroundings as a crowd of teens gathers around, laughing and taunting her. One boy offers three dollars to anyone who will urinate on her. That no one took the offer is surprising, given what would follow. Someone pulls the girl's blouse off and she is picked up and carried to a car where she is stripped of her remaining clothing and violated while another boy takes photos. The full accounting of what happened to her is limited to eyewitness testimony. The full extent of the horror is known only to her assailants. 


Later, a video emerges that shows teens laughing about the incident, calling the victim "dead" and "so raped." 


It could have, should have, ended there on that curb when more than a dozen teens saw a vulnerable human being who needed help. Instead, she was viewed as no more than an object, something to be used and degraded and subject to ridicule, victimized and left nude on the dark, cold basement floor of a house when she no longer served as an object for the boys' perverted amusement. 


Now, we are presented with the idea that we must consider what can be learned from all this, as if there is something of value to be discovered, some great lesson that can be gleaned from the horror, something that will ultimately edify our society, that will uphold the notion that this young girl was not raped "in vain." 


It is a ludicrous, vulgar proposition. 


What can we possibly "learn?" That it is not OK to victimize someone who is defenseless? That we should be careful about what we post on social media? That the hero worship that often is ascribed to athletes is potentially dangerous? That alcohol abuse impairs judgment? That when we see someone being abused, we are morally compelled to intervene? 


Are any of these "lessons" something that should have to be taught? Does not our shared humanity inform us of these things? Has our society really deteriorated to such a point where we must be instructed that people cannot be considered mere objects?  


God forbid.  


No, what happened in Steubenville is not a lesson. 


It is a reminder of an unpleasant truth Robert Burns committed to verse 340 years ago. 


All these years later, we have not, perhaps will never, plumb the depths of man's capacity for evil.