The XX Factor

Why Did Two Girls Threaten the Steubenville Rape Victim?

Despite everything, Steubenville teenagers are still recording their law-breaking on social media.
Despite everything, Steubenville teenagers are still recording their law-breaking on social media.

Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Samsung

The guilty verdicts for Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond may only be the beginning of the legal response to the shocking night-long sexual assault that happened in front of multiple witnesses at a Steubenville, Ohio high school party last year. The day after the trial, it was reported that two girls were arrested and charged with threatening the victim after the verdict came down. The girls, ages 15 and 16, used Twitter and Facebook to threaten bodily harm and homicide toward the victim, continuing the baffling willingness of Steubenville residents to get it in writing for the judge. Prosecutor Mike DeWine seems to be making an example of the two young women, hoping the prosecution of them will send a message to the rest of the community to leave the victim alone.

Of course, the inevitable question that arises is why girls would do this to another girl. (All women are theoretically in it together when it comes to fear of rape.) Understanding actions like young women threatening rape victims is why feminists came up with the term “rape culture” to begin with, to explain how it is that society manages to turn on victims and support rapists. The short answer is that women often find it more personally beneficial to go along with sexism than to try to fight the power, on the theory that if you’re going to be treated like a second-class citizen anyway, you might as well not get yelled at all the time for speaking up about it.

The longer answer is this: Women, like men, don’t want to believe they actually know rapists. It’s easier to believe the victim is a lying slut than to accept that your friend or relative has such a dark side. And women have an extra reason to blame and shame the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of rape: Doing so helps you convince yourself that you’re safe. Claiming that it’s the victim’s fault for tempting men with her drinking/sexual activity/mini-skirt means telling yourself that as long as you aren’t as “slutty” as the victim, you’ll be OK. Most importantly, in communities like Steubenville where the tide is against the victim, playing along and hating on the victim is a demonstration of loyalty to the sexist culture. It can make a woman more popular, which in turn can also make her feel more protected from rapists.

With all this pressure for women to play along with rape culture, perhaps the bigger mystery is why so many women fight back anyway. The answer to that question could probably fill a book.