The sexual assault by Steubenville, Ohio, football players on a 16-year-old West Virginia girl offers a looking glass reflection of the culture that surrounds their crime. This was not some dark cult ritual by depraved boys. It was just another night out for the Big Red football players -- boys being boys, American style. They are the product of the world they grew up in, a world of privileged fraternity where gang rape can be considered just another sport. We all live in Steubenville, a place where institutionalized male entitlement is the name of the game in locker rooms and boardrooms alike.
What these boys did is not about sex. It's about power, male power. Their laughing, joking, documenting their abuse of an unconscious girl was a bragfest -- entitled boys carrying out a tradition of dominance and control. They and their counterparts across the country are our young princes, accorded all the privilege and immunity of their rank. Their behavior is inherent to our way of life from the days of slavery to the morning papers. In a word, it's about a rape culture of our own design. Colonial males of privilege raped women for "sport," and the tradition carries on.
Studies show that high school and college rapes are disproportionately committed by athletes, and communities are enablers. People close ranks around the perpetrators and old chestnuts start flying. "She put herself in the situation," a Steubenville coach said of the victim -- perhaps the same coach one rapist meant when he said: "I feel he took care of it for us ... like he was joking about it."
When the verdict was announced, CNN reporters broke down. "These poor boys -- star football players, good students -- their dreams have fallen apart." Missing was any mention of the victim and the hours-long criminal assault performed upon her. Missing also was any mention of the culpability of others, or what these "promising young men" say about all of us.
Athletes' rape fests and the rape epidemic in our military are companion problems. The documentary film, "The Invisible War" (free online), details breathtaking accounts of the personal threats, professional retaliation and silent suffering endured by female soldiers who are routinely raped by their own. Trapped in a male world where drill instructors' "unabashed hatred of women is part of boot camp," women (and men), mainly of lower ranks, are preyed upon with literally nowhere to turn. It's painful to watch and hard to bear, but we're obligated to see it. And there's more.
The Super Bowl, the athletic extravaganza of the year, is reported to be our nation's No. 1 magnet for sex trafficking and child prostitution. Despite the sports industry's effort to debunk the story, the evidence is indisputable -- ask the FBI. The few media commentators who've reported the story did so with almost lighthearted amusement. Meanwhile, thousands of exploited women and children who are "serving the fans" remain invisible nobodies.
The government estimates that more than 300,000 American children are lured into sex trafficking annually, an enterprise that brings in $9.5 billion. Pimps target vulnerable kids -- poor, homeless, runaways, incest victims -- and sell them in a market with an ever-increasing demand. It's a modern-day slave market. The average age is 13. Behind these statistics are incalculable numbers of powerless victims, and they call up a dystopia more real than most of us care to know.
Seneca 2 is sponsoring a forum on human trafficking at 7 p.m. April 24 in the Della Brown Taylor Art Gallery at the West Virginia State University Fine Arts Building. The speaker, Anne Victory, is education coordinator for the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking in Ohio, currently a leading state in trafficking. The event is co-sponsored by West Virginia State University Cultural Activities and is open to the public. Parking is free behind and around the Fine Arts Building.
Knapp is a retired Charleston teacher and a leader of the Seneca 2 women's rights group.