You won’t believe this: In response to the Steubenville, Ohio teen rape case, West Virginia U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld is launching a program to teach high school athletes not to post evidence of rape online. 1
It’s called “Project Future,” and his goal is to teach teens how to avoid getting in trouble with the law by using cell phones, cameras, and social media “responsibly.”2 The message U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld is sending is that the real problem in Steubenville wasn’t the rape–it was the photos, videos, and tweets of the assault that bystanders and one of the rapists posted.3 Instead of teaching teens not to rape, he wants to teach them not to get caught.
This is rape culture at work: The very people who are in charge of enforcing our laws look at a cruel, brutal attack on a young girl and think, “If only the teens hadn’t posted photographic evidence online.” In reality, we should be teaching teens that sex without consent is rape and that it is a crime.
U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld needs to hear from us all right now, before “Project Future” finds its way into another high school classroom. Public pressure in the Steubenville case–from petitions, rallies, and news coverage–has already helped bring two rapists to justice.4 If we speak out now, we can make sure the U.S. Attorney scraps this horrible program and launches one that will actually help stop sexual assault. Can you sign the petition?
The good news it that research shows that teaching young men not to rape actually works to prevent sexual assaults. One study showed that a single, one-hour class that taught men to empathize with survivors of sexual assault had an impact on how the men approached sex, consent, and alcohol years later.5 Another study showed that advertising messages telling the public that “sex without consent = sexual assault” contributed to a 10% decrease in the rate of reported sexual assaults. It’s possible–and surprisingly simple–to teach teens not to rape.6
What doesn’t prevent rape and sexual assault? Teaching teens how not to get caught committing rape. The message of a program like “Project Future” is that young women like Jane Doe shouldn’t speak up or press charges if they are assaulted–because the legal consequences for the perpetrators if they are caught are the real problem, not the rape.
We all spoke out together in Steubenville to stop local law enforcement from sweeping this crime under the rug. We raised our voices when the media coverage of the verdict lamented the ruined lives of the poor rapists. And most recently we stood up when the man who helped uncover the rape online was threatened with federal “hacking” charges for his role in exposing the crime. Now, we have to stand up once more and make sure that students aren’t taught to think of the punishment, not the rape, as the problem in Steubenville.
Thanks for speaking out.
–Nita, Shaunna, Kat, Malinda, and Karin, the UltraViolet team
1. Steubenville-Inspired Program Teaches Teen Jocks Not to Instagram Rape, Jezebel, August 9, 2013
3. Ohio rape case prompts student athlete social media program, Charleston Daily Mail, August 8, 2013
4. Ohio Teenagers Guilty in Rape That Social Media Brought to Light, New York Times, March 17, 2013
5. Research Blog: Teaching Men Rape Prevention Actually Works, SPARK Movement, April 10, 2013
6. ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ ad campaign cuts Vancouver sex assaults by 10 per cent in 2011, The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2012