The 18,437 Perpetrators of Steubenville

The brutal gang rape of a 16-year-old girl by members of the Steubenville, Ohio football team has rightly shocked the nation—a nation, by the way, which is routinely shocked by gang rapes committed by athletes in the same way that Claude Rains was “shocked” to find that gambling was going on at Rick’s Café Americain in the movie Casablanca. Really? Athletes gang-raping a girl so drunk that she’s passed out. What a surprise!

In one of the more ironic twists to this story, though, the internet hacker group Anonymous posted a 12½ minute video of an Ohio State freshman, Michael Nodianos, an athletic scholarship student, laughing and joking about the rape. Nodianos has become the poster boy for teenage male douchery. He’s been so hounded on social media, and in real life, that he’s now dropped out of school and seems to be hiding out at his parent’s house. His nickname will probably become synonymous with depraved insensitivity. If you laugh at a joke about, say, the Rwandan genocide, someone will say “Hey, don’t go all Nodi on me.”

Surely, it makes sense to hold such a clown in contempt. But remember that Nodianos was not at the party where the girl got raped, was nowhere near it and was only taped at a party, drunkenly performing for other guys. Focusing on him may distract us from other, more important groups of grown men who should be held accountable.

As I found in my interviews with more than 400 young men for my book Guyland, in the aftermath of these sorts of events—when high-status high school athletes commit felonies, especially gang rape—they are surrounded and protected by their fathers, their school administrations and their communities. These out-of-control, rapacious thugs are our school’s heroes—“our guys,” as the gang rapists at Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey were called nearly two decades ago. The players themselves hold to a code of silence, the omerta of sexual assault: no one ever rats out a fellow bro. The parents, the school and the community circle wagons in a culture of protection around the boys.

It’s often the girl herself, and her parents, who are vilified and receive death threats for daring to expose the crime in the first place. Raped boys, too, dare not complain: A few years ago, after rookies on the Mepham High School (Long Island) football team were sodomized with broom handles, golf balls and pine cones in a pre-season hazing ritual, the rookies’ parents got anonymous death threats for standing up for their brutalized sons.

The two players who are charged with raping the girl, and the several other players who allegedly participated, are surrounded in a protective bubble. Their fathers steadfastly stand by their sons. Their coaches wonder what the girl might have been wearing and why she got so drunk, suggesting it might have been a case of buyers’ remorse—as if she wanted to pass out and be urinated on and have an iron rod shoved inside her, but then perhaps thought better of it in the sober light of day. The police apparently covered up the crime to protect the boys. And, of course, the community rallied behind the boys, fearing that—gasp!—“their” football team might have a dark cloud hanging over it.

So it’s a distraction to spend another minute on Nodi the Buffoon. What needs to happen instead is that the players be immediately suspended, pending the outcome of their court date. All colleges considering recruiting them should receive information about these criminal charges. Coaches? Fire them, not for what their players did but what they, the coaches, said about the crime. The era of asking what she did to bring this on herself is over. Police who covered it up? Same. Cancel football season—again, not because of what the players did but because the community needs to heal, and that requires more than a return to the status quo.

At the moment, we’re hearing a chorus of adults saying “boys will be boys”—surely the most depressing four words spoken about members of my gender. Haven’t you noticed that we always say that when boys have done something really bad? We shrug our collective shoulders in resignation—nothing we can do about it. How come we don’t say, “Oh wow, a man walked on the moon—boys will be boys!” Or “A man won the Novel Prize—boys will be boys!” “A man is working to cure cancer … ” you get the idea. It’s a pernicious type of male bashing to assume that boys can do no better than be wild rapacious animals. We can do better than this—and we can insist on better from boys as well.

Listening to Michael Nodianos laugh about the raped girl, enumerating the different ways he “knew” she was “dead,” brings to mind a related recent incident—the actual death of a young woman in India who had also been brutally gang raped. The young men committed that crime for one reason: because they thought they could get away with it. Because they thought their neighbors, the police and the courts would never hold them accountable.

So did the Steubenville 2. They did what they did because they felt entitled to, because they knew they could get away with it. Because they knew that their coaches, their families, their friends, their teammates and the police department—indeed, the entire town would rally around them and protect them from the consequences of what they’ve done.

Because the Steubenville 2 is really the Steubenville 18,437 (I’ve subtracted the girl victim and her parents). Until the community rallies around the victim and not the perpetrators, the shame of gang rape is on them all. All.

The global public outcry in India has begun to change their public conversation about gang rape. Citizens of Steubenville have a moral existential choice about where they stand. Whose side will they be on?

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Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. He is distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.