OpEd: My “Steubenville” Experience – The Night I Don’t Remember

steubenville-football-players-carrying-alleged-rape-victimI awoke last Sunday, dreading checking my Twitter because I anticipated a plethora of “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” tweets, and I wasn’t in the mood to explain (again) the lies of the Patrick myth as invented by the Catholic Church.  But check Twitter I did, and the tweets that caught my attention revolved around the upcoming verdict in the Steubenville rape case in Ohio.

The verdict was just about to be announced, and everyone in my TL pensively awaited guilty verdicts for the high school football Lotharios who raped a 16 year-old girl while she was drunk.  When the media storm first hit the story months ago, I had seen some of the pictures taken that night.  The one in which the guys were passing her around like she was a sack of potatoes was particularly heinous.

I think this story hit me hard not only because of the rape/date-rape aspect of my own rape, but I had a similar inebriated experience in 1996.  I was at an outdoor event, and the temperature was in the high 90’s.  A cheese sandwich was my only food the entire day.  I was not drinking enough water.  I was walking a lot, and I was dehydrated.  When the party began that night, I had two lite beers — and remember nothing of the next 10 hours.

The next day, I heard stories of what I did at the party.  The looks on people’s faces as I walked by were enough to tell me I did… something… a lot of something… but I had no recollection except for two brief flashes of sitting with a man I didn’t know.  But the stories… what I was told… by many people, confirming each other’s stories… didn’t sound like me at all.

I understand exactly the panic, the fear, the emotional pain, the shame of what the Steubenville victim experienced.  What she went through at the time, not knowing what was done to her, or by whom, is a frightening feeling.  Not knowing if you used a condom, do you now have a disease, are you pregnant???  These thoughts flood the mind, and you live in fear until tests come back.  Thankfully, for me, the tests’ results were all negative.  Ironically, this was the moment I became pro-choice.

That night in March 1996, I had alcohol poisoning.  The combined factors of little water, even less food, high heat, and overall exhaustion made my body unable to handle two lite beers.  All the things I did, I did not cognitively consent to, and yet I participated in them.  Eventually, so I was told, a man was put in charge of watching over me, so no “harm” would come to me.  What was their definition of “harm?”  I was in an alcohol blackout having “sex” with men I barely knew and some I didn’t know at all.  They didn’t think that was harmful?  Did they not know the signs of intoxication?  Did they not care?!

As I was told, this man took me away from the immediate party and tried to get me to drink water.  I awoke the next morning in my tent, with horrible dry mouth — like I was eating cotton, and I was physically weak.  I didn’t even know I’d been “sexual” the previous night until… the stories… the looks… the shame of things I don’t remember… to this day.

The shame I was made to feel by those who witnessed (and did nothing) or heard about my “escapade,” is the shame I feared would haunt me if I reported my rape.  The guilt of embarrassing my friends and the fear of all the “what if’s” of the consequences literally pained me.  Even talking about my rape on Twitter led one jerk to say I was milking my rape for sympathy.

Steubenville-Ms-Foundation-Media-coverageLast Sunday morning, March 17, 2013, the Steubenville verdict was announced.  The judge places the blame on social media and drinking.  Over the course of the week, media outlets cover the verdict, blaming the victim for ruining the promising futures of her rapists.  Twitter explodes.  And the gun nuts start in saying, if only the girl had been armed, she wouldn’t have been raped.

And so the Twitterverse keeps revolving…

With 2012 being the Year of Rape in the media and women rising to the fore to fight the GOP Right Wing misogyny invading our bodies, how could a 16 year-old girl be made to take the brunt of the judge and the media’s blame for her rape?

When I was outside working all day on that hot day in March 1996, I wasn’t thinking about having “drunk sex” that night.  Did the men who were with me have any thought that maybe “sex” with a drunk girl isn’t a good thing?  That just because a girl is being gregarious or “slutty,” the alcohol has affected her ability to make cognitive decisions, i.e., give consent for sexual activity?

The bigger issue here is that I don’t think most men understand what rape actually is.  Rape is not only when a boogey-man jumps a lone, defenseless woman at the mall parking lot at 10 p.m.  Most reported rapes are committed on women by men they know — husbands, boyfriends, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers.  Only 20% of reported rapes are committed by the iconic stranger/boogey-man.

The other issue is what is consent.  Some states have laws that stipulate sex with a person who meets the legal definition of being intoxicated is considered rape, since the person cannot adequately consent.

I never liked the taste of alcohol, but I drank some socially.  I had never been drunk before or since.  I’ve never talked about my experience before now.  And I’m sure some people will say I “asked for it,” or they just won’t understand.  Hell, I don’t understand it.  But I understand Jane Doe, and she does not deserve the harassment she has received from the media or from her former friends.

Women and the men who love us need to keep up the pressure to have this national and international conversation — defining rape in all its forms and defining consent.  Our daughters and our sons deserve that.

Jane Doe does not deserve the blame or the shame she has received on top of the egregious violation of her body and trust that she experienced.  Were it not for the tenacity of one reporter, the Steubenville rape would have been swept under the carpet by the witnesses and the coaches who knew about it.  Accessories after the fact… accessories who cared more for their school’s athletic reputation than the welfare of a teenage girl.

Never be silent.




  1. You were not asking for it. Talking about it is not “milking it for sympathy” and I too have been attacked for admitting I was raped and constantly molested by a family ‘friend’ starting at the age of 11. I wasn’t asking for it either. I wasn’t wearing anything “provocative”. I’d had no alcohol and I resent the implication that women must somehow own the blame for what happened to them. Women aren’t raped because they’re drunk. Women are raped because someone chooses to rape them. Period. End of story.

  2. Hi Trish,

    Thank you so much for sharing your own story and your thoughts on what happened in Steubenville. I found your site today and have spent the last few hours reading your posts. Please don’t ever stop speaking out against the discrimination and preventable violence in our culture. The world needs voices like yours.

    I am struck by the similarities in our thinking. If you have a moment, please check out some of the posts on my blog (for example http://mindfuller.tumblr.com/post/46151814078/words-from-a-rape-culture-survivor). It’s good to know that there are many of us trying to convey the same message.

    Keep fighting the good fight!


  3. Your expetience is all too much common ,
    I remember a girl from my Highschool had a “Boyfriend” that did pretty much the same thing to his girlfriend .
    He was from a rich family and nothing much happened to him.
    This was the 70s and that was kinda put under the table .
    It seems like Alcohol is involved in this all the time .
    Stubenville ,Where did they get the alcohol?
    Did they drug the girl?
    Those Boys got what they deserved .

  4. I grew up in a “macho” family where this criminal act would’ve been considered a “free pass.” Through out my adolescence I ended up in situations where I tried to be the adult in he room and was attacked as “weak,” “scared,” or, of course, “queer.” I’m haunted by the instances where I could not protect the women and struggled for YEARS with the guilt of sexual attraction and arousal. Rape effects all of us, it hampers healthy sexuality (at the least) and often destroys lives, leading to cyclical physical/chemical abuse–in both victim AND predator. And until we disabuse boys of the notion that the sun rises and sets in their own asses, until we end “slut-shaming” we will continue to deal with the effects of our rape-culture.

  5. I read this when you first posted it, but couldn’t think of an appropriate response. I still can’t, but I want you to know that I am saddened and angered at the behavior of these “men” and I support you 100%. You’re not “milking” anything, you’re telling what happened (and shouldn’t have!), and it’s a story that needs to be told.

  6. Thanks. 🙂 For years, I couldn’t reconcile what the experience was. It wasn’t until the Steubenville case hit the media, that my experience was put into perspective, and I think, alleviated some of the shame I felt.


  7. You are only responsible for yourself, and when you’re younger, you face all sorts of challenges to living how you want to live. Speaking out and standing up on this issue is one way of healing for yourself. 🙂 The men in our world NEED to hear these words from OTHER MEN.


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