Team Work: Studying the Steubenville High School Rape Case

A photo montage of various TV interviews where the subjects express sympathy for the Steubenville rapists and not for their 16-year-old victim.

A photo montage of various TV interviews where the subjects express sympathy for the Steubenville rapists and not for their 16-year-old victim.

By Tonya B. Lewis

This semester, my Theory of Mass Communication class will work together and explore framing of the Steubenville rape case by analyzing print, broadcast and online publications.

The team paper is a collaboration between Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., Sara Stone, Ph.D. and this year’s journalism graduate student cohort.

The Project
The preliminary framework for the paper has been outlined. Although, it is early in the process, I believe a solid, analytical paper has been created that will further scholarship and add to the existing body of work in the area of framing, especially dealing with rape, gender issues and race.

Tweet of CNN Coverage

The public used social media to openly chastise media outlets for coverage of the Steubenville rape case.

Personally, I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to such a paper on a topic that I feel personally connected. With the increase of rape cases, most notably, a similar case at Vanderbilt University, there is a need to examine the media’s coverage of the issue. For instance, in the case, of an 11-year-old rape victim in Cleveland, Texas, the media’s coverage, specifically The New York Times framing of the case, ignited furor leading to the media becoming part of the story. This example underscores the need for more research on the media’s coverage of rape cases. As part of the research, I will be responsible for reviewing print media, and I am curious to see what trends, patterns and frames emerge. Currently, the research focuses on three frames associated with rape and violence towards women-“victim blaming, mob mentality (hypermasculinity) and race.” We need to incorporate additional research studies in the three areas to discover what has been the consistently evident in media coverage.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Thoughts of the Victim
In reading all of the literature and coverage of the Steubenville rape case, I cannot help but wonder about the 16-year-old victim. She has been criticized by the public, has seen images of her rape casually shared via text message and email like a friendly emoticon and has been mostly marginalized and omitted in most media coverage.  I wonder if she knew about our study, what would she think? What sort of emotions would it conjure for her? Would she hope that our findings would change how rape and rape victims are covered in the news?  Does she even care? Or,  has she just simply tried to move forward and focus on her future?

As for me, I hope this research is celebrated for its scholarly contribution to academia, but more importantly, I hope it causes members of the media to be conscious of what and how they report on rape cases.

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