GOODMAN: No matter the context, rape shouldn’t be taken lightly

Goodman_WEBFor a brief stint last August, the YouTube community was introduced to Michael Nodianos, a teenager from Steubenville, Ohio, a former Steubenville High School student and at the time a student of The Ohio State University.

The video he was featured in was nothing of artistic value or gut-busting humor. It did not serve a specific purpose other than to document a night of goofing around. It was filmed sideways and was quickly deleted from the Internet. It was most certainly not supposed to go viral.

On Jan. 1, however, a re-posting of the video by the anonymous hacktivist group “Knight Sec” catapulted Nodianos onto the national stage as viewers watched him make jokes for 12 minutes about events central to an investigation of the sexual assault of a 16-year-old student.

Comments such as, “She’s deader than OJ’s wife,” and “She is deader than Caylee Anthony” (referring to the victim’s unconscious level of intoxication) swept the Internet. Nodianos also made statements including, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl,” and “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team.”

Although this video was kept out of the courtroom in the trial that concluded Sunday with guilty verdicts for both defendants, its importance should not be tossed aside. This video represents the ways in which rape is so often trivialized in today’s society, and how it takes awful events to bring such an unspoken debate to life.

Topics such as sex, gender, race and religion are taboo, with a focus on political correctness inhibiting the conversation when they are discussed.

For the most part, we’ve been socialized to deal with these topics in three ways: to try to understand and effectively communicate them; to simply not acknowledge them or to erase the taboo by trivializing them; and turning them into jokes. Since seeking to understand is time-consuming, the solution is often to take the easy way out by either claiming ignorance or employing humor to lighten the gravity.

When it comes to sexual assault, it appears as though humor is the preferred method. Dark comedy, which makes light of serious subject matter, is increasing in popularity. This raises the question, though, of when “funny” crosses the line.

Last summer, comedian Daniel Tosh was criticized for directing a joke about gang rape at a female audience member. Tosh issued an apology as a debate ignited between feminist groups and comedians whether it’s ever acceptable to trivialize something as horrendous as rape.

A similar debate is played out in the Steubenville video when unseen individuals are heard in the background attempting to make sense of what they witnessed. At the same time, Nodianos continues to joke about the victim, saying things like, “It isn’t really rape because you don’t know if she wanted it or not.”

Comments from the background such as, “It’s not OK … they raped her,” and “What’s wrong with you? This is not funny,” can be heard. An individual away from the camera asks Nodianos what he would do if the victim was his daughter, to which he replies, “It isn’t.”

These exchanges are symbolic of the unspoken debate that underlies today’s perception of sexual assault. Some take rape lightly because they’ve never had to deal with it, or because it has been simultaneously sensationalized and normalized by the media. For instance, sports fans often describe teams as “raping” other teams when they win big. The phrase, “That test just raped me” is heard frequently during finals week.

As is made clear in the video, some of those involved didn’t know how to express their concerns – some eventually testified in court, some remained quiet and others chose to employ humor.

What wasn’t funny, however, was when the town’s residents saw their youths’ faces in the newspaper, on television and in the courtroom.

Although this video features an individual trivializing sexual assault, I’m glad it will forever exist for the world to see. It’s something that everyone should watch because it showcases that sexual assault can occur under ordinary circumstances every day, and thus the unspoken debate surrounding it needs to be verbalized.

Rape may seem funny until it becomes a reality, and the humor is erased by the consequences. Steubenville residents unfortunately had to figure this out the hard way, but it’s not too late for the rest of society to learn from this lesson in an effort to prevent it from happening again.

Correction: A previous version of this column misidentified the victim of a rape in Steubenville, Ohio as a student at Steubenville High School. The victim is in fact from neighboring West Virginia. The Tribune regrets the error.

Brooke Goodman is a senior studying journalism and political science. Email with anything you’d like to see her write about.