Sexual assault as spectacle: Understanding Steubenville’s role in the production of rape culture



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In a prominent case that originated in Steubenville Ohio in 2012, a sexual assault perpetrated by multiple members of a high school football team against a young woman was functionally broadcast live on social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter and was used to generate public spectacle. These deliberately public actions taken by the perpetrators led to the young woman being the subject of much derision in her community and would ultimately generate national media frenzy. Because of the highly public and mediated nature of the Steubenville rape case, it provides a strong basis of analysis for the existence and mechanisms of rape culture in the United States. Through the analysis of a visual text produced by participants in the rape that was posted on social media and through the contextualization of that visual text within broader media coverage about the assault in Steubenville, this work argues that the rape in Steubenville reflects broader cultural attitudes that normalize sexual assault and demonstrate the powerful role new social media sites may play in the production of rape culture.



Rape culture, Rape myths, Steubenville, News framing, Visual rhetoric