Steubenville Reminder: Rape Is Rape

Trent Mays, 17, left, and co-defendant 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond sit in court before the start of the third day of their tr
Trent Mays, 17, left, and co-defendant 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond sit in court before the start of the third day of their trial on rape charges in juvenile court on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Steubenville, Ohio. Mays and Richmond are accused of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August of 2012. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool)

Remember 2012 when America was awash in "legitimate rape" stories? Seems some of the networks forgot that rape is rape and that all survivors deserve justice. When Candy Crowley and her colleagues discuss the impact of a rape conviction on the rapists and not on the survivor, it perpetuates the rape culture already rampant in the Steubenville "rape crew." When FOX reveals the name of the victim but not of the rapists, it perpetuates rape culture. So to our friends in the media right and left, here is a refresher course: Rape is rape.

Several months ago, then-Senate nominee and Missouri Congressman Todd Akin made a claim that in a legitimate rape a woman's body would "shut the whole thing down." The media made an understandable hue and cry over the ridiculousness of that argument and the real harm it caused to victims.

We learned that the Republicans had been trying since the first days of taking over the House in 2011 to change the definition of rape.

From my post in August 2012:

The Republicans' latest defense is to say you can't tie Paul Ryan and Todd Akin together on H.R. 3 and H.R. 356 -- both bills that tried to redefine rape as "forcible rape" in connection with eligibility for plan B or abortion services -- because the FBI uses the term, so why not Congress?

Here's why:

Because forcible and non-forcible rapes are all rapes and none of the victims should lose their reproductive freedoms. President Obama said it best: rape is rape.

Because there are "non-forcible" rapes involving victims not capable of giving consent because of their young age, physical helplessness, unconsciousness or mental incompetence. In some states marital rape is considered non-forcible as well.

Because to take some of the most vulnerable of vulnerable victims and say, somehow, that their rapes don't matter and therefore their options for morning-after pills or abortions should be limited -- is not just irresponsible, but downright cruel.

I know because I prosecuted these cases:

I helped prosecute a roofie (Rohyphol) rapist who drugged his female victims into unconsciousness, then sexually attacked them. They awakened to find him violating them. No one believed them -- except a few good cops and an outstanding ADA, Linda Klee, who led the grand jury proceedings and petit jury trial that sent him to prison. I met children raped by their fathers and elderly women confined to wheelchairs raped by robbers. And I met a retarded girl assaulted by a nurse at a mental institution. One colleague told me he hated seeing me with teenagers and infants because he was afraid to ask who the fathers were -- he knew some of the kids were products of rape. Other victims used plan B or had abortions or didn't get pregnant. But ALL were victims and ALL deserved justice. Like millions of rape survivors across the country and around the world, they were raped. Each of these cherished, wounded survivors deserved justice.

Remember, the reason the Republicans were trying to limit the definition of rape is that they were trying to limit the government role in protecting those victims. The same GOP crew who tried to change the definition of rape were trying to limit Violence Against Women Act resources for victims of rape. Not only were they excluding Native Women, immigrants and lesbians from VAWA; they were excluding "non-forcible rape" victims from via emergency contraception, abortion, and counseling services. Connect the dots: follow the money and the ideology to understand why they do what they do.

Many media figures did indeed connect these dots during the campaign. So today, I'm not sure if media figures are actually absorbing their own reporting on "legitimate rape" and VAWA -- by now they should have taught themselves that rape is rape and that victim-blaming and slut-shaming perpetuate rape culture. Rape was not an "issue" in the presidential campaign or the effort to pass VAWA or the effort to change Pentagon procedures for servicemembers fighting The Invisible War -- it was a violent crime for which millions of Americans seek justice and resources for healing.

Here's a simple test for CNN, Fox, and any other media outlet: before you present your coverage, consult an expert in the field. There are thousands of rape survivors and professional advocates who can help you, starting with the good people at RAINN -- the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. If others are feeling triggered by this discussion, RAINN's confidential help is a click or phone call (1-800-656-HOPE) away.

The Steubenville victim and her family took a big step in coming forward. Let's embrace them not revictimize them.