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Utah college performs play based on Steubenville High rape case

First Published      Last Updated Oct 30 2015 09:57 pm

Sexual crime » Production calls for an uncomfortable conversation about assault.

The rape of a 16-year-old girl broadcast on Facebook and Twitter is at the heart of a new play at the University of Utah.

Student actors hope the production will change the way their classmates, teachers and others talk about sexual assault — and force them to acknowledge that it is happening on their campus.

Even before Friday's opening, the message had begun to sink in.

"It's a real thing that could happen to anybody," said Torin Scoffield, who plays a high school football player and perpetrator. "And no amount of dressing right or not drinking a lot is going to change that."

Scoffield's role made him reconsider his own history of joking now and then that "no means yes."

"The hashtags that were used in the play, I said a couple of those," he said with a grimace, referring to the production's use of social media tags including "it's not rape if she's passed out."

In hindsight, "I hate that," Scoffield said after a rehearsal Thursday. "I took that feeling and just kind of put that into my research and my work."

Dramaturge Martine Green-Rogers chimed in. "That's the hope," she said, that the play "will illuminate these things we take for granted, these jokes that we make."

Now, Scoffield is encouraging friends to come see his show and watch the "The Hunting Ground," a documentary questioning whether universities have done enough to curb sexual assault.

Nationwide, one in five undergraduate women say they experienced unwanted sexual contact while in college, according to results of a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in June. But statistics suggest few instances come to the attention of police. On Utah campuses, only a handful of sexual assaults are reported each year, data from the schools show.

The state has come under federal scrutiny nonetheless. Federal investigators are coming to Westminster College next week after a student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, saying the school mishandled the student's sexual assault case in 2013.

It is not the only Utah campus to receive such attention.

In Logan this week, a former Utah State University fraternity president pleaded guilty to forcible sexual abuse after being accused of taking advantage of female party guests who were placed under his care because they could not take care of themselves. Another former student faces charges that he raped two women.

At the school's branch in Price, three student-athletes are suspended and a school counselor is on leave after police said a woman may have been assaulted at a party in a school dormitory. USU-Eastern is looking into whether the counselor hindered the campus police investigation. Fellow partygoers shared photos of the woman on social media, showing her apparently unconscious with her head in a trash can, according to a police report.

The U. is one of about a dozen campuses nationwide to host a production of "Good Kids," based on the 2012 assault and cover-up by high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio. The case is notable for he role social media played — and the apparent cover-up by many in the small Ohio town.

In the play, written by Naomi Iizuka, the victim meets the perpetrators at a Friday night party, only to have her assault posted on the Internet hours later.

It's meant for a college audience and has appeared at the universities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Maryland, among others. Ohio State University also has a production this semester.

"It could happen to you," the victim tells classmates. Her fellow students disagree.

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