When a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, became national news, it affected women (and men) all over the world. The image of a seemingly unconscious girl being dragged from one room to the next, the reports of her being sexually assaulted at not one but three different parties, the vulgar tweets from disrespectful teenagers, the 12 minute-long video from a now repentant and now former Ohio State University student named Michael Nodianos—it turned people’s stomachs.
Traci Lords, especially. The actress known for her underage stint in the porn business was “inundated” with tweets and Facebook messages after the Steubenville case broke, she told The Daily Beast. People wanted to know what she thought, she said, because she was born and raised in Steubenville.
She was raped in Steubenville, too. She was 10 years old.
“It takes me right back there,” she said. “It’s not a fun thing to talk about.”
Lords was on her way home from school that day, she said, when she cut through a piece of property with a “big grassy green field in it.” The sun felt good, she said, and she decided to lie there. What happened next is best described in a song Lords later wrote about her experience that she titled “Father’s Field.”
I was laying on the grass making big angels I was feeling kinda itchy in the grass Laying in the sun, kinda liking the way it felt Guess I must have fallen asleep
I still don’t know what woke me up All I can remember seeing were these huge eyes Staring over me, right on top of me This older boy, out of my league ’Cause I was no cheerleader, I was the lipstick queen
I could feel his eyelashes on my face and they were tickling me Maybe that’s what woke me up, I was shocked That sun was so hot and he was so warm And I didn’t know what it was but it felt kinda good
Just the way his fingers ran through my hair, just raking it up I’d never had anyone touch me like that before except for my mother I knew there was something wrong but I don’t know I kinda liked it It was sort of like, wow, like amazing And he just kept whispering, “You’re so beautiful God, you’re beautiful”, just this sweet voice tickling me Then I got kinda nervous and I got really embarrassed I felt myself getting really hot, sort of blushing, I tried to get up but he started to laugh And he was sort of pulling me down, pinning me in to the ground He’s not playing a game, I hear this screaming and it’s me And I started to hear my clothes rip And I got scared, really scared and in a way I hoped to God no one would find us ‘cause I was so embarrassed I became silent, this is really wrong It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault His hand over my mouth, that’s why I’m not screaming I didn’t say anything, I didn’t feel anything, I just drifted away I just floated, just that sharp pain And then he’s through with me I didn’t tell anyone Didn’t tell anyone
Lords didn’t tell anyone because the 14-year-old boy threatened to kill her, she told The Daily Beast.
“I thought if I didn’t say anything, maybe it was just a bad dream, and it didn’t happen,” she said.
The rape “shattered my self-esteem,” she said, and she is today certain it played a huge part in her foray into the porn business—at 15 years old.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that that experience really set the stage for me to go into porn and do all those things,” she said. “These are not things you start doing because everything is OK.”
Only in her 20s did Lords finally tell someone, her therapist.
“I was incredibly embarrassed and ashamed,” she said. “I thought if my father or my family knew this, they wouldn’t love me anymore.”
Lords’s mother moved to California to be with her boyfriend and took Traci with her, Lords said, and it was the boyfriend who lured her into the porn industry at 15, with a fake identification and the initial promise that she’d just be “modeling.” Lords was a prime target, she said, for the porn world.
“There’s a broken thing. I think it’s trying to turn it around, like ‘I’m tired of being fucked. Now I’ll fuck you,’” she said. “You don’t want to be the victim anymore. And your mind, and the way you process things is so completely out of whack. You don’t have any kind of logical way of thinking.”
To the town’s defenders, Lords has this to say: her mother was raped there, too, also as a child. And they both agree that “women are considered second-class citizens in that part of the world.”
One of the first lines in Lords’s autobiography, Underneath It All, is, “I grew up in a dirty little steel town called Steubenville, Ohio. Women had not yet been liberated, husbands ruled the house. Women cleaned it, and any strong opinion was rewarded with a fat lip.”
There are many lessons from the case making modern-day headlines, Lords told The Daily Beast. The most important one is this: the time for silence about rape has passed.
“We need to shine the brightest light on this,” she said. “The daylight is really the best disinfectant.”