Steubenville sits on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, approximately four hours from Ft. Thomas. It was just another town on the map until a rape case involving some of the town's teenagers hit the news…and the internet. On Sunday, March 17, Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays were found guilty of sexually assaulting a female acquaintance. I'm not going to rehash all the details of the case to you today, but instead will be giving my thoughts on the case in hopes of opening a discussion. I'd also like to hear what our readers think about the case.
I keep coming back to the idea that this case seems to focus primarily on the rapists, not the victim. This teenage girl has not only endured a horrific event, but also had to experience it all over again under the bright lights of mainstream media. She has also had to deal with a town divided over support for the boys who raped her. Statistics show that 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and 38% of rapists are friends of acquaintances of the victims. The Steubenville victim knew all her rapists, had vulgar evidence of the assault posted on the internet, and also dealt with victim shaming. If you ask me, she was incredibly brave for standing up to her rapists as well as her town.
What I have also found disturbing about the case, besides the actual rape, is the media's approach to the verdict. By all accounts, these teenage boys did have very bright futures ahead of them. That doesn't make their actions any less deplorable, and they have no one to blame but themselves. Yes, these boys' lives are ruined. However, they are not victims. Their lives are ruined because of their actions, not because of a judge or because the victim took them to court. They have nobody to blame but themselves. It's truly disturbing how even major media outlets have been discussing how the boys' lives are ruined instead of saying that these boys "ruined their own lives." Nobody in mainstream media seems to be talking about how brave the victim must have been to stand up for herself, and to deal with the hardships that came with taking this case to trial. Who knows how many girls would have been violated if she hadn't gone to the police?
I'm not here to condemn major media outlets, but it's glaringly obvious that many mishandled the reporting of this case. CNN was frighteningly sympathetic toward Mays and Richmond during their reporting of the guilty verdicts outside the courthouse on Sunday. Fox News released the 16-year-old victim's name, who had gone great lengths to remain anonymous during the trial. They also had a chance to use this case as a way to open a discussion about the stigma surrounding rape, but instead they didn't, which is sad.
Long before the case received mainstream media attention, bloggers began to write about the atrocities that occurred that night in Steubenville. It wasn't hard for bloggers to uncover information about the rape since there was a digital trail of information. Anonymous, a well-known hacker group, took up a call to arms to make sure this case did not fall silent. #OccupySteubenville was created to help bring justice to the victim by staging protests and releasing information about the rape. Bloggers were diligently discussing the case throughout the internet. Some even endured bullying and a threats for their articles. Without their work, the case may not have have received the attention that it deserves.
Another disturbing aspect of this case is the group of adults and community leaders protecting the rapists. Mays admitted in court to exchanging text messages with his football couch, Reno Saccoccia, about the incident. Mays was reportedly under the impression that everything was fine because Saccoccia joked about the incident, and also told Mays that he "took care of it." To clarify…not only did these boys rape a drunk, unconscious 16-year-old girl, but they were then allowed to believe that their actions would go unpunished because of their affiliation with the school's powerful football coach.
The saying "it takes a village" seems to ring true in this case. I'm not saying that every citizen of Steubenville should be criticized, or that bad things can't happen in nice towns. Bad things can happen anywhere. However, the authority figures that perpetuated the cover up or the victim shaming are creating an environment in which it's acceptable for teenagers to treat each other this way. And clearly, it's not okay. There's a lesson here, and it's that as a community, you need to look out for each other, and not look away based on someone's social status or contribution to a popular organization. If the adults and leaders of a community are morally corrupt, how can we expect the children to act any different?
There were a lot of people who stood by and did nothing, both the night of the incident and later after the rape occurred. This includes adults and supposed community leaders, not just teenagers. "Critics have accused community leaders of trying to paper over rampant misconduct by players of the powerhouse 'Big Red' football team and have suggested that other students took part in the assaults or failed to do enough to stop them," said CNN. The issue of entitlement here is both powerful and disturbing. We saw it with Sandusky at Penn State, and we're seeing it again here with Steubenville. The boys' sense of entitlement, including those who watched on as the assault was happening, is a major aspect in this case.
Unfortunately, the big lesson from this case seems to be: don't post incriminating photos and videos on the internet. The lesson should be: don't rape. Steubenville is a perfect way to open a discussion about how rape is never acceptable. It doesn't matter how drunk a person is, like the victim in Steubenville, that does not make rape acceptable. Mays was guilty of circulating a nude photo of the victim on through social media sites. During the sentencing, he was given a chance to speak. He apologized for releasing the photo, but never seemed to show remorse for this involvement is these horrible acts. He could have stopped it, but instead chose to photograph the incident. Richmond, however, openly sobbed in front of the court.
Would these boys have gotten away with the rape if they had covered their tracks better? I don't know, but it is possible. Many rape victims are scared to speak up, and it's understandable why they would be frightened. The Steubenville victim was ridiculed by members of her community for standing up for herself. Adults and community leaders have come under fire for allegedly trying to help cover up the case. This case reportedly divided the town, and she has had to shoulder some of the blame even though she should not.
The Steubenville rape case has become much bigger than the rape of a teenage girl. My intent is not to diminish the power of her story, but to discuss how this case has shown us how a community's moral standing and entitlement issues can impact our youth. It has shown us that we, as a country, can and should take it upon ourselves to stand up for those in need of justice (such as the blogger and hackers did for Steubenville). Lastly, this case allows for an opportunity to open up a dialogue about rape. The girl was certainly irresponsible for getting incredibly intoxicated at a party, but that absolutely does not make her rape acceptable. She had to piece together the events of the night through vulgar Twitter updates and YouTube videos posted by her classmates and supposed friends. We can use Steubenville as a way to educate ourselves and our community about rape. We can also use Steubenville as a way to open dialogue about how to treat each other, whether it's in real life or over the internet.
What are your thoughts on the Steubenville case? Let us know in the comments below.