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Published: 3/23/2013

Steubenville needs to deal with aftermath of its rape case

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Rally participants at Steubenville City Hall demand justice for a girl who was raped last summer. Two Steubenville High School football players were found guilty of the crime.
Rally participants at Steubenville City Hall demand justice for a girl who was raped last summer. Two Steubenville High School football players were found guilty of the crime.
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Something is terribly wrong in Steubenville. The rape case that involved two high school football players put the Ohio city on the map as a place of shame.

But the guilty bystanders who wanted to put this mess behind them from the beginning will keep Steubenville there. Plenty of people know exactly what happened the night of Aug. 11, 2012.

Some were there. They said nothing and did nothing. They texted and tweeted while two jocks raped a 16-year-old girl in a drunken stupor.

A big part of the small city along the Ohio River remains mum about the truth, because it might hurt the storied football team. Parents and leaders of schools and churches seem content to accept what happened and move on.

Seeing someone’s daughter, sister, wife, or mother being violated ought to provoke revulsion, outrage, and intervention. Such a horrendous act ought to compel immediate prosecution and swift justice.

None of that happened in Steubenville. A girl who drank too much at a party was not only sexually violated in front of her peers, but also demeaned by onlookers in a devastating way.

They recorded everything on Instagram, YouTube, cell phone cameras, videos, and disgusting tweets. Pretty soon, the whole world saw what they had seen.

Two star players were arrested and charged with rape. The news shook Steubenville — at first. Then people clammed up.

Police Chief William McCafferty begged for witnesses to come forward. They never did. “There were other people around when this was going on,” he told the New York Times.

The county prosecutor and judge who handled crimes by local juveniles backed away too, recusing themselves because of their ties to the football team. Not until game eight of a 10-game regular season were some of the football players who allegedly were involved in the assault benched.

In one of the hundreds of graphic and profane text messages disclosed by the prosecution, co-defendant Trent Mays said he was confident that head football coach Reno Saccoccia would take care of everything. The 17-year-old quarterback texted that Mr. Saccoccia “was joking about it so I’m not that worried.”

This week, Mays and 16-year-old wide receiver Ma’lik Richmond were found to be delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt — the juvenile court equivalent of guilty — for raping a girl who witnesses said was too drunk to move or speak. Prosecutors said the evidence, constructed from real-time social media documentation of the assault, was extensive and powerful.

After the verdict, Richmond sobbed that “my life is over.” Mays expressed regret for taking a photo of the girl that was posted online. He was also found guilty of disseminating a nude photo of a minor.

Still, watching the weepy and apologetic boys in court makes you wonder whether they were less sorry for the sexual degradation they reveled in months ago, and more sorry about what befell them. It was about future ramifications, not remorse for what happened.

During the trial, their attorneys sought acquittal by discrediting the victim. “It’s common for sexual assault victims to be blamed for what happened,” said Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, “but false reporting in rape cases is extremely rare.

“Rape frequently occurs by people the victim knows — friends, acquaintances, family members,” she said, “and it’s hard for survivors to be believed.”

The testimony of the rape victim was “incredibly moving,” Ms. Hanna said. “She was so courageous to come forward.”

She almost didn’t because of threats to her family. Friends testified against her. Others suggested her slurring, stumbling, and vomiting the night of the assault didn’t preclude consent.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has called for a grand jury to investigate whether others should be charged. After the guilty verdicts, he said: “This community desperately needs to have this behind them.”

No. Steubenville desperately needs to work through it. Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said: “This case isn’t about a YouTube video. This case isn’t about social media. This case isn’t about Big Red football. This case is about a 16-year-old girl who was taken advantage of, toyed with, and humiliated.”

There is something terribly wrong with bystanders who are content to accept the unacceptable and move on.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade. Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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