By Elizabeth Childers
“As the defendants sobbed and their attorneys fought back tears, an Ohio judge convicted two high school football stars of raping a 16-year-old girl and sentenced them to juvenile prison Sunday, but the case that cast an ugly light over a small town and its athletes is not over,” begins an LA Times article published March 17.
CNN is currently taking some heat over discussing the same case without mentioning the victim and the impact on her life, instead focusing on the defendants whose lives have been “ruined” because of their conviction.
It’s amazing how some towns get put on the map. As a native Ohioan, I had never heard of Steubenville until this past winter, when the terrifying rape of a sixteen year old girl was brought to light by social networking and the group Anonymous, spurring investigation and trial.
The trial ended this month with two young men being declared “delinquent,” the equivalent to guilty in juvenile court. And the media’s stance on this event was, to me, mildly surprising.
My first surprise was the fact they were tried in a juvenile court for an adult rated crime. The boys, ages 16 and 17, were eligible to stand trial as adults. The Ohio State Bar Association states a “child” may be charged as an adult when committing a serious felony and is over the age of 14; and in some cases, like when multiple offenses have been committed or a gun has been used, it is required by law to transfer them out of the juvenile system. These regulations are complicated, and the law did not require them to be transferred, but the court could have made it happen.
By not transferring them, the boys were given significantly lighter sentences, though the damage done to their reputations would be permanent—at least until two years after the crime when they can ask the court to seal their records, because of the case’s juvenile status.
My second surprise was that both the media and the court had sympathy for these rapists. Not only did they sexually assault this girl—it was documented on social media, like the YouTube video of teenagers joking and laughing about the victim and talking about the rape.
The facts of the case were pretty accurately described by tweets, Facebook posts and photos (a new precedent for use of social media as evidence). The New York Times did an interesting piece about a particular blogger who had been involved in bringing attention to the case—Alexandria Goddard.
“Her expertise creating social media profiles of teenagers whose parents want to know what their children are doing online gave her a distinctive window on the situation,” the Times wrote. “She applied her social media sleuthing skills to the online conversation about the victim and the events leading up to and around the Aug. 11 party. ‘Within about two hours, I had a pretty decent outline of what was going on that night,’ Goddard said, after finding the names of the high school football team members on a school Web site and then discovering their public Twitter streams.
Goddard, after her research, said she was sickened by what was done, and the fact it was reported in real time and none of these people deigned to stop what was happening.
I feel the same. There was more than one crime being committing here, and it’s hard to say which is worse: the rape, or the apathy towards it.
The lawyer of 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, the younger of the two boys convicted in this case, says there will be an appeal requesting he not join the sexual offender’s list for the rest of his life because, and I quote, “At 16, the brain is not fully developed.”
That may be true. It’s why you have to be 25 to rent a car in most states.
But to say it excuses sexual assault sounds a lot like the “boys will be boys” argument that often discredits the severity of their actions.
Then for two other teenage girls to threaten the victim on such a public place as Twitter and Facebook is almost absurd. Are we still a culture who actively punishes the victims of crimes by continually victimizing them? The unfortunate answer to that question is obvious.
The girl was drunk, and didn’t remember the events after the fact—hence why social media and what was pieced together by Goddard was crucial to the conviction. And while she had a personal responsibility to keep herself safe, that did not entitle these boys to violate her once she was unable to make her own decisions. The golden rule to partying is to only do it with people you trust. Obviously, the victim trusted the wrong people. Was it her fault? No.