The rape of a 16-year-old girl by players on a winning high school football team has become news across the country and around the world. I’ve never been to Steubenville, I know it had enjoyed a modicum of fame as the birthplace of 1960′s Rat Pack singer Dean Martin. Now, the town is just…infamous, due to the actions of Trent Mays, Ma’lik Richmond, and other teens and adults.
The story began at a series of end-of-summer parties in August 2012. It seems that every month since then, and lately, every day, there’s been one appalling update after another. I see them as shockingly teachable moments, not only for youth, but for women, too.
1) The New York Times reported that almost 50 teens from several high schools arrived at the first party to find “cases of [beer] and a makeshift bar of vodka, rum and whiskey.” No ID needed. The party location? The home of a volunteer football coach at Steubenville High. It’s illegal, and stupid, to provide liquor to underage youth. Period.
2) Witnesses testified that the girl was drunk, stumbling and slurring her words by 10:00 or 10:30 that night. The victim admitted on the stand that the last thing she remembers of night was “walking outside of [the first] house and down the steps and that’s it.” She said she drank a slushie she spiked with vodka (wonder how much?), a Smirnoff malt beverage, and a shot of vodka. A sloppy drunk is easy prey, especially in an untrustworthy setting.
3) The victim’s girlfriend (now a “former” friend) tried to get the girl to slow her drinking and stay with her. She testified, “If I would tell her to stop drinking, she would get mad at me.” Grabbing her to prevent her from leaving, the friend said ”she kind of just swung her arm back and hit me.”
Around midnight, witnesses said the victim left the party with several Steubenville football players, including the two that have been found guilty of rape. They left for a second party. Witnesses also testified that the victim needed help walking and woke up long enough to vomit in the street. One reason women go to parties with a girlfriend is because she has your back. Trust her warnings.
4) The third party was held at the home of a football player who testified for the prosecution. He told police that he was in the back seat of his car using the video camera on his phone to record one of the accused boys flashing the girl’s breasts and penetrating her with his fingers. He shared the video with at least one person and later deleted it.
Other video, Twitter posts, texts and pics were circulated by partygoers revealing that the victim was sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. Perhaps the most damning photo was of the 2 accused boys holding the unconscious girl by her arms and legs. It was taken by an 18-year-old boy who posted it to Instagram. Thirteen phones and 2 iPads were confiscated and analyzed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. There is nothing – nothing – secret in the age of the Internet and social media. Never assume that deleted texts and emails cannot be retrieved.
5) The next morning, the girl awoke naked next to one of the defendants. She had no idea what had happened to her, but later saw the evidence online. She told her parents and the police. At the hospital, she said a nurse informed her that a rape kit would be unnecessary since it was a day after the alleged attack. If you believe you have been raped or sexually assaulted, do not shower and get to an Emergency Room as soon as possible.
6) Steubenville High’s football coach told the principal and school superintendent that his players may have posted online photographs and comments about the girl, but they didn’t think they had done anything wrong. That’s why, he said, he had no basis for benching those players. He, and he alone, had authority to do so.
In November, the coach told a reporter that he hadn’t seen any of the online buzz because he did not “do the Internet.” Any adult involved with youth – parents, close relatives, teachers and coaches – needs to be Internet savvy. And, as the family of Joe Paterno learned, coaches are directly responsible for placing values over sports.
7) On March 17, the judge ruled that both boys used their fingers to penetrate the girl in the early hours of August 12 while she was so drunk that she lacked the cognitive ability to give her consent for sex. Mr. Mays, 17, who had been a quarterback, was sentenced to serve at least 2 years in the Ohio juvenile system. Mr. Richmond, 16, who had played wide receiver, was sentenced to serve at least one year.
Both could end up in juvenile jail until they are 21, at the discretion of authorities. The longer sentence included the charge of distributing a nude image of a minor. Both boys broke into tears as the verdict was read. Rape is not limited to vaginal and anal intercourse or oral sex. Most legal definitions of rape include insertion, “however slight”, of any object into the vaginal or anal cavity of another person against their will.
6) The story doesn’t end there. Hours after the verdict, the Ohio Attorney General announced an ongoing investigation with a grand jury to be convened in April. Sixteen partygoers who refused to be interviewed by police, as well as parents, coaches and other adults will be compelled by subpoena to testify. Possible charges that might result are failure to report a felony, and tampering with evidence. Refusal to help police isn't smart, or a final solution. Generally speaking, you can run, but you can’t hide for long.
8) One day post-verdict, several news outlets revealed the name of the victim. CNN, in particular, is under fire for saying that she was “allegedly drunk”, and for commiserating with the victims, who “literally watched as their life fell apart.” No mention of the victim, whose life is also forever damaged. By day’s end, 2 girls, both 16, were arrested for making death threats against the victim; one threat was posted on Twitter, the other on Facebook.. It’s 2013, yet rape victims continue to be re-victimized again and again, by people they thought were friends, by so-called journalists, and now, on social media.
There’s so much that women can learn from a 16-year-old girl in a small town most people had never heard of before. Have a strategy to keep yourself safe, and if necessary, be brave enough to testify against your abuser.