Nel's New Day

January 7, 2013

Rape & Football, The U.S. Way

Five months ago, two football players in the small town of Steubenville (OH) were charged with dragging a drunk 16-year-old girl from house to house, raping her and using their cellphones to photograph and video their actions. Nothing much else happened: the boys were thrown out of the drama club but allowed to play football.

Then Alexandria Goddard started writing about the case on her blog, asking why more of the young people with the three people were not prosecuted. That was followed by the New York Times article that described, among other things, that the videos showed the girl taunted, urinated upon, carried around while “sleeping,” vomiting in the street, photographed nude, and videotaped while being digitally penetrated.

There was no semen collected, no toxicology tests administered for drugs that might have shown whether the girl was drugged. The family in question received death threats after raising rape accusations. A Steubenville football coach, Nate Hubbard, said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” Sheriff Fred Abdulla said that witnessing the crime but not reporting it is not illegal. Thus the “blame the victim” approach.

Then in December two computer hackers entered the picture, setting up websites including stopbigred.com where they posted incriminating tweets, photos, videos, and emails. From that information came the allegation that football players, who called themselves #rapecrew on Twitter, had raped another girl on the night of the senior prom, again with photos and videos of the girl’s naked, unconscious body. Another allegation was that “Big Red” booster Jim Parks, according to his email that included pornographic images, was #rapecrew’s chief, paying football players to rape and then photograph their victims.

Abdalla said that he would not be prosecuting anyone else for crimes related to the case. Referring to a video showing several other young men joking about an assault, he said, “It’s a disgusting video. It’s stupidity. But you can’t arrest somebody for being stupid.” Abdalla claimed to have seen the video only a few days ago although it has been in his possession for months. Anonymous, one of the hackers, also made public the photo of two young men carrying the still victim by her wrists and ankles.

Although three students testified under oath that they took photographs and videos of the victims they walked left court with no charges against them.  They weren’t suspended  from extracurricular activities (including sports) until October 15th, more than two months after the travesty. Attorneys have said that potential witnesses are reluctant to come forward because they are being threatened and pressured not to testify and asked that the trial be moved and closed to the public.

Another disaster connected to football has cropped up in Pennsylvania. Once Penn State former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child abuse and N.C.A.A. sanctioned the school because it had ignored Sandusky’s behavior, the tragedy seemed to be settled and people could move forward.

Now Gov. Tom Corbett is suing N.C.A.A., demanding that there be no penalties for the school’s failure to stop Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys. Corbett should have stayed quiet. As the state attorney general in 2009, Corbett began a less-than-enthusiastic investigation into allegations against Sandusky before he was elected governor and served on the school’s board of trustees. Kathleen Kane, the incoming attorney general, has said she will investigate the concerns that Corbett didn’t want to alienate Penn State alumni when he ran for governor. To add to his problems, he is up for re-election next year.

The lawsuit claims that the state is losing money because of the penalties, including a $60 million fine, vacating of victories for ten years, and a four-year ban on postseason play. Legal experts have said that the university accepted the settlement last July.  Penn State is not a party to the lawsuit, and an outsider like Corbett may have trouble proving that he has standing to file the lawsuit.

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison. Three university officials, including the former president Graham B. Spanier, have been criminally charged with covering up his misconduct and are facing trials. The university’s investigation found that top university officials had shown a disregard for the welfare of children and actively concealed Sandusky’s assaults because they feared that the publicity would hurt the football program.

GOP legislators are known for dragging their heels in making the United States safer for women. The fall campaign made the subject of rape front and center in the media as GOP candidates tried to be experts on the issue while refusing to renew the Violence against Women Act because it would  have given tribal courts broader jurisdiction over rape on Native American lands. The House continued to play politics with rape during the last days of the 112th Congress as it sabotaged a bipartisan bill that, if passed, would have made tracking down rapists easier.

In December, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) took The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER Act), introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-TX), to the House. If passed, it would reallocate $117 million to make a dent in the nationwide backlog of untested “rape kits” that contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults. Approximately 400,000 untested kits are in labs around the country. Without analysis of the DNA evidence, rapists have an easier time avoiding arrest and prosecution.

Passing the legislation wouldn’t cost taxpayers any more money. It would just have required at least 75 percent of federal grants already allocated for rape kit testing to actually be used for that purpose instead of being spent on conferences or processing DNA for other crimes. The money would also be spent for a reporting system and annual audits of untested kits. Even Tea Party member Rep. Allen West (R-FL) supported SAFER.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House judiciary committee, blocked it (he said) because the act would require law enforcement to report specifics of each backlogged case to the Department of Justice. The Senate tried to appease Smith when it unanimously passed a version of the bill that would require only aggregate reporting.  Trying to look like good guys, the House passed an amended SAFER Act on the last day that it was in session, meaning that there was no time to reconcile the Senate and the House bills. One House amendment would have given grant money to law enforcement agencies as well as forensic labs.

Without these amendments, the bill would have passed, the president would have signed it, and it would have become law. Thanks to the GOP amendments, the untested kits will continue to sit in the labs.

Let’s hope that the courts in Steubenville  and Pennsylvania will be more successful in giving justice to rape and sexual assault victims.

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