Nel's New Day

March 18, 2013

Media Vindicates Steubenville Rapists

Imagine a segment of Law and Order that begins with the scene of an unconscious drugged 16-year-old girl being dragged from one house to another over several hours while large football players stopped to sexually assault her, urinate on her, and spray their semen on her. No one intervened; they just called themselves the “rape crew” and joked while they took videos. The girl woke up the next morning, naked without jewelry and cellphone, in an unfamiliar house.

On this fantasy program, the police would identify the perpetrators, discover that this is a part of the male’s behavior, and then bring justice to the girl. Courts would try the male teenagers as adults and force them to serve actual time in prison. But I did mention that this program is a fantasy.

The first scene actually took place in Steubenville (OH); the rest of the events failed the raped girl. Instead school officials and local authorities covered up the assault in their attempts to protect the perpetrators and the school’s athletic program. On August 22nd, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were arrested for the rape in question, but the country prosecutor and judge charged with handling juvenile cases stepped away from the case. The sheriff asked for witnesses, but no one stepped forward.

Meanwhile, the assaulted girl’s family received death threats, and Steubenville football coach, Nate Hubbard, said, “The rape was just an excuse.” The sheriff refused to acknowledge Ohio law that not reporting a crime is actually a crime when he claimed that people viewing and photographing the assault did nothing illegal. The case languished until an online blogger wrote about this egregious abuse of justice. Then 134 days after the assault, the hacker collective Anonymous threatened to reveal the names of unindicted participants.

On January 1, KnightSec, a collective of Anonymous, threatened to come forward with further information if those involved did not take responsibility. They also posted a demand for an apology by school officials and local authorities for covering up the rape. Receiving no response, they released a 12-minute video in which one player incriminates himself by repeatedly referencing the girl as both “raped” and “dead.” Both the person on camera and those talking around him can be heard referring to her as “raped.”

During the brief trial with no jury, self-identified “friends” of the girl testified against her. A 17-year-old said that the girl “lies about things,” and the other one said that she had told the girl to stop drinking.

Richmond received the minimum sentence of one year for rape when he was found guilty of using his fingers to penetrate the girl while she was unconscious. Mays, found guilty of penetrating the girl while she was unconscious and dissemination of pornographic pictures of her, was given a minimum sentence of two years. Mays and Richmond also will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

The people in the United States should be shocked at the light sentence, but what happened after that was worse. Judge Thomas Lipps’ advice to teenagers is “to have discussions about how you talk to your friends; how you record things on the social media so prevalent today; and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends.” Mays got the judge’s message when he “apologized” to the girl’s parents. “No pictures should have been sent out, let alone been taken,” he said.

An Sunday afternoon CNN segment following the judge’s decision took the side of the rapists. Poppy Harlow reported, “It was incredibly emotional, it was difficult for anyone in there to watch those boys break down.” The segment twice aired Richmond’s father’s appeal for forgiveness in full. Breaking the news of the decision earlier, Candy Crowley lamented that the “promising” lives of the rapists had been ruined.

Harlow followed up on Crowley’s lament: she said that it had been “incredibly difficult” to watch “as these two young men–who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students–literally watched as they believed their life fell apart. One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, as that sentence came down, he collapsed.” Harlow added that the convicted rapist told his attorney that “my life is over, no one is going to want me now.” CNN then played video of Richmond crying and hugging his lawyer in the courtroom.

Mainstream media was little better. ABC News made excuses for the rapist when it ran a profile of Richmond before the trial. “He was in a celebratory mood” the night of the assault. Another story describes the criminal proceedings as “every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world,” ignoring the crime of rape. NBC Nightly News followed CNN in mourning the loss of the rapists’ “promising football careers.”

The Associated Press and USA Today stressed that the victim was drunk, omitting the strong possibility that she was drugged. They described the defendants as “two members of the high school football team that is the pride of Steubenville.” Yahoo News complained how the victim forced the town into an emotional situation: “The town is being torn apart from the pain over the fact that the boys might be punished, not from the outrage over the crime they committed.”

Fox News went even farther when it reported the girl’s name but not the defendants. In an editors’ note, it explained: “The Associated Press named the minors charged due to the fact they have been identified in other news coverage and their names were used in open court. FoxNews.com will not name the defendants.”

The media plays a large part of promoting the country’s rape culture and the refusal of rape victims to report their assaults to the authorities. Only 46 percent of these victims go to the police, and only three percent of these rape cases end in a conviction. The girl in Steubenville is only one of the victims who are tried in court and in the social media as a “whore” who just asked to be raped. People in the United States tut-tut about rapes in India or elsewhere in the world but are unable to accept that the same crime is committed in their safe little communities.

In “Why Acquaintance Rape Is Not a Myth,” Zerlina Maxwell wrote:

“What made Mays and Richmond think it was okay to carry a girl, seemingly too intoxicated to walk, from party to party? If the accuser was passed out and unable to walk, as some witnesses have described, why didn’t Mays and Richmond seek out transportation so that she could make it home safely?

“No one ever questions why Mays and Richmond thought it was fun to hold the accuser by her hands and feet like a rag doll, with her head hanging back limply while an onlooker took a picture of her. No one ever asks why the accused thought it would be fun to use their hands to penetrate a drunken girl. No one ever asks.

“The Steubenville rape trial is simply the latest example of rape culture playing out in real time. The defense is attempting a victim blaming strategy because it works.”

Naysayers can claim that justice was done because Richmond and Mays were sentenced to juvenile prison for a brief time. But these two young men will continue with their lives while the victim continues to be tried in the media. And the country will continue to condone—and even promote—the culture of rape until every male comes to realize that this could happen to a woman he loves and every female understands that it could happen to her.

Those who suffer from the arrogant belief that they can never be raped don’t understand that they are committed to a lifetime of constant vigilance because during a few seconds of carelessness people can have their food or drink drugged. Those who believe that they are too old forget that rape is not about sex. Rape is about power.

Until the country eradicates its culture or rape, everyone runs the chance of being a victim vilified by the press and denied justice.

Update: Two teen girls, ages 15 and 16, have been arrested for threatening the rape victim via social media. They are being held in the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center. In addition, the head football coach at Steubenville High School and the owners of a house where the 12-minute video was filmed could be investigated. Reno Saccoccia “took care of it,” Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors at the trial.

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