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. 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.

February 11, 2013

Indifference Leads to Culture of Rape

“If you think that rapes only happen at Notre Dame or in India or in Steubenville, you are wrong. A person is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and many of these are in small towns, including where you live. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to jail time for the rapist.”

I wrote this on January 23, 2013 in Nel’s New Day. Since then, the Portland (OR) chief of police, Mike Reece, has shown that his ignorance may promote the culture of rape in this Northwestern city. The media is forcing Reece to rethink his personnel decisions,  but without the prevalence of newspaper articles about his indifference to—or ignorance about—what constitutes sexual contact, a demoted police officer might have continued to direct detectives who investigate sexual assault and human trafficking in this city of over 2 million people.

Reece’s problem went public last summer after a Portland police review board voted 5-1 to fire a captain, Todd Wyatt, because he inappropriately touched female employees and continued a road rage confrontation by pointing a gun at another motorist when he was off duty. Board documents showed that it found him “untruthful” and questioned his ability to perform with integrity. Part of the testimony was an audiotape of Wyatt’s meeting with a subordinate and the employee’s union representative in which he lost his temper and threatened to have the subordinate arrested. One board member “believed that [Wyatt] manipulated the truth in these encounters and never saw himself at fault,” instead mischaracterizing the motives of those who complained about his behavior.

Reece demoted Wyatt to lieutenant and re-assigned him to supervising robbery and sex crimes investigators. Wyatt said that he had apologized to one of the several female employees complaining about his behavior four different times and had attended sexual harassment training four times.

Even Reese has found Wyatt a problem employee. In a lengthy letter after an internal investigation relying on multiple credible witnesses including Washington State patrol officers, Reece showed Wyatt to be a hot-tempered bully who makes insulting and inaccurate snap judgments about civilians, says demeaning things about women, and engages in unwanted thigh-touching at work. Reece also indicated that he reassigned Wyatt to the sex crimes division because he needed “close supervision.”

The letter quoted Washington State patrol officers who described Wyatt as “arrogant and cocky” after they stopped Wyatt following another driver’s 9-1-1 call and faulted Wyatt for escalating the road rage incident. Reece wrote, “Even after six months following the incident, your statements do not reflect a thoughtful and appropriate approach.”

Wyatt’s reference to one woman who complained about his touching was redacted in his disciplinary letter, but the response remains readable: “The victim’s ‘physical appearance or level of education or skill is irrelevant. Your comment is insulting and unprofessional and shows a lack of accountability or awareness as to how your actions are perceived by others.'” In addition, the letter states, “… your [Wyatt’s] response lacks a general sense of awareness of the different points of view regarding power and authority. Additionally, your comments about [redacted] are unprofessional to say the least.”

In a meeting with the editorial board of Portland’s newspaper The Oregonian, Reece said that he didn’t consider the women’s complaints to be “sexual in nature.” The “inappropriate touching” described in the women’s complaints was Wyatt’s rubbing them on their legs and thighs at work. Wyatt claimed that he only touched one of the women on her knee with his knuckle when he said good morning to her.

Since the media attention, Reece has reassigned Wyatt to his own office to handle special projects. Wyatt, who contends that he was the subject of frivolous claims retaliating for his part in contract talks, plans to sue the city over his demotion. The Portland Police Commanding Officers’ Association, which represents lieutenants and captains, also has filed a grievance with the city, challenging Wyatt’s discipline. Rob Wheaton, an AFSCME Local 189 union representative for civilian employees in the police bureau’s records division, dismissed Wyatt’s allegation that the complaints were retaliatory. “I think that shows an exaggerated sense of self worth,” Wheaton said.

According to columnist Susan Nielson, a 2007 city audit of Portland’s rape response found that detectives often see sex crimes as a less desirable assignment, partly because of very high turnover among supervisors. “Many detectives who do come to work in the sexual assault detail,” auditors said, “are waiting until other assignments open elsewhere.” National crime surveys show that the majority of victims of sexual assault don’t go to the police. Victims fear being judged, demeaned, and touched by strangers; they fear people with power will side against them.

Yet Reece chose to send Wyatt to be in charge of these investigators after a series of complaints by his female colleagues about his unwarranted touching. He said, “The women never complained it was a sexual encounter.”

Phyllis Barkhurst, who spent 17 years in Oregon assessing sexual harassment complaints for businesses and local governments, said about Wyatt’s case, “This is inappropriate behavior targeting one gender, and sexual harassment under the law is a form of sexual discrimination.” Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or conduct of a sexual nature that’s directed toward a person because of gender. It can include physical touching or graphic comments. Perhaps Reece needs to attend sexual harassment training.

This “culture of indifference” is repeated across the nation.  Members of “the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions or felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard,” according to NOW activist Joanne Tosti-Vasey. Last summer Tosti-Vasey, past president of Pennsylvania NOW, called on “every school in this country [to] heed and change their policies and programs to end any form of campus violence against anyone who steps foot on their campuses.”

The culture of indifference continues with the prosecution of the alleged rape in Steubenville (OH) when perpetrators made a video of carrying a teenage girl from one house to another and raping her. Although Ohio A.G. Mike DeWine stated that “knowledge in and of [the rapes] is not a crime under Ohio law,” a blog pointed out that “Ohio Law decrees that ‘no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities… Whoever violates division (A) or (B) of this section is guilty of failure to report a crime.'”  DeWine criticized the social media for their involvement, but without their participation, it is likely that no one would have been charged in this crime.

Erin Matson reported that the Washington, D.C. police would not file a report about a man who exposed himself to her and masturbated because she didn’t stay with the man until the police came. Her treatment by the police shows a culture of indifference.  Watson’s blog about parent Laura Murphy wanting to ban Toni Morrison’s Beloved for all students in the Fairfax County School District (VA) also demonstrates that parents are trying to shield everyone from the problems that surround them.

Despite the school district’s policy that allow students to opt out of reading assigned texts because of parental objection, Murphy is working for a state law that would require schools to notify parents before sexual topics arise in the classroom so that they can remove their children from the class. When school officials explained that AP English is a college-level class that often involves discussions of adult topics, Murphy said, “To me, mature references means slavery or the Holocaust.”

Murphy’s position that it’s okay talk about the history of the Holocaust in another country but not about the problems in our own community supports the culture of indifference—an attitude that leads to the culture of rape.

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 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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