On August 11, 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl went to a party with her friends and woke up the next morning to discover that she had been raped by two of her classmates. The story immediately captured national media attention because of the digital record of the night: the perpetrators had photographed, recorded, tweeted, and text messaged information, documenting their actions that night.
Four of the victim’s classmates, football players at the local high school, were responsible for taking the girl from the party and transporting her to another location while she was incapacitated. Two of them, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, penetrated the victim with their fingers, which in the state of Ohio is classified as “digital penetration” and is considered to be rape. Mays also attempted to force the victim to perform oral sex on him while she was unconscious. After the crimes occurred, the perpetrators videotaped themselves talking about what they had done. This video circulated online for the next several weeks. The victim woke the next day in a basement, without clothing or memory of the night before (with the exception of a brief vomiting incident at the second house). In the coming days should would learn about what happened to her through social media and text messages, and she would subsequently drop out of school because of the shaming she received. Because of the status of Richmond and Mays as local football stars, there was a great effort by the administrators of the school to cover up the boys’ actions. They made attempts to delete or hide online evidence against the boys. Hacking websites, such as Anonymous, found the deleted videos and pictures and these could be used as evidence against the perpetrators. One of the identified hackers was caught and indicted for his actions.
After the case went to trial, both Richmond and Mays were found guilty of rape. Richmond was sentenced to a minimum sentence of one and was released after nine months. Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years because he was also charged with dissemination of child pornography. Both are classified as “Tier II” sex offenders. Additionally, William Rhinaman, an IT Director for Steubenville City Schools was charged with tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a public official and grand jury perjury, because of his efforts to cover up the boys’ crimes.
There were two injustices that occurred here: the blame and shame that was placed on the victim and the lack of adequate punishment for the perpetrators. Victim blaming happens often in rape crimes; the victim is asked about what they were wearing, their level of intoxication, or what they did to have possibly encouraged the crime. This 16-year-old girl was blamed because she was underage and drinking at a party. The town blamed her for ruining the future of two football stars. This kind of blaming creates an environment in which victims of rape are afraid to come forward out of fear of not being believed. It also causes the victims to blame themselves after the fact, and less likely to report the crimes and pursue charges. Additionally, the two boys that were charged with rape both received two years or less in a juvenile detention facility. This small charge is not an adequate or severe enough punishment for two people who knowingly and actively sexually assaulted another person. Rapists often receive short sentencing for the sex crimes that they commit, mostly because of the difficult nature of proving that a rape occurred. The victim’s word is often the strongest piece of evidence and this is too often doubted and questioned.
As a society, we must stop perpetuating a culture in which victims of sexual assault are blamed or excessively questioned. The blame of the crime should not be set on their shoulders in any way. Additionally, we should demand harsher punishments for those convicted of sexual assault. The legal system should function in a way that holds sexual offenders responsible for their actions and allocates an adequate prison sentence. As individuals, my classmates should not tolerate victim blaming in their own lives. Additionally, they should get informed about the lack of imprisonment for sexual offenders and join advocacy groups doing work to right this wrong.
Perez, Alex. "Steubenville, Ohio Teen Returns to the Football Field After Rape Conviction." ABC News. ABC News Network, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Noveck, Jocelyn. “Twitter, YouTube Make Steubenville Case Even More Complicated.” Huff Post. Huffington Post, 19 March 2013. Web. 31 March 2015.
Johnson, John. “Steubenville Prosecutor: Girl Too Drunk to Consent.” Newser, 13 March 2013. Web. 31 March 2015.
Almasy, Steve. “Two Teens Found Guilty in Steubenville Rape Case.” CNN, 17 March 2013. Web. 31 March 2015.