Hey, Steubenville: Where Was Everyone?

by Diane Dimond on March 25, 2013

Guilty: Trent Mays,17, (L) and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16

            “There are crimes very similar to this that occur every Friday night and every Saturday night in communities across this country….” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

 Many of us watched with interest the rape case that recently played out in Steubenville, Ohio. The two defendants, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, were star members of the local high school’s football team and many in the community felt they had been maliciously targeted for prosecution because of their popularity.

However, the evidence was overwhelming and both teens were convicted of sexually assaulting a female classmate. There was a video, still pictures and dozens of contemporaneous text and Twitter messages flying back and forth discussing details of the assault.

The victim, a 16 year old girl, was so drunk (or perhaps drugged) that she was unconscious during much of the prolonged assault. Included in the torrent of more than 3 thousand tawdry messages read aloud to the court were those from eye-witnesses and classmates joking about the “dead-looking” victim and saying, “some people deserve” to be urinated upon.

An Example of Ugly Tweets

One text sent the day after the attack from defendant Trent Mays begged a friend to delete the video of the incident that had been posted on You-Tube and added, “Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously, delete it!”

During the trial it was learned that football Coach Reno Saccoccia knew about the sexual assault and refused to suspend the defendants or other players who had knowledge of the incident until the season was nearly over.

As I watched the case unfold – and read the un-varnished blog by former Steubenville resident Alexandra Goddard who had immediately captured the offending texts, video and pictures before they were deleted — I couldn’t stop thinking:  Where was everyone else as this crime was happening?

As this young girl was being humiliated and brutalized, stripped of her clothing and carried around like a rag doll, what were her classmates doing?  Why didn’t anyone step in to say, “Stop!”

Didn’t other girls at the event feel her shame and move to help cover up her nakedness?  Where was the homeowner of the house where the party was being held?  What had the parents of these teenagers taught their children about coming to the aid of a fellow human being in trouble?

Victim Carried By Defendants From Home to Home

None of my questions were part of the court proceedings, of course, but as Mike DeWine the Attorney General of Ohio said upon the conviction, “I’ll guarantee that there are crimes very similar to this that occur every Friday night and every Saturday night in communities across this country where you have people, particularly young people, who are drinking too much and a girl is taken advantage of, and a girl is raped.”

DeWine is right.  It is surely happening in your community and mine too.

Yet DeWine believes that justice may not have been completely served in the Steubenville case.  His investigators interviewed 56 witnesses – from teenagers who attended the party to assistant football coaches and the high school principal – yet there were still 16 people with knowledge of the crime who have refused to talk.  So, DeWine will convene a Grand Jury next month to determine whether other people should also be charged in this case.

Leave it alone, you say? The conviction of Mays and Richmond is enough?  I don’t think so.

Mass Protests Outside Jefferson County Court

Consider that even after the guilty verdicts some in that football crazed town were still not convinced the pair had done anything wrong and they turned their wrath on the victim.  After the guilty verdicts were announced two teenage girls were taken into custody for allegedly using Twitter and Facebook posts to threaten her with a “beating” and “homicide.” They now face felony counts of witness tampering among other charges.  After the girls arrest A.G. DeWine announced, “Let me be clear.  Threatening a teenage rape victim will not be tolerated. If anyone makes a threat … we will take it seriously, we will find you and we will arrest you.”

Blogger Goddard reports she and her family continued to be harassed and maligned. She also had to fight back a defamation lawsuit filed against her and two dozen people who left comments on the case at her web site.

“Perhaps most ridiculously,” she wrote, “I was accused of ‘complicating’ the case because I posted the screen captures of content that these kids willingly posted themselves.”  Clearly, not all of Steubenville has learned the obvious lesson of this case.

Blogger Alexandra Goddard

In the meantime, the victim’s mother told CNN, “We hope that from this something good can arise … (to) possibly change the mentality of a youth or help a parent to have more of an awareness (as) to where their children are and what they are doing. The adults need to take responsibility and guide these children.”

Yep. This is one of those teachable moments, the perfect time for folks to sit down with their kids and have a serious talk about the issues this case raised.  Drinking and drugs, athlete adoration, teen age sex and doing unto others as we would need them to do for us if we were in trouble.

It is also a good time for parents to re-examine where the circle of accountability begins and ends when one of our children is so publicly victimized.

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