OPINION: Why the perception of sexual assault surrounding the Steubenville rape case should appall you

Sunday morning at 10 a.m. on March 17 two 16-year-old male high school students found out their fate in a case that has captivated the nation and rocked the small town of Steubenville, Ohio.

Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond were found guilty on charges of repeatedly raping and distributing photographs of a 16-year-old female on August 11, 2012 during a night of high school late-night partying. The girl, whose identity has not been released for her protection, was repeatedly raped by partygoers while onlookers did nothing. To accompany her rape, photos, videos and tweets were sent out to document the act.

Activist Shelby Knox in New York City (photo courtesty of womensenews.org).

Mays and Richmond, along with their fellow classmates, sent tweets, text messages and shot a 13-minute video in which they admitted to raping the girl. The video, at just thirteen minutes, is possibly one of the hardest things to stomach.

Students are seen laughing and joking about the girl saying, “She is so raped,” and, “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team!” The video showcases the sheer disregard that these students seem to have for their actions and while clearly aware of what they did, there is no remorse detected whatsoever.

Watching the full thirteen-minute video, one might hope to try and understand what would make these students laugh about such an act. As much as we tried to put aside our own thoughts on the issue, it is still impossible to understand the reasoning behind these actions.

What is hard to understand is how these students feel that the rules of decency and morality don’t apply to them. The sheer lack of concern, not only for the victim of this case, but also for the victims of the multitude of other crimes mentioned in the video, is extremely disconcerting.

What exactly is so funny about raping a girl who was clearly intoxicated? Let’s move aside from the arguments that this girl “asked for it” by being intoxicated, because, whether she was intoxicated or not, her body is not an object to be used as a joke or for personal gain or for any other distorted reason. What is overlooked is that sexual assault, in any shape or form, is just that: a sexual assault and a violation.

After watching the video, we are both still dumbfounded. At 16, these two males and their fellow beloved Big Red football teammates see no problem with the acts they committed. The thought processes of these students only reflect the culture we live in today.

The fact is that at just 16 these boys thought it was OK not only to repeatedly sexually assault this young girl, but also to be proud enough to tweet, text and record their actions to somewhat boast about the act they had just committed. They didn’t need to worry about the consequences of their actions because there weren’t any parents around to tell them otherwise, and no one stepped up to stop the action.

It can easily been seen why this small Ohio town looks up to their Big Red football team as a beacon of hope. The New York Times’ Juliet Macur and Nate Schweber noted in their December 2012 piece that the town of Steubenville has a rapidly declining unemployment rate and has a median income of just $33,188, a third lower than the national average. That being said, the Big Red football team has won nine state football championships and is so integral to the town that a football game is a community-wide event.

It could be said that the community support surrounding this team prevented individuals from stepping up to stop the assailants from harming this girl. Anyone who felt compelled to speak up but did not, was most likely too afraid of the potential retaliation from both the players and the community to chip off the high pedestal that these players sat on.

Using social media, the players and the members of the community have stuck up for these two players as evident in the horrendous tweets that were sent both after the incident and after the final verdict. It’s appalling to think that there are people who are defending these prized football players.

These boys have grown up in a community that has engorged their egos with respect to one, singular human quality—their athleticism—to the detriment of their development as well-rounded, empathetic human beings. Maybe this lack of positive action on the part of the bystanders and community members goes beyond herd mentality and touches on the deeper implications of subconscious guilt.

In other words, maybe, in some way, the community feels responsible for the actions of these boys. And if they don’t, maybe they should.

The argument that these “poor boys” didn’t know what they were doing and that the girl is just a slut is disgusting. Yet for such a close-knit community, the lack of support for the victim has resulted in her receiving death threats that require her house to have extra police protection. The one-year sentence for her assailants seems small in comparison to the life-long trauma she and others must face after a rape. The only point proven by these further attacks is that rape is a horrible occurrence that is continually minimized by victims, attackers and society at large.

In an interview with ABC News, Richmond told Elizabeth Vargas that the photograph, which shows the two accusers carrying the unconscious female around the house, was all staged. So what if it was a joke? Considering ourselves persons of good humor, we still would not have ever laughed at a young girl half naked at a party. Whether the photograph was staged or not, the fact is that the photo shouldn’t have been staged at all.

Both Mays and Richmond were sentenced to 1–2 years in prison and will be required to register as sex offenders. Even with Sunday’s verdict, this case is far from over. It is expected that more students will take the stand, including other Big Red football players as well as the victim herself.

All of this aside, what is most disturbing about this case is that it is just one of many cases of sexual assault that occur across the country on an almost daily basis.

The Steubenville community isn’t unique in the way that it sees rape victims and young girls and women as mere objects—the issue is that our culture still seems to see rape as no big deal.

And that’s not acceptable.


A New Zealand non-profit called "Who Are You?" came out with a sexual assault prevention ad that focuses on how friends, strangers and bystanders can prevent a sexual assault from occurring. It's the courageous actions that are depicted here that could have prevented the Steubenville, Ohio rape from even occurring (video courtesty of whoAreYou.co.nz)

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