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December 18, 2012 5:18 PM The Steubenville, Ohio rape case

By Kathleen Geier

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an extremely disturbing article about a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio that is getting a lot of publicity there. In August, a teenage girl was apparently sexually assaulted by members of the local high school football team, and evidence of the alleged assault was broadcast all over the internet:

Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She even might have been urinated on.
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.

Two members of the football team have been charged with rape and are awaiting trial. Meanwhile, the town is sharply divided about the case. Debates about it have broken out on the internet, and some of it has gotten extremely ugly. Though the girl has gotten more support than I would have thought, the Times reports that her friends have “ostracized” her. Some friends! Meanwhile, the accused rapists’ lawyer is sliming the girl and blaming her for her own rape:

He said that online photographs and posts could ultimately be “a gift” for his client’s case because the girl, before that night in August, had posted provocative comments and photographs on her Twitter page over time. He added that those online posts demonstrated that she was sexually active and showed that she was “clearly engaged in at-risk behavior.”

I have a couple of thoughts about all this. First of all, it’s astonishing how often male athletes, and football players in particular, end up committing or at least being accused of sexual and domestic violence. We saw it with Jerry Sandusky and Jovan Belcher and now we are seeing it here — and that is just to name a few. I don’t know exactly why this happens. Certainly, many athletes have a huge sense of entitlement, and they tend to be strongly supported in this by their local communities, and, in the cases of college and professional athletes, by fans, sports media, and a multi-billion dollar sports industrial complex. Male athletes also operate in an all-male context where they never have to deal professionally with women as equals, which does not help matters. All this has allowed a culture of silence to develop around the issues of sexual and domestic violence in the sports world. Sadly, I don’t know of a single prominent person in professional sports who is speaking out about these matters.

The other thing that strikes me about this story is how weak rape shield laws often are, in practice. Rape shield laws are supposed to guard against irrelevant evidence about a victim’s sexual past being used against her. But in practice, lots of evidence about a victim’s sex life often gets admitted, because it’s considered relevant to issues of consent and the accused’s defense, and that is allowed. Unfortunately, I think these kinds of “she’s a slut” defenses will continue to be used, and continue to work, for as long as we continue to have a sexual double standard.

About the only encouraging thing about the Steubenville story is that the accused rapists have been charged and will be prosecuted, and that not absolutely everyone in this town is against the victim. Other than that, though, her life has become a nightmare. It’s a terribly sad story, and this is one case where social media has made things much worse for the victim than it would have been otherwise.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on December 18, 2012 6:57 PM:

    No matter what the evidence is, the Conservative mind will always fall back on, 'The slut was asking for it, and deserved what she got.' And/or, 'It's just boys bein' boys!'

    Look at that Judge last week who said the woman didn't fight back hard enough to claim rape, so he gave the rapist a minimum sentence.

    And sports is King a lot of parts of the country!

    MALE sports, that is!
    None of that Title IX accomodationist icky women and their even ickier lady parts "sports."

  • jjm on December 18, 2012 7:09 PM:

    I grew up in a quintessentially American city (Chicago) but one that had no use for football, having closed down its university team until after I had moved away.

    Guess what? Never missed it. Listened to the White Sox and the Cubs on the radio and had zero experience of seeing men maul each other savagely. Only once I entered high school in California did I even know what the game was, and that people considered it mighty important...

    A whole other America.

  • Mitch on December 18, 2012 7:23 PM:

    "He added that those online posts demonstrated that she was sexually active and showed that she was “clearly engaged in at-risk behavior.”

    As a man, I am indescribably enraged when I hear or read garbage like this lawyer's opinion. It does not matter how sexually active someone is, NOBODY wants to have sex forced on them without consent. Rape is rape. Period. There is no excuse for abusing an unwilling or unconscious individual.

    "She's a slut" is no defense. Even if she has had dozens of sexual partners (which is nobody's damned business), she would not want a single guy to force himself on her. It is the most horrible of double standards. Especially since the only standard that should matter is one's own behavior. These young "men" are not responsible for her behavior; they are responsible for their own. And they chose to abuse her on their own; they earned their punishment.

    You're right about athletes. The culture of athletics is mindless and aggressive and tends to promote the worst excesses in man (I say 'man' on purpose).

    I gave up on athletics (despite loving them) during my freshman year of high school, precisely because I could not stomach the inflated egos, ignorant pranks and barbaric behavior displayed by my peers. I did not like jocks back then, and I like them even less now that I am in my 30s.

    Young athletes are taught that the normal rules of society do not apply to them. Every time a teacher goes easy on them, every time an authority figure overlooks bad behavior, every time an adult encourages bullying and sexism.

    I blame alot of that on the glorified position of sports in American society. It's nice to enjoy athletic contests and achievement, but in our nation sports are practically a religion. To even question them is heresy. It's no wonder that athletes all too often end up as borderline sociopaths; they are raised to be that way, told that they are more important than others and shown that their position is higher than their fellows.

    That being said, I really wish young ladies would stop being so "naughty" over social media. I have a number of young female relatives, and the crap they do on Facebook embarrasses the hell out of me ... not easy, since I am as foul-minded as Carlin at his prime (lol). But it's "cool" for young gals to act like that. They don't seem to understand that their behavior will be used against them or it will give stupid guys the wrong ideas or it could ruin their lives (like poor Amanda Todd).

    When I hear a story like this, I cannot help but wish the young ladies involved showed a bit more intelligence and self-control. There are monsters in this world, and passing out drunk at a party is a very fast way for a young woman to meet those monsters. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to be aware and cautious.

    Nothing that young ladies do excuses babarism from guys, and please don't think I am suggesting otherwise. Anyone who commits sexual abuse of any sort deserves harsh punishment. But we need to teach our daughters to have more self-respect, and to be more careful. Just like we need to teach our sons that ANY form of sexual abuse is heinous and unacceptable.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 18, 2012 7:53 PM:

    The older I get, the more disgusted I become with a certain portion of humanity and this country.

  • Anonymous on December 18, 2012 7:55 PM:

    Football is the scourge of America. Nauseating sport.

  • ChicagoRob on December 18, 2012 9:35 PM:

    Surely the plaintiff's lawyers are asking for a change of venue in this trial?

  • mfw13 on December 18, 2012 10:05 PM:

    Rape is rape, and the young men who took advantage of an unconscious woman are absolutley despicable.

    BUT....any young woman who willingly drinks herself to the point of unconsciousness, especially in the presence of equally drunk horny young men, is not exactly being too smart either.

    The football players are certainly at fault for raping her, but she is also at fault for allowing herself to become vulnerable by drinking so much that she passed out.

  • Daddy Love on December 18, 2012 10:19 PM:

    Well, yes, I guess being gang-raped by a gang of powerful male athletes IS an "at-risk behavior"...

  • jeri on December 18, 2012 10:24 PM:

    mfw13: So you are arguing is that, being unconscious, she failed to opt out? Are you a lawyer by any chance?

    This is the kind of case that gives defense attorneys a bad name. At least it should. And what can be said about a town that considers gang rape an accomplishment?

  • biggerbox on December 18, 2012 10:36 PM:

    I sometimes give money to homeless guys on the street.

    That doesn't mean that if I should fall unconscious, anyone has the right to empty my wallet.

    I'm not impressed by the "loose woman" argument.

    On the other hand, I'm not too sad about her being "ostracized" by the kind of friends who would have left her alone and unconscious around a bunch of drunk football jocks. With 'friends' like those... sheesh.

  • mudwall jackson on December 19, 2012 2:13 AM:

    and then you have the duke lacrosse team. oh wait, that doesn't fit does it? too bad for that innocent-until-proven-guilty thing. oh well ..

    focusing on athletes is a mistake. it ain't just the jocks ...

  • Fess on December 19, 2012 3:02 AM:

    "...close to 50 people, arrived with beer. Those who did not were met by cases of it and a makeshift bar of vodka, rum and whiskey, all for the taking, no identification needed. In a matter of no time, many of the partygoers — many of them were high school athletes — were imbibing from red plastic cups inside the home of a volunteer football coach at Steubenville High..."

    I didn't see in the NYT story any mention of this "volunteer coach" being arrested for his part in this fiasco. Surely, even in Steubenville, OH, it's illegal to be the host of a party featuring alcohol for minors. I suspect people are right when the say that the football team and anyone associated with it (there are 19 "volunteer coaches") gets "special treatment." Coach Reno Saccoccia sounds like the personification of everything that's bad about high school football.

  • jhm on December 19, 2012 7:31 AM:

    Those interested in reading more might like to check out this:

    "Drawing on her experience prosecuting sex crimes, Munch demonstrates how rape cases frequently turn on the involvement of what she calls an "unnamed conspirator" -- the complex of myths and stories we tell ourselves as a culture about sex, gender, power, and responsibility."

    http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=249

  • Ashbee on December 19, 2012 8:57 AM:

    That was a good article but once again, y'all ain't shit for immediately passing judgement and assuming they are guilty.

    Because everyone knows that NOBODY EVER lies about being raped right?

    GTFOH.

    #dukelacrosse

  • Geds on December 19, 2012 10:18 AM:

    jjm: I grew up in a quintessentially American city (Chicago) but one that had no use for football, having closed down its university team until after I had moved away.

    Um, not to get off topic or nothin', but surely you've heard of a little football team based in Chicago known as Da Bears, right? Also, too, Northwestern University most certainly never shut their program down. And I can assure you that the football programs in the high schools in Chicago and the collar counties are alive and well...

    The University of Chicago is really more of a special case, even in Chicago.

  • Geds on December 19, 2012 10:25 AM:

    Ashbee:

    That was a good article but once again, y'all ain't shit for immediately passing judgement and assuming they are guilty.

    Because everyone knows that NOBODY EVER lies about being raped right?

    GTFOH.

    #dukelacrosse

    Funny how the only high-profile case of a false rape accusation of a sports team that ended in vindication for the athletes seems to be the Duke Lacrosse one, innit?

    Oh, and there's a minor difference here: the girl doesn't seem to be lying about her rape, since she was unconscious at the time. In this case the old internet adage of, "Pics or it didn't happen," seems to be what's making the case for the girl in question.

  • Renai on December 19, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Of course she won't get pregnant from this, because a girls body can, you know, shut that kind of thing down, especially when she's unconscious.

    Ashbee, we get it. Innocent until proven guilty...at least the boys are. The boy's lawyer has already demonstrated HER precognitive guilt...why aren't you defending her?

  • Michael on December 19, 2012 1:35 PM:

    @Ashbee

    Per sworn testimony from eye witnesses that watched the assault occur, the photographs were taken, shared, and then deleted. The gun may not be smoking, but there is a gun.

    If you read about the recent court proceedings, there has already been sworn testimony from friends of the accused as to the actual acts of assault.

    Innocent until proven guilty is a legal saying. No one is denying them due process. In the court of public opinion, that saying doesn't hold any water. Fair or not, it is what it is. Any one is allowed to voice their opinion on this topic.

  • Ashbee on December 19, 2012 1:39 PM:

    Renai there are enough people defending her. My only concern was the rush to brand boys as gang rapists before they've had their day in court.

  • Geds on December 19, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Ashbee: Renai there are enough people defending her. My only concern was the rush to brand boys as gang rapists before they've had their day in court.

    There's a term for that. It's called "concern trolling." It's not something used as a compliment.

    And while your concerns are duly noted, the fact that you apparently ignored the article and the evidence presented in the links in favor of calling a girl who was allegedly gang raped and is now being treated like a whore for daring to voice the accusation indicates that you are a part of the problem. Violence, especially of a sexual nature, against women in this culture is rampant. The reactions of people who respond to accusations that the woman/girl is a slut, a liar, or was asking for it generally keep the accused from ever being punished.

    By instantly calling her a liar and being oh so concerned for the reputations of those poor boys who were simply allowed to drag an unconscious girl out of a room you turn yourself into a de facto rape apologist. Good show.

  • Ashbee on December 19, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Rape apologist my ass. Who instantly called her a slut? Me? Where. Show me.

    It's pathetic that you'd rather play arbiter than allow the boys (and young lady) to have their day in court. If convicted they fully deserve the lifetime sex offender scarlet letter. But if not then what?

    That's my point.

  • Geds on December 19, 2012 3:58 PM:

    Ashbee: Rape apologist my ass. Who instantly called her a slut? Me? Where. Show me.

    Done and done. This is your very first comment on this very thread at 8:57AM:

    Because everyone knows that NOBODY EVER lies about being raped right?

    GTFOH.

    #dukelacrosse

    This is classic rape apology concern trolling.

    And your lack of reading comprehension shows through, and I never once said that you, specifically, called her a slut. This was my exact phrase @2:08:

    Violence, especially of a sexual nature, against women in this culture is rampant. The reactions of people who respond to accusations that the woman/girl is a slut, a liar, or was asking for it generally keep the accused from ever being punished.

    That was me offering you a general explanation of what rape apology is. This was then the thought that I directed at you:

    By instantly calling her a liar and being oh so concerned for the reputations of those poor boys who were simply allowed to drag an unconscious girl out of a room you turn yourself into a de facto rape apologist. Good show.

    But, please, feel free to continue making pedantic arguments. I've been enjoying watching you dig your own hole.

  • Ashbee on December 19, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Either which way I am pretty certain those boys are going to prison. Rape apology or not.


  • mfw13 on December 19, 2012 10:21 PM:

    Jeri,

    No, actually I'm a high school teacher, not a lawyer.

    I was just pointing out that drinking so much that you pass out is stupid, no matter what happens afterwards, because you render yourself incapable of defending yourself or making any kind of decision, good or bad.

    Over the years, I've had students I taught be raped (as this young lady was), get killed in drunk driving accidents, get stabbed in a fight, and shoot another student, all after drinking to excess at a party.

    She was stupid because she volutary placed herself in a situation where something bad could potentially happen to her, thus rendering herself INCAPABLE of protecting herself.

  • 14All on December 19, 2012 10:22 PM:

    I'm sure a lot of guys passed out at this party--and if any of them had been raped, I doubt anyone would have said they were "asking for it" or "engaging in at-risk behavior".

  • Judy Jones on December 20, 2012 12:14 AM:

    OH - SNAP calls for action at Steubenville High
    December 19, 2012 · Statement by: Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, snapjudy@gmail.com, 636-433-2511

    A lengthy New York Times story this week provides chilling details about the rape of a girl and the inadequate response to that crime by Steubenville school officials.

    After reading about this case, we cannot help but see some parallels between this situation and that which occurred at Penn State. Although the crimes are different, it is a fact of both cases that in each there is a definite mystique around the football program and a cult of personality surrounding the coach (Paterno at PSU, and Reno Saccoccia in Steubenville). In both cases, the love of football has prevented the proper investigation into the alleged rape and the punishment of those involved.

    We call on the school board to suspend Coach Saccoccia for his behavior. The fact that he has refused to take any real disciplinary steps towards the football players that either witnessed or in some way abetted the alleged rape is disturbing, and his treatment of the New York Times journalist who spoke to him about the case is frightening. His actions are indicative of someone who cares more about their win-loss record than about the young people they are supposed to be improving.

    We also urge the school board to examine the actions of Superintendent Michael McVey and Principal Shawn Crosier. We are disappointed that they left all disciplinary decisions up to Coach Saccoccia, and the fact that they failed to follow up with any of the students in attendance at the party where the alleged rape occurred is distressing.
    This sad case has all the tell tale signs of an attempted cover-up, and our hearts ache for the victim in this case who has been subjected to undue scrutiny and blame. We hope that the added attention on Steubenville High School will result in justice for the victim, repercussions for the alleged rapists, and accountability for Steubenville officials.

    Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, peterisely@yahoo.com), Judy Jones (636-433-2511), snapjudy@gmail.com)

    "SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, teachers, Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like orphanages, summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc."


  • amandasuzanne on December 22, 2012 9:33 PM:

    Most of you will never get it because you cannot imagine what it's like to live in not only a "town without pity" but a cnty tha, how shall we say, doesn't eactly operate quite right. The hx of this cnty's strange behavior goes back nearly a century. The players may be different but this place just operates differently. Thelocal news has done it's best to cover up this nightmarish assualt, why? Good luck asking, they will deny it. Were it not for persistent internet bloggers this story woud have been dead and buried mos.ago. That's how it ususally works here. Quit blaming Catholics, conservatives, as I noticed some of your dumb commentors wrote. You have no clue,and until you know of what you speak, just shut up. There is tons of stuff out there if you are really interested. Look up Behind the yellow tape diagram, joey ortega. How this investigator in Calif. who has never lived here put it together is quite amazing. Pray for the victims of the punks here and for those of us here trapped. Research it if interested otherwise, shut up w dumb comments, you don't get it and never will.

  • AmandaSuzanne on December 23, 2012 7:54 PM:

    Since it sounds like most of the commenters aren't from this area you really don't have a clue just how ugly things can get around here. This is a cnty that, how shall we say, doesn't always play by the rules. Read more,there's plenty out there if you are interested. As far as the 2 being charged, in the judge's "wisdom" they are to be tried a juveniles, meaning they will be out in a few yrs, if even found guilty. There's been what we call a cover up in local media. Thanks to a tenacious blogger and now the NYT, finally more people are finding out what horrors occurred at the "banger partys" here in Aug. may God help us. What happens in Steubenville usually stays in Steubenville.

  • Shhhh on December 24, 2012 5:24 PM:

    People are so sickening. Those who are involved with the rape deserve so much more than what they are getting. Their punishment to me is just a slap on the wrist, which is not teachting them a damn thing. Those boys are immature little ass holes that are seriously messed up. Anyone who would defend them is extremely messed up as well. Even the school system is screwed up. People who are speaking out about this now are being threatened, what kind of shit is that? SICKENING.

  • Just sayin... on December 26, 2012 9:03 AM:

    I grew up in Weirton, where the victim is from. Steubenville has nothing to offer BUT Big Red's football program. It's a shit hole. I can't believe that people are saying it is the girl's fault and she put herself in the situation. This is horrifying. Truly horrifying. I hope those boys get what they deserve.

  • Wheeling WV on December 27, 2012 12:23 PM:

    The NYT brought to light this sick story that leaves us all in this area with alot of questions mostly because this is the first time that many of us in this area has heard all the details involved. Yes you heard right. We live in the middle of this sickness and the whole story has never been told on local media. I am not sure which of these terrible details outrages me the most,those that involve these children, or those that involve the adults. I do know that back in August, when this was first reported in this area, my gut feeling was that the police department and the Jefferson County Courts needed a good looking at. I still feel this way but on many different levels now. WOW, it all started at an adult volunteer coach's home. Where did party 2 and party 3 take place? Sorry but I must have missed the charges brought upon the adults in this situation. Oh what, there were none.

  • Shava Nerad on December 29, 2012 4:28 PM:

    Without social media, the case would not have been exposed to the very people who are trying to see it brought to justice.

    Where you might see this as "making it worse for the victim" in the short run, or even the long run in this specific case, in the long view this may make the world safer for young women, and a better world for the young men who want to grow up with some semblance of character, in the future.

    Don't shoot the messenger. There is much to be said for transparency, even when it is incompetently used by criminals to expose their own malfeasance.

  • J Doyle on January 03, 2013 8:39 PM:

    @ashbee - this isn't a court of law and I am in no way obligated to presume anyone's innocence. I'm not a juror in a legal case nor bound to any rules of evidence.

    Your point is a non-sequitur.

    All I want is for every time ANY one of these "boys" applies for a job or college a simple google search by those in control of hiring or accepting them will FOREVER turn up [Their Name] & CHILD RAPIST.

    And the fact is - that has already been done, the internet doesn't forget, ever.

    Sometimes justice is served outside the courtroom.

  • J Doyle on January 03, 2013 8:43 PM:

    @ashbee - this isn't a court of law and I am in no way obligated to presume anyone's innocence. I'm not a juror in a legal case nor bound to any rules of evidence.

    Your point is a non-sequitur.

    All I want is for every time ANY one of these "boys" applies for a job or college a simple google search by those in control of hiring or accepting them will FOREVER turn up [Their Name] & CHILD RAPIST.

    And the fact is - that has already been done, the internet doesn't forget, ever.

    Sometimes justice is served outside the courtroom.

  • reyabp on January 06, 2013 5:44 PM:

    This case is more horrible than what we are reading in the media. Please consider signing the following: http://www.change.org/petitions/oh-bar-association-disbar-jane-hanlin-for-misconduct?utm_campaign=action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

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