Political Animal


March 17, 2013 12:17 PM Guilty verdicts in the Steubenville rape case: a blow against rape culture

By Kathleen Geier

Something happened today that is exceedingly rare in America, and the world — justice was served in a rape case. News outlets are reporting that 17-year old Trent Mays and 16-year old Ma’lik Richmond, both of whom are star football players at Steubenville High School in Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year old girl last August.

On the one hand, the guilty verdicts shouldn’t be surprising. This case became so notorious largely because there was so much corroborating evidence. Eyewitnesses tweeted about the assault and, horrifyingly, posted photos of the passed out victim on Facebook. There was DNA evidence. Consent was never an issue, because the victim was either unconscious or to intoxicated to give meaningful consent.

On the other hand, many in the town rallied to the rapists’ defense and vilified the victim — a fairly classic move in these cases, particularly in cultures that valorize sports heroes. I’ll never forget an infamous rape case that occurred in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a town close to where I grew up. In 1989, a gang of high school jocks raped a developmentally disabled girl (she had an IQ of 64) with a baseball bat — and yet the town rallied around the jocks and viciously attacked the girl’s reputation. It was sick. The rapists were convicted, though, and the case was the subject of an acclaimed book.

Getting back to Steubenville, it’s notable that the case was decided not by a jury but by a judge. I have to wonder whether if the case had gone to a jury composed of members of the Steubenville community, the verdict would have been the same.

And again, it bears repeating that rape convictions are exceedingly rare. Using statistics from the Justice Department and the FBI, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that out of every 100 rapes that occur, 46 get reported to police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 get prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and 3 see the inside of a prison cell. The other 97 lucky rapists walk free.

While at some level, it’s sad to see two such young men — or (almost) anyone, really — spend time in our awful prison system, prison sentences serve an extremely important purpose. It’s not even about them or their victim as individuals, it’s about the message that is sent. Jll Filipovic has noted that research shows that “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely.”

I believe that the same thing holds for how rape is treated in our criminal justice system. We have to show that rape is never minimized, excused or tolerated by a decent society, and that rapists must pay for their crimes. Today’s conviction in Ohio has probably prevented countless rapes from occurring, by unambiguously demonstrating the consequences.. A powerful blow against rape culture has been struck.

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


  • c u n d gulag on March 17, 2013 1:42 PM:

    I've taught in prison, and I feel sorry for anyone but the most hardened of sociopath's who ends up there.

    But considering they showed little (if any) remorse, I'm sad that they'll only serve time until they turn 21

    And at 21, when these misogynistic sociopaths are released, they'll still be young enough for the "Young Republicans" to recruit them, to replace their dying old misogynistic sociopaths.

  • schtick on March 17, 2013 1:49 PM:

    I love the kid that cried his life was ruined. Poor boy. Can't play football now. Let's have a pity party. The good thing to come of this is they have to register as sex offenders. Cry about that the rest of your lives and think about all the girls that have to live with being called sluts, whores and pigs for the rest of their lives because they were raped.

  • David on March 17, 2013 2:12 PM:

    And the coach? He still has a job? Why is this?

  • Joe Friday on March 17, 2013 2:35 PM:


    These two were bragging that the coach would protect them because they are star football players.

    BTW, the attorney general is making noises about empaneling a grand jury to investigate and charge anyone else that may have been involved, in what they used to call 'aiding and abetting'.

  • bkmn on March 17, 2013 2:42 PM:

    It is a shame that Candy Crowley and CNN felt it was "horrible" that those two boys' lives were now ruined by the guilty verdict.


  • exlibra on March 17, 2013 3:58 PM:

    The girl is 16 *now*; she was still only 15 in August. She could not have had "consensual sex" even if she had been stone cold sober, and chased after those guys naked. She was a minor, and as we used to say back in Poland, "walked under prosecutor's umbrella". That is, the guys would have been guilty of statutory rape in any case.

    I'm glad though, that they were not charged with that, but with the full load rape. And, Candy Crowley's sobbing to the contrary (thanks, bkmn, @2:42PM), it's not the verdict that ruined their lives (*if* their lives are, indeed, ruined), but their own stupid actions.

  • Frank Wilhoit on March 17, 2013 4:58 PM:

    Three random glances:

    1. Rape culture be damned (in both possible senses of the phrase); let's start dismantling sports culture.

    2. Steubenville will have its revenge; everyone who was on the side of the victim in this case will have been run out of town within the year, many of them after crimes against their property and persons -- that will not be reported.

    3. Att'y Gen'l DeWine's grand jury will investigate leaks, nothing else.

  • dweb on March 17, 2013 5:48 PM:

    What is overlooked in this case to a large extent is the underlying basis for what happened.....massive amounts of alcohol, consumed in a short period of time. Kids are going to get alcohol regardless of laws. What is desperately needed are classes which teach kids that real dangers of getting so totally blotto that you literally cannot make rational decisions or even remember what happened to you.

    Of course the other question in this is the social pressure to "go along." Nobody apparently had the guts to really step into this situation and say, "Stop!" Apparently there were some half-hearted attempts, but nothing where someone in the group said, "This is totally wrong....she's unconscious," or even, "Stop and think what could happen if you rape her and you are blamed."

    Our school systems need to teach not only basic education topics, but tragically, it is clear, ethics, situational analysis, personal responsibility, and risks. Instead, they learn that "cool kids" rule and cool kids are more often not, jocks.

  • Fess on March 17, 2013 6:15 PM:

    Thanks, Kathleen, for changing "retarded" to "developmentally disabled."

  • Kornfields on March 17, 2013 7:09 PM:

    I wholeheartedly support the verdict, as I understand the case (I did not see the testimony, so I add that caveat). I also have abhor the culture of rape...

    that said, I believe that you are off base when you write:

    "Itís not even about them or their victim as individuals, itís about the message that is sent."

    I understand what you are getting at, that said, justice and prison and verdicts, I think, should be about people, not messages. Never lose sight of the people involved. I am glad they were convicted. But I take no joy in any of it. And I would never send anyone to prison to send a message... I would send them to prison because it is just.

  • mudwall jackson on March 18, 2013 12:47 AM:

    Getting back to Steubenville, itís notable that the case was decided not by a jury but by a judge. I have to wonder whether if the case had gone to a jury composed of members of the Steubenville community, the verdict would have been the same.

    a) doubtful it would have been tried in steubenville.

    b) having lived in the ohio valley, about 40 miles south and on the west virginia side of the river, i have to note that there are fair-minded people who abhor what happened, even in poor, small towns like steubenville (i'm sure you've been there many time yourself, kathleen).

    "I love the kid that cried his life was ruined."

    yes we should all rejoice in the fact that these two boys made the wrong choice, violated a 16 year old girl and now will be punished for it. we very much appreciate the entertainment all parties provided us.

    "Steubenville will have its revenge; everyone who was on the side of the victim in this case will have been run out of town within the year, many of them after crimes against their property and persons -- that will not be reported."

    your ignorance is truly breathtaking.

    what dweb said.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 18, 2013 1:11 PM:

    While I'm satisfied by this verdict, I do "pity"--if that be the appropriate word--the young blokes who were convicted:

    Because it's a damn shame that they had to learn in a court of law that their behavior was egregiously unacceptable and criminal. It's so sad that these boys--and many boys like them--have been coddled to believe that sexually exploiting a drunken, passed out girl (teenage or otherwise) is just another trip on the okey-doke train. It's sad that these boys and many other kids in the community considered it just swell to post pictures of the entire ordeal on social media. Really, WTF!!!

    I really do pity the fact that the adults in their lives (and wider society in general) didn't bother to set their moral compasses straight to negate our rather sad "rape culture". Even if the victim "had it coming", any right thinking adult would have advised these boys not to get involved with "jail bait" and especially to not tweet about everything that happened.

    I think I'm just more bowled over by how incredibly stupid these boys were. And it is so sad that they had to learn the hard way...