Steubenville the Broader Conversation

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The case that rocked a community 2 high school football players accused of raping a 16 year old girl at a party, a case very soon viewed as something we never would have known about had pictures of what happened not gone viral, had the alleged perpetrators not gone on social media to brag and vulgarly discuss what they had done. A case with all too familiar a ring to it, teens, alcohol and young men accused of sexual assault, rape. Then comes the trial of public opinion, of social media, of news media now being accused of getting everything wrong, being accused of creating a sob story for these spoiled football brats whose parents never gave them consequences, to blaming the victim for what happened to her because they laid out the parameters of the defense’s case. Once they were convicted again our nation was divided many saying they got a slap on the wrist because they were tried and found guilty in juvenile court one to serve a year in juvenile detention the other 2 years, others blaming the parents for not knowing what was happening with their kids, accusations adults such as coaches tried to cover it up, blaming the adults for supplying the home where this took place and the alcohol, to should we charge bystanders who took photos, who posted disgusting things on twitter and other media related to what happened that night. All the true teachable moments, the core lessons lost in inaccuracies, strong feelings no matter where you find yourself on the sides of this case, leaving members of the public looking at this not sure what the truth is, what to believe. Are we looking at another case of a degenerated society or are we looking at another case of young men paying for a legal system that hasn’t caught up with society, paying the cost of social media’s influence on legal matters?

Crucially from an outsider, non-legal point of view this story looks quite different than media pretrial, than social media comment; first and foremost like the defense there is still the question of did a rape occur, because there is ample evidence to prove sex transpired in texts, tweets, videos, pictures.  However, that is something neither defendant denied arguing all along the girl consented to having a sexual encounter with them; one defendant, Trent Mays, sending a text message to the victim’s father saying almost those exact words, the other shocked when he found out the next day what the young girl was accusing him of. Despite the picture disseminated showing the victim apparently unconscious subsequently being carried by the defendants, a visual that had news anchors and the public alike outraged; if you look closely at the picture, you see several things cohobating, or at least, leaving open the possibility both defendants could be telling the truth about not only the photo and video but what happened during the party. One, the girl in the picture is fully clothed, so are the individuals carrying her two, you cannot see the person’s face to examine details, are their eyes closed, are they laughing, do they look scared, happy or dazed and incoherent, three the person in the photo does not appear to have been redressed after a sexual encounter, some type of attack or dubious behavior. Added to those facts is the simple reality a picture, that picture, shows one moment in time; it cannot tell us what happened before or after, not how much anyone involved drank or didn’t, not whether she consented to what happened, not if she was exhibiting flirtatious behavior anytime during her interactions with the now convicted perpetrators. Next there is what one defendant, Mal’lik Richmond, said during an exclusive interview with ABC calling the “chilling” picture of the young girl something snapped as a joke making clear they were not carrying her out somewhere either to have sex with her or after already having done so, going on to say after aforementioned photo was taken she was up walking around, talking. And if she was doing so it flies in the face of the prosecution, lawyers outside the case claiming she was too drunk to consent to anything. 

Then there is the issue of intent part of why this case was likely tried in juvenile and not adult court based on what quite frankly didn’t happen; these young men did not drop a drug into her drink; even though she texted the next day she didn’t remember what happened and thought she might have been drugged. Toxicology reports showed no evidence of drugs, date rape or otherwise, in her system; interesting would be to see what her blood alcohol level was even a day later, information either not gathered or not released to the public. They did not ply her with alcohol in order to take advantage of her, make her more willing to have sex with either of them. They did not stumble upon her, in that basement, passed out and say ooh let’s get some, contrary to public perception. They did not urinate on her or leave her in a field for dead, unlike social media postings. This is not a case of date rape where a predator gained a woman’s, a girls trust then saw his moment to strike, hit her over the head, drugged her, raped her as she begged him not to, this is not an abusive husband taking his wife any time he pleases thinking he has the right because they are married, nor is it a case of him doing sick, vile, degrading things to her he believes he can get away with owing to their married status. This presents as a case of 3 teens involved in sex, it making it onto social media and blowing up from there. Speaking of which, many of the texts, tweets and e-mails causing such uproar, such reaction, leading people to the conclusion these young men are despicable monsters rather than human beings who should have the book thrown at them, who should not be let loose in society, belong to bystanders, fellow twitter commenters not the defendants actually on trial. Tweets with the hash tag drunk girl and rape, a tweet saying “the song of the night is definitely rape me by nirvana” were distributed, created by other people who were either there or who heard about it. A video incensing followers of the case where a teen white male is seen describing a girl, presumably the victim, as so dead and so raped was filmed by none of the later convicted persons charged, the owner of the offensive comments was never publically identified as Trent Mays and could not be Mal’lik Richmond seeing as he is African American. His name according to reports is Michael Nodianos, someone who wasn’t even present at the party rendering his falling down drunk, senseless comments null and void.  Explanations, details behind why Mr. Richmond’s lawyer vehemently decries, his client especially, being on the sex offender registry; these young men are not serial rapists in the making, are not predators now or in the future.  

 


Neither is it blaming the victim to say this young lady was more worldly wise than she is being portrayed by the prosecution, it is not blaming the victim to say this girl had a lot more awareness and wherewithal about what she was doing in terms of going to multiple parties, drinking what she drank, potentially what she thought might happen that night, painting a picture perhaps she was looking to have sex with local celebrity football players or would not shun it if it came her way, pointing to the act as not rape but sex between teenagers. And where did the defense get this idea, information, her friends’ statements to police; some of whom testified on behalf of the young men, more who were told by the judge they didn’t have to primarily because they were minors and because they lived across the river in Virginia. Conflicting witness testimony leaves in doubt how drunk or unconscious the victim was or wasn’t before, during and after the experience; similarly just like with the outrageous picture, the video, never said to have been shot by either defendant, nor posted online by them, only shows the minutes in which it was filmed not before, not after. Relatedly is it a totally different thing regarding consent if the girl is flirting with, coming onto a guy, saying yes, saying things construed as foreplay, most people would think so regardless of the legal, textbook definitions surrounding this case; further most guys would reasonably believe they did indeed have consent providing the above scenario depicts what took place. Does it matter that the victim has gone to parities like this, at minimum, once before; yes, because it points to a pattern of risky behavior, her putting herself in harm’s way, the potential something was going to happen, implying she should know something of her own limitations with alcohol, possible implications of a troubled, wild teen struggling with addiction, mental illness possibly making her more likely to interpret what happened as rape not consensual sex. Nor is it blaming the victim to ask if she said yes to the sexual act then passed out during it, it is not blaming the victim to ask if the young men were even sober enough to recognize if she had passed out while the sex they always admitted to, went on; it is trying to ascertain the factual events that make up the night in question. Telling is, during his exclusive news interview when confronted with statements the girl was stumbling around, vomiting Richmond’s response was that was normal based on to what he had seen of people drinking at parties and other places leading to the question do these boys have enough worldly knowledge to determine how drunk or not someone is, to determine what consent is according to the law, their own words suggesting no they don’t. There is a profound difference between sexual assault/rape and sexual regret, waking up the following day wishing you hadn’t done what you did. There is a striking difference between being unable to remember events, a night including sexual activity because you were drugged, because you were coerced into drinking and being unable to remember because you drank way too much of your own volition, woke up the next day with a pounding head and spotty recollection of some events. There is a difference between evidence of having sex and evidence of rape, hints the comment found guilty not proven guilty.

At the same time there is a distinction between morally guilty and criminally guilty; should they have been drinking underage no, should they have drank until they got drunk, no; note both truths apply to all 3 teens involved not solely the boys. Should they have posted vulgar comments about the girl, what they had done no, but again they should only be held accountable for their comments, not everyone else’s. Should Trent Mays have sent a nude photo of the girl to friends and classmates no, does it mean if she was drunk, seeking to party she deserved to be raped emphatically no, but everyone involved in this is culpable for engaging in risky behavior not just the accused. There is even speculation the young lady’s mother was more interested in pressing charges than her, the authorities leading to another logical question is she calling it rape to save her daughter’s reputation, because she doesn’t understand the depth of her daughter’s own poor judgment and risky behavior that night? Plus it is far from unheard of for teens to be charged under misapplied, out of date laws under rape, pornography and sex offender statutes for having sex with each other, sending nude photos of self to others or distributing a nude photo of your girlfriend, obviously stupid behavior but criminality must be determined on a case by case basis, where there is a pattern of repeated instances sending nude photos, seeking them out in order to distribute them vs. showing them as a way to say this is my girl, going again to intent. We are living with our heads in the sand if we don’t recognize the double standard coming down much harder on men and adolescent boys; teen boy distributes nude photo of girlfriend, both sets of parents, friends, even the girl herself states the 2 were boyfriend and girlfriend. Who gets charged with pornography, who ends up on the sex offender registry; he does. She gets no charge for taking the nude photo. Two teens a year apart in age, both under 18, have sex, authorities find out; who gets charged, the male. Unfortunately it is also far from unheard of for a woman, teenage girl to accuse someone of rape to save her reputation, to keep friends and family from discovering their poor choices or for other nefarious reasons. A key one embroiling sports players was the Duke Lacrosse case, every one of those college boys proven innocent by in depth investigation and evidence.

It is always interesting, to the point of infuriating, to see people on social media, factions of the news media, get it so wrong; in addition to what these boys didn’t ever do that was purported as actual events in social media; there was no adult cover up where coaches, school staff tried to sweep this under the rug. There really isn’t a “rape crew” at Steubenville high school; there isn’t a dominating “rape culture” in America. And if you’ve read this far into the article by now you’re probably left wondering if there was a rape at all. It is just as possible this unfortunate 16 year old went to a series of parties, got way too drunk, had sex with the defendants and was severely shaken, traumatized when she woke up the next day not able to remember what happened. It doesn’t have to be rape to be traumatizing for a partially naive adolescent; simultaneously it is extraordinarily likely this girl believed she was raped after hearing accounts from her friends, seeing both pictures, videos and comments about that night online as well as her parent’s reaction to her description of what she could remember before the alleged sexual assault. None of the above constitutes rape. Next addressing the bystanders are equally responsible rhetoric; the majority of the people at this party were some degree of drunk and just because they taking pictures, recording video doesn’t mean they were sober enough to know what they were recording, saw/recorded the whole thing to know they were recording a rape. Neither were the people who testified to police they saw her getting more and more intoxicated necessarily in the same room as the rape while it was happening; translation expecting drunk people who did not see the event from beginning to end to intervene is unrealistic No it is not humanity’s brightest day, no one is saying it is, but it is also not reason to haul onlookers in, charge them as accessories and put them in jail for years at a time. It is equally angering when the public, commenting in various ways, are so outraged by what a “teen punk” did, what a “teen sociopath” did, are so quick to believe what is posted online in the comment section before allowing the justice system to do its job, are so quick to assume the persons charged are animals, jump to the quickest conclusion believing the worst of humanity then proceed to talk about what should happen to them in this case, gelding, castration and rape in adult prison, hanging, setting on fire and vicious maiming of several body parts topping the list. Any of which would land these self-righteous individuals in jail themselves; were lighting them on fire exc. part of our justice system it would make us the worst nation in human rights violations, worse than nations like China in harshness and cruelty of a so called justice system run like a dictators regime.

Where were the parents, the home owner and where did they get the alcohol, what about the bystanders are all good starter questions, yet the larger question is where are the parents teaching kids how to self-protect, how to deal with bad situations if they should ever find themselves in one similar to that night? When are we as a society going to learn to teach kids how to drink safely, how to recognize their own limits instead of only admonishing them not to drink; when are we, the adults, going to learn that, even if they never touch a drop of alcohol prior to 21, they need said information before they are 21 in order to drink responsibly? Sure children need supervision, parents need to be involved, know where their children are, know their children’s character and what problems they could get into based on said character, but more than anything they need to be taught how to handle situations they could easily find themselves in, to walk away from a party with drugs or alcohol, if you find yourself having made a bad decision, realize you’re drunk to call a cab, a designated driver, not just to avoid driving but to avoid passing out and potentially becoming prey, mistaken for a willing participant in something you want no part of, will regret in the morning when you sober up. Piers Morgan asked indignantly on his show post-verdict if we have to tell our 16, 17, 18 year old sons not to rape; no, what we have to do is give a much more conclusive, inclusive definition of that word. We have to remove these blurry gray lines rather than continuing with the still out of date perception that rape is jumping out an attacking someone in a ski mask, rape is forcing yourself on your girlfriend or a girl you know while she begs you to stop, date rape must include dropping a drug into her drink. If what these young men did legally does constitute rape, we have to provide legally based, scenario based teaching highlighting incidents like this and make sure young people understand it is more than indecent it is criminal instead of never talking to our kids about sex except to say don’t get a girl pregnant, don’t come home pregnant or perpetuating incomplete stereotypes that land otherwise good kids behind bars, concepts Piers Morgan doesn’t comprehend.

Where was this young girl’s mother teaching her the basic safety of watching your drink at a party; whether your drinking soda or alcohol not leaving that drink, because even if you make the right choice and elect to drink no alcohol, clumsy, drunk person could spill there’s into yours and you end up consuming alcohol anyway, to say nothing of the opportunity for someone to prey upon you with a date rape drug or slip you alcohol hoping you’ll end up drunk, vulnerable to either suggestion or violence. Leading to the next lesson; where was this mother teaching her daughter to always pour her own drink, watch the person making/pouring the drink so they know exactly what’s in it, more importantly what’s not, lessons that can transfer into the fully adult world when you begin to drink alcohol. Where is some basic, before 21, alcohol education teaching the difference between beer, wine, mixed drinks and harder liquor like whiskey, scotch and vodka; incidentally Smirnoff vodka allegedly part of what the victim was drinking that night, a huge clue as to why she says she doesn’t remember anything. Where is anyone telling them hard liquor has a much bigger effect in smaller quantities; basic drink responsibly tips like being sure to ingest food along with alcohol, not to have more than X number of drinks per hour and less if you’re drinking hard liquor or are doing so on an empty stomach, to if nothing else to prevent alcohol poisoning, a condition that kills an alarming number of teens and college students each year. Where is the basic common sense tip if you’ve never drank a certain type or brand of alcohol to go slowly, take small amounts, don’t try it in a potentially dangerous situation  where someone could slip you a date rape drug or take advantage of your inebriated state? Whether these boys did what they were convicted of or not, these are safety tips for male or female because there is always going to be a predator out there looking for someone to prey on, opportunists who will take advantage of a bad situation that crosses their path.                              

Truth be told there are 3 victims in this case yes beginning with the young girl who has to carry this experience, rape or not, for the rest of her life, who has to deal with the fallout of being ripped apart on social media, called every dirty name in the book for daring to press charges against the persons who she believes raped her. However it is easy to conclude she was more traumatized, victimized by that than the possible rape, traumatized by her lack of memory, filling in the blanks with photos, picture, videos online coupled with her parents’ reactions than an actual rape. And if these boys did rape her, if they did have sex with her knowing she was unconscious, her not having said yes to sex before becoming unconscious yes they deserve to go to jail. But then there is also the possibility these 2 young men who still believe they did nothing wrong, which the public sees as the whole of the problem, who believe what they did was consensual, didn’t rape her; that the word yes did come from her mouth at some point, whose lives are now ruined, because they made a bad choice to have drunk sex, who may not be able to go to college, who will have trouble getting jobs not just due to the notoriety of the case but owing to their place on the sex offender registry. Which is all well and good, constitutes the least justice can offer if they actually did take advantage of drunk girl, have sex with her while unconscious, never getting her consent, if she was indeed too incoherent when asked, approached about having sex to say yes or no, was mumbling things that could not be understood; however, the prosecution had evidence of sex, did not prove an intent to rape and it is debatable from the public view if they proved rape even according to the parameters of the juvenile justice system. Here is what people are less articulately pointing to when they comment on the unfairness to them; it is societies fault not theirs if there remains a practical, social definition of rape differing from the legal one. It is our fault as much as theirs if the legal system hasn’t caught up with social reality that teens do willingly have sex with each other, young people will send, show off nude pictures of a girl that they had sex with as proof they did so, will show similar pictures to say this is my girlfriend; none of which are indications they need to be charged with rape, pornography or belong on the sex offender registry. It is entirely our fault as adults, as a society if we come across instances like this and allow ourselves to fill in the blanks with knee jerk reactions, perceptions, social media inaccuracies, instead of facts and evidence.  

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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