Steubenville rape teen released, Ohio teenage rapist released, those were just two of the attention grabbing headlines accompanying the discharge of Ma’lik Richmond from juvenile detention, having completed his sentence post being found delinquent in the rape case that divided a small town, sparking both national debate and national outrage. Firstly that he only served 9 months of his maximum one year sentence receiving credit for time served before, during trial proceedings; making things worse, a statement given by Richmond’s attorney expressing his endurance through hardship he has encountered and personal growth via aforementioned hardness beyond that of an adult, let alone a child, to paraphrase the press release. Comments incensing the public as they wonder what possible harshness he could have been through in juvenile detention or feeling whatever hardship he did face justified for raping a girl. Others, including the victim’s legal representation, alighted on the fact the doubtlessly offensive statement made no mention of his victim, contained no apology to her for what he did; sentiments one would expect to find if he is so rehabilitated, as his lawyer seems to imply. Most find the unfortunate set of circumstances phrasing by Richmond’s legal counsel a copout believing, do the crime; do the time. Scores are appalled the adults facing charges related to a possible cover up of the crime have yet to be tried, sentenced, the hacker who exposed the case seeking justice may do more time than the actual committers of the crime itself; vilified Michael Vic, convicted in dog fighting, served more time than a convicted rapist. What people fail to consider is what went into the judge’s decision, the actual facts making up the case vs. the news media and particularly, social media, embellishments, the purpose, the goal of the juvenile justice system as opposed to the adult one, and that no matter how he was sentenced, what time he served it wouldn’t satisfy a majority of Americans.
Like many media saturated cases, everything is not immediately what it seems; from the beginning outrage over the perception, if it wasn’t for the hacker group Anonymous, we wouldn’t know what happened to this young girl, the perpetrators would not have been brought to justice has clouded the central question of did a rape occur, or was it a sad case of 3 intoxicated teens who had sex? Detailing facts before, during and after the incident suddenly became creating a sob story for these young men instead of highlighting aspects of the defense’s argument. This case became a rallying cry for exposing the “rape culture” in America, exposing the slanted justice only in “stupidville” Ohio and like-minded regions where athletes, specifically “football gods,” could get away with anything, could count on adult’s to cover up, cleanup their mess; whether that was the actual truth or not. Also from the beginning much was attributed to the defendant’s, now convicted rapists, Richmond and Mays they had absolutely nothing to do with. They were never responsible for the bulk of social media pictures, texts and tweets depicting what was later classified as rape, apart from the single picture Trent Mays sent to friends by way of saying, proving he had had sex, enjoyed a sexual encounter. They bare zero accountability for the backlash and secondary trauma visited on the victim blaming her for pressing charges, saying she is at fault for drinking, calling her horrible names, sending her death threats. Regular readers of my work likely saw my piece Steubenville the Broader Conversation (https://indiemusicnews.com/blog/2013/steubenville-the-broader-conversation/) and thus saw me lay out just the facts regarding what these young people did in reference to their female victim, logical observations about pictures, social media postings and public comment; you read the much bigger conversation desperately needing to be had about legal definitions, parameters of consent vs. social ones, teens and alcohol, teens and self-protection, knowledge of what to do/not do in bad situations. One of the key pieces of evidence solidifying their guilt in the public’s mind is a YouTube videoprominently featuring a white male describing the events that night, calling, presumably the victim, so dead and so raped; except that white male is not Trent Mays and Mal’ik Richmond is African American. The white male’s identity is MichaelNodianos, an individual 20/20 determined wasn’t present rendering his statements meaningless apart from his obviously lacking moral compunctions; lessening the supposed impact, either in determining what happened to the girl, proving Mays or Richmond’s guilt, implicating additional party goers, he was falling down drunk in said video, at one point talking about Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. His release starts to make sense if you remember what Mr. Mays, Mr. Richmond didn’t do; they 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. 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 take the salacious photo of their victim appearing passed out and being carried around. 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, as completely fictitious social media postings portrayed. They did always maintain the sex was consensual; unlike the two young men in another tragic, national attention rape case involving Audrie Potts, 14, who later committed suicide. Those two eventually admitted to their crime; the Steubenville teen’s stories never changed, their declarations of innocence never wavered.
We, members of the public, possess no real information on what went through the judge’s mind as he decided on conviction and sentencing. And because it was adjudicated in juvenile court, it was put before a judge, not a jury of his peers, or in this instance, jurors between 18 and 21. For in depth conclusions we would have to have access to the judges notes attached to both findings, something that is likely not feasible because juvenile records are sealed. Did he find them delinquent of the violent, despicable act of raping this young girl or did he find them delinquent, which is a little more nuanced in the juvenile system, solely on the basis of consent law? Being 16 she was a minor and thus unable to consent to sex, even with another minor, and the judge wanted to curb any future borderline behavior that could land them in adult jail, if it happened again. Did he take into account facts otherwise downplayed by the media; example, all 3 parties involved were intoxicated, not just the victim, the victim’s history including repeated appearances coupled with intoxication at parties, a history pointing to here is a young girl who should know something of her own limitations related to alcohol? Yet she voluntarily went to a series of parties, of her own volition got falling down drunk, so drunk she eventually passed out, so drunk she doesn’t remember any of the rape despite there being no date rape or recreational drugs in her system; details gleaned by multiple friend, eyewitness testimonials submitted to the court, the latter always admitted to by the victim herself. Was the judge’s deemed “light” sentence based on the very distinct possible reality, the victim was so intoxicated she could have been flirting, saying yes, giving these young men every indication they had her permission, were participating in an willing sexual act, she has no memory of because; looking at witness details, she was drinking Smirnoff vodka, hard liquor, along with god knows what else? What don’t we know about her mother’s role in seeing charges filed; general consensus is she was instrumental in convincing the girl to press charges in the first place. While it is not unusual for victims to be reluctant to come forward, her involvement could have also been because she could not come to grips with her daughters sexual behavior; did the daughter claim it was rape, not only after viewing posts on social media, the comments on photos, video of the party, but to escape her mother, her parent’s wrath? Subsequently did the judge see or sense this in contriving a verdict, sentencing for either convicted teen? Next did he find him delinquent on the rape charge because he believes, according to evidence presented, they absolutely, unequivocally sexually violated this girl or because he found them negligent, responsible for the tragic occurrence put before his court owning to the fact Mr. Mays and Mr. Richmond had sex with a girl who was overly drunk; once more going back to the repercussions they could face as adults later on, and rape was the charge put in front of him? His, Richmond’s sentence leans a lot more toward right, fair, just if he didn’t do anything wrong, other than have sex with a girl at a party. Regardless of current consent laws, current technology’s impact on teen sex behaviors that can lead to legal charges, even prosecutors are starting to shy away from charging teens with adult sex crimes, sexual predator statutes over nude photos, so called sexting. And we were never the habit of arresting, nor should we ever get in the habit of arresting, teens who have sex with each other.
It is also quite possible the judge reached his decision due to outside pressure to look tough on a growing problematic issue; he may have seen their behavior as morally bad, not reaching criminal status, but because of the publicity swarming the case convicted them anyway, wouldn’t be the first time. It is a nearly identical case with the adults charged stemming from an in depth investigation as to how this case almost escaped law enforcement notice; were those persons charged actually participating in, complacent about perpetuating a cover up to shield these young men from justice, were they actually more interested in their school’s football program than the horrifying assault of a teenage girl, more focused on these boys’ scholarship potential for the sport, or were they charged so Steubenville investigators, police, persecutors and attorney general could do, down to the letter, exactly what they did? Hold a press conference, attempt to repair the city’s image by saying, see we caught all the bad guys. Continuing, Richmond was charged with a lone count, rape; Mays was charged with rape and distributing a nude photo of a minor, because of the photo of the victim he sent to friends, earning him an additional year in juvenile detention. One can assume the verdict on the added charge for Mays was a bit perfunctory in light of the former conviction as he was a minor himself taking a picture of a minor. Addressing the hacker, one the hacker is an adult; though 16, Ma’lik Richmond was tried as a juvenile. Two the charges are hacking, which involves computers, cyberspace, the vulnerability of information on the internet; laws were thus crafted to penalize individuals, groups who hack credit card numbers, bank accounts, steal identities, hack military and other government facilities, possessing the ability to sell secrets to foreign entities, certainly causing panic, costing thousands of dollars in hired consultants, security software and monitoring. Translation, you are going to get more time behind bars engaging in these activities because of just how many they can endanger; affiliation with the notorious hacking group Anonymous might have had something to do with the hard line taken in reference to said hacker. And no one knows what sentence they will serve because they have yet to be convicted, forget sentenced. Too, some people seemed very indignant, long before legal representation for Richmond ever opened his insensitive mouth, that Ma’lik obtained A- legal counsel at all, B- legal counsel above an overwrought, over run public defender incapable of doing their job, commenters referencing friends, people they knew who got more time in the same system, juvenile justice, for “stealing a TV out of an unoccupied home.” Though that is easily explained; each case is individual, depends on a number of factors, state parameters of handling young offenders, prior record, demeanor and general perception of the juvenile, judge, attorney bringing the charges so on and so forth. Oh god forbid Mr. Richmond have had adequate legal counsel so he didn’t spend 20 years in adult prison for something that, independent of the verdict, might not have been rape. Oh god forbid he actually be punished on the merits of his actions not the proliferators of drunken rambling and social media hype; oh god forbid he be punish according to the boundaries of the justice system, not the street justice so many wish to engage in.
Go here to read lawyers statement
Similarly of course the lawyer’s statement is immediately construed as offensive; however, his job, his responsibility is his client. Meaning no, he is not going to in any way mention the victim in relation to an admission of guilt by Ma’lik Richmond, because to do so would open him up to civil litigation. He is also going to discourage his client from doing so himself for the exact same reason; answering the apology Ma’lik should have given in many opinions, why is he going to knowingly open himself up to more court proceedings, his family up to more court vigils, more legal fees? Here is a young man who just got out of a type of jail; why isn’t he going to listen to his parents and lawyer, then do precisely what they say? Usually we would think a criminal was rehabilitated, had learned their lesson if they came out of jail, prison, even juvenile justice keeping their head down and their mouth shut. Yes there was a vast amount of hubris in attempting to detail “hardness beyond imagine,” in referring to the time a convicted rapist spent in juvenile detention. Beyond grammar and syntax issues making his statement dually look unintelligent, it is highly insensitive to the victim who legality has determined was raped, adds another layer to the already secondary trauma visited upon her by social media, the sensation of being under a microscope, the attention from the country, the world her case evoked. Still scrutinizing the remaining comments you notice he mentions the hardship to his client’s family, particularly his extended family; now I and readers both can here the chorus clearly once they complete that sentence: if they didn’t want to face the “hardship,” maybe they should have taught him not to rape. But let us also remember the context, a context that includes well established questions as to was there a rape at all, a history encompassing a victim with repeated instances of risky behavior, a likelihood of parental interference when it came to charges filed upon his client and a codefendant; if these could have impacted the judge’s findings, what makes us think for one second they didn’t shape the nature of the lawyer’s address to the public, the media? Further, it is an unfortunate set of circumstances when you move past just these boys convicted in this singular case to realize scenarios like the one Richmond and Mays found themselves in is hardly rare; in fact it is commonplace among teens, whether there is a rape or not. Interestingly enough we disparage lawyers until we need one and yet do not hesitate to assert our constitutional right to legal counsel. Putting aside all that, his lawyer’s comments are his lawyer’s comments; they should hold no bearing on the character of Ma’lik Richmond. Again we want to place the burden, responsibility and moral judgment for things said and done by others onto him; a disturbingly consistent pattern in this case that began with social media videos, comments from that night, about that night, sans if comment owners were physically there that to witness events, Mr. Nodianos’ unquestionably appalling video, and currently his lawyer’s statement. When does it stop?
Truth be told, no amount of punishment would have been good enough to appease citizens quick to comment on social media, comment boards for news stories surrounding the case; especially the endless number of persons who believe rape, sexual assault in adult prison, beating, maiming, castration are just punishments for what he was accused of long before his conviction, actions that if they took upon themselves would see them arrested. If he had been remanded to juvenile detention until his 21st birthday, the limit of the juvenile justice system, cries would have consisted of; he only got 5 years for raping a girl ! If he had gotten 20, 50 years in prison, too many would have more than pronounced it justice; they would wonder why he was being let out after time served. Again as to the apology, why should he give an apology no one would believe was sincere, even if it was; why should he give an apology for which he will be accused of trying to make people feel sorry for him? Either way you have sections of people stating shouldn’t it be done in a more private setting the girl, the family the lawyers, not in the public eye where it looks like a ploy? Again we’ve seen this before; no one believed the middle school “hoodlums” who apologized for tormenting their bus monitor, because apologies weren’t delivered in person; never mind the death threats. Not until literally years later was anything uncovered about the South Hadley 6 other than the fact they ran wild and bullied a girl to death; Phoebe Prince’s real story came out much too much after the fact, revealing family problems, mental illness, medication and willing sex. Dido with Tyler Clementi and Dahrun Ravi; all citizens could hear is suicide of gay kid brought on by roommate who filmed him and partner having sex; no one listened to Mr. Ravi’s ABC interview talking about concern for belongings, concern about the partners age, uncovered later was Tyler’s unease with being gay, perceived partial rejection by his parents when he told them his sexual orientation. No one believed it worth listening to, had already convicted Ravi in their heads before a verdict was rendered. Returning to Steubenville, let us likewise remember this young man completed the sentence before him, met the specific additional parameters for behavior and rehabilitation while in juvenile detention, which is part of why he is getting out when he is. The additional stipulations to sentencing suggest that, had he not met the behavioral expectations, he could have been held longer than the year given.
Utterly dismissed in the shadow of how soon Ma’lik Richmond got out is the minimum 20 years he will spend on the sex offender registry; yes it seems like the least law enforcement can do knowing what he was convicted of. But at the same time citizens will always know where he is, if he reoffends; he’ll be that much easier to find. There are places with his sex offender status he will never be able to live, work, be in society; hardly a just punishment if this was all along simply 3 drunk teens at a party who had sex. Bringing us to another key point, did the judge pronounce the “lenient” sentence he did knowing they were also to be on the registry, did he do so in consideration of who they are not, who they never were; that we are not dealing with the next Phillip Garrido, not the next habitual date rapist, not the next serial rapist preying on women? Unlike Austin Clem in Alabama who according to his victim, Courtney Andrews, sexually abused her at 13, raped her twice, once at 14 once at 18, clearly showing a pattern of pedophile, predatory behavior, was found guilty then given 2 years in a correction diversionary program at 25; this, going to parties and having sex with girls, was not a regular occurrence for Trent Mays or Ma’lik Richmond. Meaning lastly did the judge hand down the sentence he did setting his sights on the ultimate goal of doing everything he could to balance punishment and making sure these teens did not become further sexual deviants, predators? Plus as a society we need to ask ourselves which of these cases, Steubenville, the adjacent cases’ defendants, convicted felons related to Audrie Potts, Courtney Andrews belongs in adult prison for a significant portion of their lives? The two teens who admitted the sexual assault, the probable sexual predator who began abusing his victim at 13 when he was 18 then repeatedly abused her twice more, or the two young men who along with their victim got drunk, who honestly believed they were having a consensual sexual encounter, only to be charged when the victim woke up the next day unable to remember, taking all her cues from social media comment? We have to seriously start asking ourselves if we really want young men such as Ma’lik Richmond languishing in prison for 20 years for what amounts to having sex at a party. Aside from the ridiculous prison overcrowding it would create, is it really protecting society to do so, does it remove sexual predators or just destroy young lives? Of course we don’t want to cultivate a rape culture, but neither do we want to create its opposite, girls crying rape to get revenge on a boy, girls crying rape out of fear of their parents, parents crying rape because they are naive about their daughter’s sexual behavior. Again I ask which one of these cases looks like the continuation of a rape culture.