This Girl’s Life
If the news coverage of the verdicts on Sunday is any indication, the young woman at the center of the Steubenville Rape Case is about to find out what every woman who has gotten justice for sexual abuse at the hands of a powerful man has: justice stops at the courtroom door.
ABOVE PHOTO: Protesters, who did not want to be identified, hold signs outside of the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. About 20 other demonstrators stood outside the justice center with signs and masks protesting the rape trial of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, accused of of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August of 2012.
(AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Lisa DeJong)
By Denise Clay
Once upon a time, I lived in Ohio.
I was a student at The Ohio State University and getting my first experience of living on my own without parents, friends and a twin brother who didn’t understand that being born five minutes earlier didn’t confer “surrogate parent” status. While I had relatives in Cincinnati, Canton and Lexington, Ky., they were far enough away to allow me to sink or swim on my own.
Now if you’ve ever been to Ohio, particularly if you’ve ever been to OSU, you know that there are few things more important than football. Football players were practically Gods at OSU, especially if the team had vanquished the hated University of Michigan Wolverines that year. They had absolute power.
It was that absolute power that I was reminded of when Judge Thomas Lipps announced the verdicts in the Steubenville High School rape case. Judge Lipps found Travis Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, members of the High School’s Big Red football team, guilty of the crime.
While the boys were sentenced to a year in juvenile detention---with Mays getting one year for the juvenile equivalent of sending kiddie porn—I sort of know that while this young woman has gotten one form of justice, real justice for her isn’t going to be easy to come by.
That’s because when it comes to justice for women victimized by men who are perceived to be powerful, especially when that power comes from fame, riches or athletic prowess, it’s more “blame the victim” than “let’s help her out.”
In fact, two young girls have been arrested for threatening the victim, accusing her of “ruining lives.”
For those who don’t know the case, the rape was the result of the combination of a group of kids, too much alcohol and not enough adult supervision. The girl had passed out due to too much drinking and instead of making sure she got home okay, Mays and Richmond chose to take pictures of her, sexually violate her, and post the results on various social networks.
Because the boys were members of the Big Red football team, many in town felt that taking them to trial was more persecution than prosecution. Boys will be boys, and besides, this girl was drunk and should have been more careful.
On the other hand, once the social media word got out, folks like the hacker collective Anonymous pushed for a trial to begin.
Meanwhile, the local police department did their job, found the evidence, and justice, at least in court, was served.
However, the Court of Public Opinion, at least in terms of how the verdict was covered, said something else.
The most egregious example that I saw of this was CNN’s coverage. Between the handwringing done by Candy Crowley as she cut to Steubenville to reporter Poppy Harlow’s soliloquy about how “incredibly difficult” it was to watch these “two young men—who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students—watched as they believed their lives fell apart”, I wanted to climb though the television set and just start smacking people….and not just because what they were doing turned objectivity on its ear, either.
And we’re not even going to get into Fox, MSNBC and other news outlets deciding to broadcast the girl’s name.
This was heaping another set of injustices on a young girl who’s been through far enough. It’s a long established tenet in the news business that you DON’T share the names of rape victims.
You also don’t take the occasion of hearing someone get justice for a crime committed against them to talk about how badly the perpetrators have been treated as a result. I understand the circumstances that Mays and Richmond are facing, but they’re not getting the bulk of my sympathy, if any at all.
That’s because they brought it on themselves. If Mays and Richmond were so concerned about what they had to lose, they could have remembered that and, well, I don’t know, taken this drunken girl to her house instead of doing what they did.
They could have asked an adult, maybe a parent, for help.
They could have taken her to a hospital. I know that’s what I would have done if I had an unconscious person in my car.
They could have done any number of things.
But they decided to rape a girl, put it out on social media, and believed that they’d never face the consequences.
The verdict didn’t ruin their lives. Their actions did.
This girl didn’t ruin their lives. Their actions did.
And now they have some time to think about it.
But like I said, true justice in the victim’s case is probably going to be hard to come by because there are people who are going to give her grief about this for a while.
I know this because of an incident that happened my sophomore year at OSU.
Smith and Steeb Halls were the athletic dorms at Ohio State. Most of the athletes, including football and basketball players lived there. I remember walking down the hall at Steeb reading one of my textbooks one day and hitting what I thought was a wall. The “wall” as it turns out was former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back Keith Byars, who was the starting running back on the team at the time.
There was a story going around that a girl had been gang-raped by several athletes on an elevator in Smith Hall. The group of athletes, that included a football player, a couple of basketball players and even a guy on the lacrosse team, had sent the girl up and down on the elevator where members of the group took turns taking advantage of her.
She wanted to press charges, but between her father, a local minister who didn’t believe her story, and her fellow classmates, who thought that she was a whore and not a victim, the most she was able to get in terms of justice was a University hearing that resulted in no criminal charges, a couple of guys getting suspended, and no scholarships lost.
Or at least that’s what happened to the athletes.
The girl? Well, she got kicked out of school.