Steubenville High School rape case
The Steubenville High School rape occurred in Steubenville, Ohio on the night of August 11, 2012, when a high-school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her peers, several of whom documented the acts on social media. The victim was transported, undressed, photographed, and sexually assaulted. She was also penetrated vaginally by other students' fingers (digital penetration), an act defined as rape under Ohio law.
The callous attitude of the assailants was documented on Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and cell phone recordings of the acts. The crime and ensuing legal proceedings generated considerable controversy and galvanized a national conversation about rape and rape culture. Two students and high school football players, Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16 at the time of the crime, were convicted in juvenile court for the rape of a minor. Additionally, three other adults have been indicted for obstructing the investigation into the rape, while Steubenville's superintendent of schools was charged with hindering the investigation into a rape that took place earlier in 2012.
According to trial transcripts, at about midnight the intoxicated victim left a party with four football players. They went to a second party where the victim vomited and appeared "out of it". The same group left after about 20 minutes, and headed to the home of one of the witnesses. In the backseat of the car during the 15-minute trip, her shirt was removed and Trent Mays digitally penetrated the victim's vagina and exposed her breasts while his friends filmed and photographed her. In the basement of the house, Mays attempted to orally rape the victim by forcing his penis into her mouth. Now unconscious, she was stripped naked and the second accused, Ma'lik Richmond, also digitally penetrated the victim's vagina. She was again photographed. Three witnesses took the photos back to the second party and shared them with friends.
In the days following the rapes, according to The New York Times, Mays "seemed to try to orchestrate a cover-up, telling a friend, 'Just say she came to your house and passed out'" and pleading with the victim not to press charges.
Ohio investigators confiscated and analyzed 15 cellphones and two tablets, collecting hundreds of text messages from dozens of students, and interviewed almost 60 people, including students, coaches, school officials and parents.
The victim testified in court that she had no memory of the six-hour period in which the rapes occurred, except for a brief time at the second location in which she was vomiting on the street. She said she woke up the next morning naked in a basement living room with Mays, Richmond and another teenage boy, missing her underwear, flip-flops, phone and earrings.
The evidence presented in court mainly consisted of hundreds of text messages and cellphone pictures that had been taken by more than a dozen people at the parties and afterwards traded with other students and posted to social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and which were described by the judge as "profane and ugly".
In a photograph posted on Instagram by Steubenville High football player Cody Saltsman, the victim was shown looking unresponsive, being carried by two teenage boys by her wrists and ankles. Former Steubenville baseball player Michael Nodianos, responding to hearsay of the event, tweeted "Some people deserve to be peed on", which was retweeted later by several people, including Mays. In a 12-minute video later posted to YouTube, Nodianos and others talk about the rapes, with Nodianos joking that "they raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl" and "They peed on her. That's how you know she's dead, because someone pissed on her". While he did not sexually assault the victim himself, Nodianos, a scholarship student at Ohio State at the time news of the rape broke, received numerous threats for his comments, as did his family in Steubenville, and subsequently dropped out of school. In one text, Mays described the victim as "like a dead body" and "deader than Caylee Anthony" and in another he told the victim that a photo of her lying naked in a basement with semen on her body had been taken by him, and that the semen was his. In a text message to a friend afterwards, he said "I shoulda raped her now that everybody thinks I did", but "she wasn't awake enough".
On March 17, 2013, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were convicted of rape after the trial judge found they had used their fingers to digitally penetrate the victim's vagina and that it was impossible for the incapacitated girl to have given consent.
The case garnered nationwide attention after it was prominently covered in the New York Times, in part for the role of social media in its development. Several individuals publicized the event using Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and text messages. Video and photo evidence reveal that the girl was sexually assaulted over the course of several hours. The video and photo evidence showed her to be unconscious. Some members of the community blamed the girl for her own rape and blamed her for casting a negative light on the football team and town.
Criticism has also been placed upon media outlets themselves, especially CNN. During the course of the delinquent verdict on March 17, 2013, CNN's Poppy Harlow stated that it was "Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart [...] when that sentence came down, [Ma'lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney. [...] He said to him, 'My life is over. No one is going to want me now'". Candy Crowley and Paul Callan were also criticized for their lack of focus on the victim and their sympathy for the rapists.
In early broadcasts on March 17, 2013, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC aired unedited footage that revealed the first name of the rape victim during one of the students' post-conviction statements after the guilty disposition was announced. This practice is against the Associated Press guidelines for coverage. These media outlets redacted the name in subsequent broadcasts. Her first name also appeared temporarily in documents leaked by Anonymous.
Congressman Bill Johnson of Ohio's 6th congressional district, which includes Steubenville, issued a statement on January 7, 2013. In the statement, Johnson said, "As the father of two daughters and grandfather of four granddaughters, had something like what is being alleged here have happened to one of my loved ones, I would be demanding justice to the fullest extent of the law". He stated he was in contact with State Attorney General Mike DeWine about the incident, and was confident that the state and local authorities were competently handling the case. On March 17, after the verdict he stated: "This has been a tragic ordeal. Lives have been forever changed because of the reprehensible acts committed by the young men involved. Now that they've been held accountable in court, I'm hopeful that the Steubenville community will begin the difficult process of healing".
On December 24, 2012, following national newspaper coverage, the hacker collective Anonymous threatened to reveal the names of other unindicted alleged participants. In December 2012, KnightSec, an offshoot of Anonymous, hacked an unaffiliated website, posting a demand for an apology by school officials and local authorities, who had allegedly covered up the incident in order to protect the athletes and school's program. KnightSec followed up their December hack on January 1, 2013, posting a video featuring the "self-proclaimed 'rape crew' from the night of the attack, making jokes about what had happened". There are allegations that more people participated in the incident. One of the hackers was later indicted under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Deric Lostutter, who donned a Guy Fawkes mask and was interviewed by CNN, was later raided by the FBI with a warrant targeting his involvement in the hacking of a site, even though somebody else acknowledged being responsible for the hacking.
Saltsman v. Goddard
Saltsman v. Goddard concerned an effort by the parents of Cody Saltsman, a teenage boy from Steubenville, to stop blogger Alexandria Goddard's website from publishing allegedly defamatory posts about their son. The parents sued Goddard and a dozen anonymous posters in October 2012; a legal blogger labeled it a SLAPP suit. The lawsuit asked for an injunction against the blogger, a public apology stating that the boy was not involved in the rape and $25,000 in damages. The ACLU became involved on behalf of Goddard and the anonymous posters. Most of the specific statements outlined in the Saltsman's lawsuit did not rise to the level of defamation as alleged. The majority of local anonymous posters named in the lawsuit via their online nametag perceived this lawsuit as merely an avenue to learn their identity. The case was dismissed with prejudice in December 2012 after Goddard agreed to post a statement that the boy was remorseful about his role in the aftermath of the Steubenville High School rape case.
Trial and sentencing
On March 17, 2013, Judge Thomas Lipps tried Mays and Richmond as juveniles and adjudicated them "delinquent beyond reasonable doubt", the juvenile equivalent of a guilty verdict. Each defendant received a mandated minimum sentence, with the possibility of remaining in juvenile detention until age 21. The judge set a minimum sentence of one year for Richmond, who was found guilty of penetrating the girl while she was unconscious. Mays, who was found guilty of penetrating the girl while she was unconscious and disseminating pornographic pictures of her, was given a minimum sentence of two years. Because the girl was a minor, Mays was charged with and convicted of the dissemination of child pornography, which is the reason for his additional year in juvenile detention. Initially, it was reported that whether or not Mays and Richmond will be added to the sex offender registry depends on a future hearing to evaluate their behavior once they have turned 21. However, both were classified "Tier II" (medium) offenders. Ma'lik Richmond was released from detention on January 5, 2014. Trent Mays was released in January 2015.
Charges against adults
The nature of the case led to accusations that coaches and school officials knew about the rape and failed to report it. For example, several texts entered into evidence during the trial implied that Steubenville head coach Reno Saccoccia was trying to cover for the players, which led to nationwide outrage after he received a new contract as the district's administrative services director. In response, shortly after the sentences were handed down Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced he would empanel a special grand jury to determine whether other crimes were committed—specifically, whether coaches and other school officials failed to report the rape even though Ohio law makes them mandated reporters.
The panel began meeting in April 2013. On October 8, 2013, the grand jury returned the first indictment of an adult in the case. William Rhinaman, the IT director for Steubenville City Schools, was charged with one count each of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a public official and grand jury perjury. According to the indictment, Rhinaman hindered the investigation by various means as late as the week before the indictment was handed down. He was also accused of lying to the grand jury when he testified before it on April 8. In February 2015, Rhinaman, under a deal reached with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing official business. He was sentenced to 90 days of jail. 80 days of his 90-day sentence were suspended provided he completes one year of community control.
On November 25, 2013, DeWine announced a second round of indictments. Another alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl came to light when a girl came forward after the August rape. No charges have ever been filed in that case, or only after students discussed it. The highest-profile indictment was that of Steubenville City Schools superintendent Michael McVey, who was charged with obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, obstructing official business and falsification. It was later revealed that the charges against McVey were not related to the August rape. In 2015, McVey agreed in exchange for not facing charges to resign from his post, never seek employment in Steubenville education again and avoid contact with anyone involved in the investigation or case. In August 2015, McVey was hired by the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District as an elementary school principal, sparking outrage from many. Three other adults were also indicted. An elementary school principal and a strength coach were charged with failing to report possible child abuse. Charges against the principal were unrelated to the August rape case and were dismissed before the case went to trial. A former volunteer coach faces several misdemeanor charges, including making false statements and contributing to underage alcohol consumption. Other school employees were reinstated after an investigation into the indictments.
Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Bowers exhibited an art installation with the Twitter texts the football players sent out the night of the rape at Pomona College Museum of Art January 21 to April 13, 2014, and Pitzer College Art Galleries from January 21 to March 28, 2014 in Claremont, California. Bowers grew up in a small town in Ohio with values similar to those in Steubenville, where, she says, "most of the young men were never told 'No' and were culturally given the right to do whatever they wanted", something that she feels "needs to change". She attended the trial to do the research necessary for the artwork.
Brad Pitt and partners Plan B Entertainment production company bought the rights of the Rolling Stone article about Deric Lostutter's involvement in the case. Some criticize the choice of focusing more on the "White Knight" than on the rape or the victim.
The teen drama series Degrassi portrays a situation based on this case in the Season 13 episodes "Unbelievable" and "Believe", with Zoë Rivas (Ana Golja) as the victim.
The play Good Kids by Naomi Iizuka, commissioned as a part of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative, is loosely based on the case.
The 2015 novel What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler is inspired by this case.
Roll Red Roll is an 80 minute documentary movie, about the rape. It is directed by Nancy Schwartzman, and edited by Christopher White. The film provides a "public example of the breadth of rape culture".
- Sexual assault of Savannah Dietrich (Louisville, Kentucky)
- Suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons (Cole Harbour District High School, Nova Scotia)
- Suicide of Audrie Pott (Saratoga High School, California)
- Torrington High School rape case (Torrington, Connecticut)
- Glen Ridge rape (Glen Ridge High School, New Jersey)
- Post-assault treatment of sexual assault victims
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Section 2907.01 Sex offenses general definitions. (A) "Sexual conduct" means vaginal intercourse between a male and female; anal intercourse, fellatio, and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex; and, without privilege to do so, the insertion, however slight, of any part of the body or any instrument, apparatus, or other object into the vaginal or anal opening of another. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete vaginal or anal intercourse." Section 2907.02 Rape: (B) "Whoever violates this section is guilty of rape, a felony of the first degree."
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