Steubenville: The Names Change, but the Story Stays the Same

Steu

Juvenile justice expert Tamar Birckhead boils down the Steubenville rape case to expose systemic problems.

“My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”

These were the words of 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond after a judge adjudicated him delinquent of rape earlier this week in juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. But it’s also an age-appropriate response to a well-worn scenario that’s continuing to play out in the media as well as in the homes of this Rust Belt city of 18,000.

The facts are familiar. A teenage girl—vulnerable and the object of ridicule—drinks too much. A group of boys, including one she believed would protect her, instead take advantage of her. She wakes up unclothed and has little memory of what occurred. The rumor mill kicks in. She is humiliated and blamed. There is evidence of a cover-up, talk of conspiracies and conflicts of interest. The young men, celebrated high school athletes with promising futures, are publicly tried, convicted and ultimately jailed. Months later, after the media circus ends, the teenagers and their families are left behind—far behind—to try to pick up the pieces.

We have been here before. Consider the nearly identical cases that befell the towns of Glen Ridge, New Jersey; Richmond, California; and Cleveland, Texas.

The story has been updated to fit the times. Now there are text messages, social media, online video, and the sex offender registry. Technology has indeed advanced—almost beyond our powers of comprehension—but the narrative never changes. Why is it that our system of justice perpetually chews up and spits out rape victims, while our sons continue to be empowered through the abuse and defilement of their female peers?

As a society we chip away at the edges of these problems, but the pathology remains. We criminalize underage drinking. We demonize adolescent sexuality. We label defendants and assess culpability. Yet, who is served by such responses?

A girl is left profoundly damaged, not only by the crime itself but by the harsh scrutiny and ostracism of her community. As prosecutor Marianna Hemmeter said, “[The juveniles] treated her like a toy.” In a culture permeated by images that objectify women’s bodies and characterized by the commodification of sex, this is hardly surprising. We are a society that is still struggling to define the act of rape and to draw a clear line between sex and violence in ways that are commonly accepted and understood. Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that nearly twelve percent of high school girls have been sexually assaulted; over forty percent of female sexual assault victims were raped before age 18.

Meanwhile, boys are punished, put in cages and stigmatized, but what lessons do they learn? Spending a year or two warehoused in a juvenile prison is unlikely to help. Data out of Ohio shows that low-risk sex offenders who received community-based treatment, designed to provide more effective rehabilitation and save money, were less likely to recidivate than those who were incarcerated with a general population of high risk young offenders.

The narrative, however, remains the same. The victim’s mother contends that Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, his 17-year-old codefendant, lack a moral code. Judge Thomas Lipps asserts that they will learn from this experience and change for the better. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine vows to continue the investigation, convene a grand jury, and hold others responsible—parents, coaches, and those who stood by and did nothing. It is likely that the victim must testify again, reliving the fear that she felt upon waking up naked in a strange house, not knowing what to think or what had happened.

It is, despite our best intentions, a tragedy. The lives of these young people may not be over, but their innocence has been forever extinguished. Today it is in Steubenville. Tomorrow is it in my town … or in yours.

–Photo: 63837784@N08/Flickr

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Super Villain or Not, Parenting Paranoia Ensues
The Garbage Man Explains Happiness
How To Not Suck At Dating

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Tamar R. Birckhead

Tamar Birckhead is an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she teaches the Juvenile Justice Clinic, the criminal lawyering process, and juvenile courts and delinquency. Her research interests focus on issues related to juvenile justice policy and reform, criminal law and procedure, indigent criminal defense, and the criminalization of poverty. Follow Professor Birckhead on Twitter: @TamarBirckhead.

Comments

  1. I personally have seen how rape can ruin the life of a victim (male or female) and have a negative, if not devastating impact in the lives of their loved ones.

    So you think rape is funny? What next? A defense of Candy Crowley and other rape apologists? I’ve noticed some of the biggest promoters of the rape culture are girls and women. Hahahaha, indeed.

    • That was sarcasm that wasn’t perfectly expressed, which is my fault. I thought my asking how J.A.’s comment got through moderation would make that clear.

      • I apologize for misjudging you. I got carried away by emotion.

        I’m sick and tired of all the misplaced sympathy for the two convicted rapists. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old girl continues to receive death threats. In the long run, she will suffer far more in the course of her life than will those two punks. She was the one who was truly betrayed. The convicted duo were about to be given preferential treatment simply because they were school athletes. If a member of, say, the Chess Club had committed rape, he would have been prosecuted immediately; and the rape apologists would have kept their mouths shut. Had it not been for Anonymous, this scandal would have been covered up; and we never would have heard about it.

        Incidentally, I subscribe to a neswpaper that serves the fourth largest city in the U.S. I noticed that the sports columnists in the sports section of the newspaper had not a single word to say about the scandal or the verdict. Not a single word. That’s because the sports media is nothing but a propaganda mill bent upon promoting hero worship. They have absolutely no sympathy for anyone who has ever been assaulted physically or sexually by one or more school athletes. Most sports columnists and sportswriters really aren’t journalists in the true sense of the word. They’re journalists to the same extent as was Joseph Goebbels. Except for hounding an athlete for suspected steroid abuse, they do no investigative reporting. Suspected rape is no concern of theirs.

        • I have two comments on your reply:

          First, you say “In the long run, she will suffer far more in the course of her life than will those two punks.” I’m not sure by what logic you make this assertion. I would suggest you and everyone else on earth refrain from telling rape victims how and for how long they will suffer. Perhaps let them (us) decide for themselves. It is, of course, unconscionable that she is being harrassed in her community. That needs to stop, and it will stop, probably not soon enough, but eventually. By contrast, her attackers will have to register as sex offenders for life. Men on the sex offenders registry regularly suffer harassment, death threats, are actually assaulted or murdered in addition to the severe restrictions on work and housing that lead to many of them becoming homeless. Not going to argue here whether they “deserve it”. Only pointing out that your allegation about “suffering more” is probably false. And offensive. To her and all rape survivors. Like those of us who get on with our lives have forgotten to suffer.

          The second point I would like to make is that is entirely INappropriate for rape to be discussed in the sports pages. It is not a sport. And unlike steroids or gambling it bears no relevance to the playing of sports. Sports pages should simply stop talking about players who are convicted of rape. Their actions disqualify them from a place in the sports pages and move them to “crime”. This is as it should be. The epidemic of sexual misconduct in sports should be discussed in the news pages, preferably the FRONT page, where everyone will see it.

          That’s all.

          Oh, and by the way “My life is over. No one is going to want me now” is NOT hyperbole. Not asking you to care, just keeping it real.

  2. Where is the joke?
    I’m completely serious.

    • You’re serious? You think that, what Mays and Richmond were just closeted and so they raped Jane Doe instead of have sex with each other? What the hell?!

      • Yes @heatherN that is exactly what I suspect- perhaps you can fill me in on where my reasoning goes amiss.

        I’m really peeved that my original comment seems to have been yanked.
        90 % of my life I’ve been paid piece work – I don’t go for unnecessary verbiage.
        I wrote something along this line.
        In a future, hopefully not too distant, when more NFL players have come out of the closet The next generation’s Mays & Richmond can simply have sex with each other and by pass the drunken female beard.

        I suspect most fag-bashes of having unresolved homosexual issues.
        I suspect men who concurrently or serially having sex with the same woman of are gay or bi.

        Why @heatherN feels she is more inside the heads of Mays & Richmond and there ilk than I am is something she might want to explain.

        • What makes it improbable that they might be gay?
          Growing up in a small town?
          Playing football?
          Doing something violent?
          Are your gay guys all weak wristed pacifist urban hipsters?

        • “I suspect men who concurrently or serially having sex with the same woman of are gay or bi”

          I may be genuinely misunderstanding your comment…is a man who is serially having sex with the same woman possibly in a relationship with her? does this mean that married men are all of gay or bi persuasion?…

          As I said, I am just seeking clarification on your point

          • I think he means a group of men who concurrently have sex with the same woman – i.e. a gang r__e. Though I guess it could apply to a simple threesome too.

            • ahhh, thank you, that makes more sense to me :)

            • Well all I’m wrapping up my work week and will circle back later…

            • Well all I’m wrapping up my work week and will circle back later…

            • Let’s try and keep a civil tongue in our heads. I’m surprised heatherN’s gaslighting F bomb got past moderation- but then suspect the moderators know me and understand thst with a revolver and a Rambo knife you would also need a stick and to pack lunch if you were looking to intimidate me.

              There is nothing I stated that is homophobic.
              There is nothing I said that should be construed to mean that I think sex and rape are synonymous.
              I merely suggested that when gay NFL players come out of the closet, in some small way a certain percentage of Steubenville type assaults may be avoided.
              I am a few days past 56 and I’ve been a male every fucking day of my life, so I have a certain level of understanding of the species.
              I have corns older than some of you.
              I have experience of adolescents and athletes that is in excess of 40 years.
              I know that just as the majority of people I know are pretty good, the majority
              HS athletes are nice people.
              I knew a fag basher in my home town who evidently is now a lot happier with his husband. The assailants depicted in “Boogie Nights” were not as fictitious as ET.

              I beat around the bush a bit earlier- I believe that there is, very much, a gay component to the eroticism when 2 men are having sex with the same woman at the same time. I’m not criticizing what 3 people might do. Oh, sorry, and 2 women with one guy are probably panting over each other as well.
              Similarly, I feel there is a gay component to guys tag teaming, riding a train, going for sloppy seconds or what ever that is called in polite society.

              I can imagine that in some, albeit misguided, way Mays and Richards thought they were having sex with their victim. My hypothesis is that they, or more accurately fools like them, who participate in dual rape really would rather have sex with one another. Just as I think a, large, percentage of people who engage in threesomes are in denial about the crux of their sexuality.

              Now in re myths.
              It is no myth that many children are confused, angry, in denial and bewildered at being gay and consequently engage is risky, dangerous and destructive behavior: Hopefully, the stigma is being peeled away and the shame with it. Anyone who denies that this is so has their head in the sand. This antisocial behavior is another leg of my idea that the actions at Steubenville might have something to do with negative socialization of the love that dares not…..
              It is a myth that there aren’t gays in small towns. That gays aren’t playing football, basketball, softball and/or the tuba is an absurd idea. That there aren’t gays capable of the same degradations to their fellow humans that the rest of the population are is on some level an insult to their essence. Not all gays are that confused librarian living with his mother as depicted on stage & screen.

              And what does FFS mean?

        • “I suspect most fag-bashes of having unresolved homosexual issues.
          I suspect men who concurrently or serially having sex with the same woman of are gay or bi.”

          Those are two horribly fucked up bullshit stereotypes. They are offensive and perpetuate all sorts of myths about rape as well as stereotypes about bi and gay people. And Steubenville was not about sexual gratification. It was humiliation and domination over another person. That shit was not about acting out some repressed homosexual desire for each other. FFS.

  3. Ah poor baby. I feel so sorry for him…NOT. They brought it on themselves. They treated this girl like a dog pisses on a tree and they think they should get sympathy? Things don’t seem to ever change

    • Things never will change until we isolate the players from the story and start to look at the why’s and how’s . Asking how these boys got to be the way they are, isn’t about sympathising with them its about fixing the disease and not just focussing on the symptoms as they come to the surface. This incident is a symptom of a deeper rot.. if we do not look at the boys, or simply rubbish them as scum, we will earn nothing from this and it will keep happening.

  4. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Let’s try and keep a civil tongue in our heads. I’m surprised heatherN’s gaslighting F bomb got past moderation- but then suspect the moderators know me and understand thst with a revolver and a Rambo knife you would also need a stick and to pack lunch if you were looking to intimidate me.

    There is nothing I stated that is homophobic.
    There is nothing I said that should be construed to mean that I think sex and rape are synonymous.
    I merely suggested that when gay NFL players come out of the closet, in some small way a certain percentage of Steubenville type assaults may be avoided.
    I am a few days past 56 and I’ve been a male every fucking day of my life, so I have a certain level of understanding of the species.
    I have corns older than some of you.
    I have experience of adolescents and athletes that is in excess of 40 years.
    I know that just as the majority of people I know are pretty good, the majority
    HS athletes are nice people.
    I knew a fag basher in my home town who evidently is now a lot happier with his husband. The assailants depicted in “Boogie Nights” were not as fictitious as ET.

    I beat around the bush a bit earlier- I believe that there is, very much, a gay component to the eroticism when 2 men are having sex with the same woman at the same time. I’m not criticizing what 3 people might do. Oh, sorry, and 2 women with one guy are probably panting over each other as well.
    Similarly, I feel there is a gay component to guys tag teaming, riding a train, going for sloppy seconds or what ever that is called in polite society.

    I can imagine that in some, albeit misguided, way Mays and Richards thought they were having sex with their victim. My hypothesis is that they, or more accurately fools like them, who participate in dual rape really would rather have sex with one another. Just as I think a, large, percentage of people who engage in threesomes are in denial about the crux of their sexuality.

    Now in re myths.
    It is no myth that many children are confused, angry, in denial and bewildered at being gay and consequently engage is risky, dangerous and destructive behavior: Hopefully, the stigma is being peeled away and the shame with it. Anyone who denies that this is so has their head in the sand. This antisocial behavior is another leg of my idea that the actions at Steubenville might have something to do with negative socialization of the love that dares not…..
    It is a myth that there aren’t gays in small towns. That gays aren’t playing football, basketball, softball and/or the tuba is an absurd idea. That there aren’t gays capable of the same degradations to their fellow humans that the rest of the population are is on some level an insult to their essence. Not all gays are that confused librarian living with his mother as depicted on stage & screen.

    And what does FFS mean?

Speak Your Mind

*