I was all set to write this week’s post on a completely different topic when I heard about the guilty verdicts in the very public Steubenville, Ohio rape trail and decided to write about that instead. Here are my thoughts on the situation and the verdicts:
A very quick recap for those who haven’t been following the news; the small town of Steubenville, Ohio attracted international media attention when players on the town’s high-school football team photographed, tweeted and in other ways documented themselves raping and degrading an unconscious 16-year-old girl as they dragged her body from one party to another on the night of August 11th, 2012. Although only two teens, Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, were charged and found guilty, other boys on the team were allegedly involved while 50 more teens at the various parties witnessed what was happening yet did nothing to stop it. For more details, read this New York Times article that goes into extensive detail of the night’s events and this piece from The Atlantic Wire that details the trail and the various people involved (judges, lawyers, defendants, etc.).
As I read about the verdict I couldn’t help but think once again about accountability, a topic that I discussed in my post about Luther Campbell a few weeks ago. An Ohio judge chose to hold 2 boys, Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, accountable for the rape of a 16-year-old girl known to the public only as Jane Doe. While I think the jail time handed down is pretty light (at least one year in juvenile detention for one of the boys and at least two years for the other, although they could both be held until they’re 21) the fact that they’re required to register as juvenile sex offenders for the rest of their lives will most certainly have long-term impact, just as their degradation and rape will permanently affect the life of Jane Doe. But what of the others involved in this case?
Steubenville, like many other towns, universities, states and even countries engaged in a brand of hero worship that allowed anyone affiliated with its most popular sport to get a free pass for all sorts of unhealthy and often criminal behaviors. Will the residents of Steubenville recognize the damage that’s been done to the town’s reputation and choose from now on to place high school football back into proper perspective? Only time will tell, but the world around them sure is applying plenty of pressure to change.
The teammates of Mays and Richmond who played various roles in the rape were apparently granted immunity for their testimonies. How about the estimated 50 kids who witnessed the multiple assaults and did nothing to stop them? The lack of personal leadership they exhibited is astounding but according to the Ohio Attorney General, they could end up facing charges of failing to report a felony. Meanwhile anyone who took and/or distributed pictures of the passed out girl in various states of undress could be facing child pornography charges as well. Then of course there are the adults who supplied these kids with alcohol. Could they be facing charges as well? We don’t yet know, but with any luck, all parties involved with the horrible events of that night will be held legally accountable for their actions. The young survivor deserves nothing less.
That leaves us with one person who’s role in this whole thing has yet to be explored, Steubenville High’s head football coach, Reno Saccoccia. This is a man who not only failed to discipline the accused players once the incident was brought to his attention, claiming he “didn’t do the internet,” had not seen the pictures and therefore couldn’t discipline the kids. Wait… WHAT? He also threatened the New York Times reporter who tried to interview him about it, telling the reporter; “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” Most damning for Saccoccia are the texts from one of the accused kids, Trent Mays, to a friend regarding the incident. In the texts Mays writes that coach, “took care of it” and in another text adds, “Like, he was joking about it so I’m not worried.” Took care of what? The rape charges? This kid’s texts beg the question, what exactly has coach Saccoccia taken care of for his players before? Why would they think he has the power to make rape charges go away? It sounds pretty shady to me. There’s no question about this however; Coach Saccoccia needs to be fired and the football stadium (and anything else) named in his honor should be promptly renamed.
Besides the two kids, both of whom apologized to the young girl and her family after hearing the judge’s verdict, only the father of Ma’Lik Richmond, Nathaniel, has publicly acknowledged any role in this event. Mr. Richmond spoke about not being there to help raise and guide his son due to his struggles with alcoholism and had this to say to the court:
“I apologize to the world, not only my community, for the bad light that has been shined upon Steubenville and everybody else. I feel responsible for [Ma’Lik’s] actions. I’m gonna bear his pain with him. I’m sure Trent and Ma’Lik will learn a valuable lesson from this and become productive citizens in this world one day.”
The lack of a positive father figure may very well have contributed to Ma’Lik’s attitudes towards girls and his actions that night. But it most certainly wasn’t the only factor. Let’s not kid ourselves. The fact is, from Steubenville to your town we all live in a rape supportive culture and given the statistics, this sort of thing could (and probably has to some extent) happened near all of us. Until we change the messages we give our boys and push our coaches to understand the power and influence they have over kids attitudes then there will be plenty more Steubenvilles to come. It is this reality combined with the power, privilege and hero worship the residents of Steubenville bestowed on these boys that fueled their behavior. So I commend Mr. Richmond for being the first person connected to this disturbing event to recognize not only the the role he played, but the amount of people affected and take a first step towards reconciliation. Lets hope others, particularly the town’s adults start doing the same by engaging in honest discussion about how to make sure this sort of thing never happens in Steubenville, Ohio again.