Why the horrors of Steubenville can not be silenced
March 15, 2013 3 Comments
A few days ago, the trial of the Steubenville, OH rape victim unfolded before our very eyes. Last August, a 16 year old girl was repeatedly raped by the members of her high school’s football team. In an unfortunate twist for the perpetrators, the actions were caught on video, with the identity of the guilty parties clearly identifiable. The victim was carried, unconscious, from party to party, where she was abused among a group of peers, none of which raising a hand or their voice to stop the horrific actions.
What is different about Steubenville as opposed to other rape cases carried out by minors is the protection the rapists are benefiting from. Hacktivist group Anonymous has taken upon themselves to release documents and information that had been hidden from media and prosecution alike, documents from not only the Steubenville Police Department, but also the school administration that had known about the rape from day one and had chosen to keep it quiet. The high school’s football team was apparently so successful and a source of such pride in the small Ohio town, that it was better to shield the perpetrators from criminal prosecution than to provide the victim with judicial retribution. It is beyond appalling: it is illegal and is awfully representative of how rape victims are perceived in society.
You can find extensive coverage on the internet, thanks to Anonymous raising trouble and the people at Occupy Steubenville staging protests at the court room in order to bring awareness to that extraordinarily specific situation. There are however three points that I would like to touch on.
1. Systematic isolation of the victim. The mother was called by prosecution during the trial and has spoken about the ordeal faced by her daughter post-assault. She has said that “(t)he daughter doesn’t sleep much and the mother said she hears her crying at night. The mother said there have been threats made toward the family, and a police office is in her neighborhood everyday.The mother also said her daughter has been ostracized by her friends and their parents who don’t want their kids around her.” The stigma surrounding rape victims is extremely prevalent in the Steubenville case. Instead of showing empathy, care and support for a teenager that has been repeatedly violated, humiliated and permanently scarred, the Steubenville community chose instead to scold her and isolate her -as well as her family – for daring to speak out against the pain she suffered, and for pressing charges against athletes that are prevalent members of the town. This is rape culture at its finest: blaming the victim for disrupting the peace. Other kids believe that something is wrong with the victim for having suffered assault, and isolate her even further by refusing to associate with her. What’s more horrifying however is a series of texts exchanged between the victim and a friend: when said friend revealed that there were videos of her assault, the victim asked her, “You couldn’t have told them to stop or anything?” In the face of peer pressure, it seems that society has willingly chosen to side with the rapists, supposedly outstanding members of the community, rather than the victim, shamed in staying home. One of the rapists’ father, Nathaniel Richmond, said the following about his son, currently charged with rape and in the juvenile system:
“I am speaking on behalf of my son, Ma’lik, when I ask you to not rush to a personal judgment. He is a good child, an outstanding student and a credit to Steubenville High School. I ask you to let justice prevail,” stated Richmond.
He then went on to quote Martin Luther King (sic) in hoping for a fair trial.
2. The debate surrounding the so-called “blurred line of consent”. Two media conglomerates are guilty for misrepresenting the victim in a way that associates itself with victim-blaming: CBS, talking about the “alleged” victim of the Steubenville rape case, when there is nothing that is alleged about the fact that Jane Doe is, in fact, a victim. This type of vocabulary, usually used by press to protect the Habeas Corpus of the presumed guilty party, does not and should not apply to the victim in a criminal case. There is ample evidence that the victim has been repeatedly raped: it was caught on photography and video, and documented on various Twitter timelines. This is not an alleged crime, where the defence is trying to prove there has been no misconduct or wrongdoing. The prosecution is going for rape charges because there has been established rape. CBS had no business implying that Jane Doe could perhaps have not been raped when the whole issue has been the blatant criminal behaviour without either intervention from witnesses or peers. Jane Doe is NOT an alleged victim, and not recognizing her status is a serious mistake on the part of CBS.
That same article relates the issue of the intoxication of the victim, also discussed in the New York Times. The issue addresses the question of consent. Said line of consent is said to be blurred, while it is not. It is extremely clear. If one person is asleep, unconscious, or past the point of coherent thought (under the influence of any substance), no consent can be given. It is clear. However, we have been led to believe, in a culture so permeated by rape apologists, that the line of consent was a blurry one and subject to interpretation, on the part of the victim for one, and on the part of the judicial system if it becomes involved. It can not be stressed loudly enough: CONSENT IS NOT A BLURRY CONCEPT. It is NOT subjective. It is NOT subject to interpretation. It is NOT a matter of discussion. It was however to be expected that during the trial, the situation of the 16 years old victim was going to be addressed: she was in a severely intoxicated state. From the New York Times article:
A state forensics investigator, Joann Gibb, methodically quoted from text messages that she said came from the phone of one of the defendants, Trent Mays, 17, and from the phones of friends and classmates. The messages described the inebriated girl as “dead” or as a “dead body” and stated that Mr. Mays acknowledged penetrating the girl with his fingers. (…)
Mr. Mays also texted that the girl “was like a dead body” and that he did not try to have oral sex with her because “she would have thrown up,” while denying that he drugged the girl and texting that he tried to take her beer away.
At one point, a friend texted to Mr. Mays, “You are a felon.”
Let the record show that one of the defendants, Mr. Mays, had acquaintances and friends themselves capable of understanding, even through the restrictive medium that is a text message, that the situation here was NOT consensual and that Mr. Mays had committed a crime. It is the defense’s method during this trial to prove that the victim was still capable of walking and talking, even while being sufficiently impaired to not remember the incident the following day, and that reports from witnesses include that the girl has been “dragged” from party to party (as opposed to walking there by herself). It is another example of victim-blaming that rapists often use a line of defence implying that unless the rape victim says “no” implicitly and clearly, the sex was consensual. It perpetuates a myth that it is an acceptable line of defense, that a judge could rule in favor of the defendant if the victim was proven to be intoxicated – or worse, than her intoxication led to the situation.
However, let’s show appreciation to MSNBC for debunking the myth of the “acquaintance rape”.
3. The obstruction by Steubenville PD and school administrators. I have previously hinted at the fact that the actions of Steubenville Police Department and school administrators were nothing short of obstruction. Anonymous has indicated that the coach of the football team had known of the rape and had “taken care of it” (as proved by a series of texts exchanged between members of the team). Coach Reno, once informed of the salacious activities of his team members, told one of the defendants he was in danger of being kicked off the team, and that he was going to “take care of it”. Any school administrator informed of criminal behaviour is under duty to immediately report it to the police. Instead, beloved coach Reno Saccoccia tried to cover up the activities and deal with it internally by sanctioning the defendants. What is clearly a breach of trust in administrators and criminal irresponsibility as an adult in charge of minors is over-emphasized by the fact that Coach Saccoccia is friends with the Steubenville Sheriff, Fred Abdala. There are now rumors surfacing all over the media coverage that the Coach is expected to resign, despite his outstanding status in Steubenville. Both Police Department and school – as well as Ohio State University, involved because an 18 years old defendant studies there – have kept quiet and have shown complete disregard for the fact that extremely incriminating information has been released by Anonymous: videos, text messages, twitter timelines, bodies of proof that the defendants thought they had deleted by the hackers had managed to find nonetheless. This begs the question – what would have happened during the Steubenville trial had Anonymous not made the files public?
The definition of obstruction of justice is as follows: A criminal offense that involves interference, through words or actions, with the proper operations of a court or officers of the court. Emphasis on the fact that obstruction is a criminal offense (criminal status 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 1501–1517). Clause 1503 offers a broader reading of the definition of obstruction: it would apply to anyone who “corruptly or by threats of force, or by threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” . Coach Saccoccia intervened in the course of events as early as the day following the rape and tried to cover his team’s actions. This, according to Clause 1503, constitutes obstruction: by his actions, corruptly, he tried to cover up a criminal action. Because Steubenville is a small town that appears closer to Twin Peaks that anywhere else, Saccoccia’s sister-in-law is also the clerk for Judge Kerr, who was formerly in charge of the case (until he recused himself). Saccoccia, in a dark twist, is a mediator in the juvenile court system. When he said he was “taking care of it”, he wasn’t necessarily speaking metaphorically.
What about Sheriff Abdalla? Although the police chief has made repeated requests for witnesses of the crime to come forward, Anonymous’ Steubenville Files are accusing him of being tied to the football team through a gambling and henceforth to lean towards protecting the players. Anonymous revealed to The Atlantic Wire:
We have been working with a source who is an employee at the Spot Bar in Steubenville who we trust to provide us with solid material. This source reported that last Friday, as the “Steubenville Files” disclosure was really beginning to go global — Abdalla stormed into the Spot Bar and announced out loud: “No one says anything, no one talks to anybody.” He then proceeded to the back room of the bar to have a meeting with his “business partners.” Our source also added that far from shutting down, business continues as usual and is brisk.
The question remains: where would the victim be if Occupy Steubenville hadn’t staged protests to support the victim and shame the rapists? Would there be an ongoing and global trial right now had Anonymous not released The Steubenville files?
Steubenville is a disturbing case, not only because of the horrific facts that took place in the Ohio town, but because of the display of distrust in the judicial system to conduct a fair, objective and uninterrupted inquiry of criminal misconduct. It was up to a group of vigilante citizens to reveal the name and faces of the rapists, to expose the lack of involvement of school administrators, and to force the hand of local police to pursue an investigation when it was clearly hinted that no one wanted to go after the town’s star athletes.
We need a massive overhaul of the judicial system.