Steubenville Trial: Two Boys Found Guilty of Rape

5 years ago

Jane Doe got justice.

That’s the first thing I thought after watching Judge Thomas Lipps give his highly anticipated verdict in the Stuebenveille rape trial. The boys were guilty. He had gotten up early on this dreadful Sunday morning, and after rereading the thousands of text messages again, and reviewing four days of disturbing testimony, including that of three teen boys who were given immunity after they took the 5th, after considering Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond’s character, after concluding that “many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were hearing and saying were profane and ugly,” he had reached a decision.

No one moved. You couldn’t hear a sound in that packed courtroom.

Image: ©/Pittsburgh Press/

And then Trent Mays began to cry, burying his face in a handkerchief. Guilty on all three charges. Mays, “whose actions were more egregious” than Richmond’s, was also found delinquent of illegally using a minor in nudity-oriented material. He was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a juvenile facility and a "consecutive" sentence that could last until he turns 24. Richmond got a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years until he turns 21. They will both need to register as sex offenders.

In one sense the boys are lucky. They could have been tried as adults. The court chose not to because they had never been in legal trouble.

I could not see Ma’lik Richmond’s face, the star running back of Steubenville’s football team. But here is what he told his defense lawyer, Walter Madison, as the verdict was read. “My life is over.” Moments later, when Judge Lipps asked the 16-year-old if he wanted to say anything, he walked over to the victim and spoke to her. We could not see her face, of course, only his. He told her how sorry he was, how he hadn’t meant to “put her through this,” and then he burst into tears and collapsed into someone’s arms. It was the first sign of humanity I’d seen from any of these teens since I’d followed the trial.

It looked to me, from watching the live video feed, that Trent Mays, the star quarterback on Steubenville High's football team, was less contrite. When asked if he wanted to address the victim, he did not get up. He said, “I would like to apologize to my family and the community. No pictures should have been sent around. That’s all, sir.”

That’s all, sir.

This is the same boy who repeatedly begged the victim in the days following the rape to not go to the police because it would “ruin” his football career. Never mind that he had ruined her life, treated her “like a toy” to be passed around and “degraded” and “humiliated,” as prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said in her opening statement.

It was his football career that was on the line.

Not surprisingly, I found myself reacting throughout this case not simply as a journalist, but as a mother of a 22-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter. I thought of their teenage years, and the bad decisions each one had made, and the failure I felt when they broke the rules, did things that absolutely infuriated me and broke my heart. Parenting a teen is perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. Yet I see many parents just give up at that age, right when their children need their supervision most, because their teens are older, and they assume they don't need guidance and structure and discipline the way they did when they were toddlers. Or they give up because it’s just too damn exhausting and hard.

And I couldn’t help but think as I followed Steubenville that adults had failed every single one of those teens, and the victim, and her “best” friends, who dumped her after she was raped. What kind of coach makes 16- and 17-year old boys think that football is more important than a girl’s humanity? What kind of boys film a girl being raped and then brag about it in text messages and on Facebook? What "best friend" lets her drunken, barely conscious best friend be dragged around by her hands and feet by two drunken boys, who obviously don’t respect her? When she woke up the morning after she’d been raped, she was naked, alone in a basement with Mays and Richmond and another boy, and didn’t remember what happened. She couldn’t find her cell phone or her underwear. During her testimony on Saturday, she recalled being "scared." After her friends picked her and the boys up, and then dropped the boys off, they yelled at her.

That troubles me almost as much as anything else, the fact that none of these teens stood up for the victim, came to her rescue.

The trial touched a national nerve, because it exposed us to ourselves in ways we’re not accustomed to, and have been in denial about. No wonder people were so distraught by this case. There was talk of how the boys “digitally penetrated” her. Of how she was “so raped” and was “deader than O.J’s wife.” Many of the spectators of the sensational trial remarked how it made them feel “sick,” how angry they were, how the night before the verdict they couldn’t sleep. Is it possible we’ve finally had enough of these stories? Is it possible we’ve had enough of teenagers shrugging and claiming they don’t get rape, but also of adults casually contending that some rapes are “legitimate”? It's hard to say.

Here is what Judge Lipps said:

I hope all children and parents who have seen what we saw during this trial can have discussions about how you talk to your friends, about how you record things on asocial media that is so prevalent today, how you conduct yourselves when you’re drinking.

I desperately wish he had focused on rape and consent instead. This case was not about drinking. It was not about social media, either, as important as it was that the activist hacker group Anonymous got involved and publicized the case.

I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, Stuebenville will finally spark not simply national reflection and outrage, but also action on our national epidemic of sexual violence, through educating young people about what is rape, and what isn’t, and why it doesn’t matter how drunk a girl is, that if she does not say no, rape is rape. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, in a press conference after the verdict, announced that more charges may be filed. A grand jury is investigating. We'll see.

Maybe, if this tragic case leads to better awareness, we won’t hear any more teens claim, as dozens did in Steubenville who were there that night of the attack, and in the car, who filmed and then deleted evidence of the crime they saw, that they didn’t understand what they were seeing.

What you were seeing is rape.

Updates: We are not done with this tragic case yet. Far from it. Since the verdict, Jane Doe has received a number of death threats on social media. To top it off, a reporter for Fox News also did an unbelievably stupid and infuriating thing: he outed the rape victim on air, casually dropping her name. So much for protecting the victim.

On Twitter, the case drew an astonishing level of attention. Here is a sample of what was said the past few days, as the victim testified and as the verdict came in:

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