UPDATE: Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, the two footballers charged with the rape of the 16-year-old girl in this story, face trial in Ohio today (Wednesday 13 March).
Defense attorneys for the two men have denied the charges and will request a dismissal.
Disturbingly, the defense team will argue that the young woman, who was heavily intoxicated on the night and passed out several times, consented to sex because she did not “say no”.
“The person who is the accuser here is silent just as she was that night, and that’s because there was consent,” said Richmond’s attorney, referring to the fact that the victim is not expected to testify during the trial.
“There’s an abundance of evidence here that she was making decisions, cognitive choices. She didn’t affirmatively say ‘no’.”
It is anticipated several witnesses will testify throughout the trial held at a juvenile court in Steubenville.
By MELISSA WELLHAM
WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
After the horrific stories of gang rape and assault [Rebecca Sparrow’s piece here is a must-read] that have been emerging from India in recent weeks and the subsequent media furor – it can be easy to forget that these incidents are definitely not isolated to one country. Rape – and a culture that condones rape – can also be seen in the western world.
Two 16-year-old boys – Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays – are set to face trial next month in Steubenville, Ohio, on charges that they raped a 16-year-old girl. And the circumstances surrounding this alleged crime have divided the small town community of 18,000.
This is what police have pieced together from the various versions of events the teenagers of the town have recounted:
A group of teenagers – footballers at Steubenville High – were at a house party. So was a girl. The girl became inebriated and around midnight she left the party with a number of the ‘Big Red’ football players. They took her to another two parties, by which point in the evening she was barely conscious.
At this point, the story becomes more graphic and distressing.
According to the New York Times, witnesses saw Mays and Richmond – two of the footballers – flash the girl’s naked body as a joke, penetrate her digitally on numerous occasions, coerce her into oral sex, and expose themselves to her.
Other students on Twitter and YouTube claim to have seen people urinating on the girl and anally raping her.
When she awoke, the girl could not remember the incidents from the night before clearly.
But she didn’t have to.
Because explicit and compromising photographs, tweets and Facebook statuses – from the footballers themselves, and from others who saw what happened – were already online.
Multiple students had taped and photographed the alleged assault. There was a photograph of the girl, passed out, being carried from a party by her wrists and ankles. Tweets showed that, throughout the night, the perpetrator’s friends were referring to themselves as the ‘rape crew’.
Other offensive tweets shared between the footballers included, “Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana,” and “Some people deserve to be peed on.”
Teenage footballers, Mays and Richmond were arrested a week later.
After such a publicly committed – and advertised – incident, you might assume that the community would rally together and condemn a culture that deems rape as acceptable amongst its young people.
That’s not what happened.
The community did rally together… in support of the footballers.
Messages shared on social media shamed the girl and suggested she’d consented to the events that took place that night. In a public statement, Nate Hubbard, a Big Red volunteer coach, said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think … What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
The response of the town, and the community culture that saw everyone fall into line behind the footballers and treat the victim herself like a criminal, has drawn criticism from around the world.
Commentators in the US have said that the ‘protection’ afforded to the football team was appalling, and criticised the perceived culture of sexism in the sport.
You can only imagine how horrific this entire situation must have been for the young girl involved. From not being able to remember the incidents of the evening, to seeing the lurid details emerge online, to having to face criticism from her peers and other members of the community – the situation is truly what nightmares are made of.
The message this series of events sends to young women is that you should not come forward if you have been assaulted. Because people will not believe you. People will blame you. People will call you a ‘slut’. It sends the message that it a woman’s responsibility to not get raped, rather than a man’s responsibility to not rape.
In recent weeks, the case has once more become the centre of media attention, as a hacker-activist group known as ‘Anonymous’ circulated a video that shows footage of several boys talking about the events of the evening.
One student in the video claims to have witnessed the alleged rape – and laughs about how the victim appeared to be ‘dead’. The anonymous group is apparently committed to releasing private information on people they believe are involved in a cover-up protecting the footballers.
Although some might applaud Anonymous for distributing evidence of the assault, this brand of online vigilante justice is itself on morally shaky ground.
In the time since the alleged assault, the father of one of the accused boys has proclaimed his son’s innocence on many occasions. According to a local newspaper article, he said: “He is a good child, an outstanding student and a credit to Steubenville High School. I ask you to let justice prevail.”
Below is a video in response to what happened that night.
What do you think of the video?
What do you think is the best way to change a culture so that it doesn’t condone rape?
Can you imagine a scenario like this happening in Australia?