Steubenville Rape Guilty Verdict: The Case That Social Media Won

A fast and guilty verdict shows how the Internet now plays a crucial role in the prosecution of sexual assault

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Keith Srakocic / REUTERS

Defense attorney Walter Madison comforts Ma'lik Richmond as Richmond reacts to the guilty verdict during his trial at the juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio, on March 17, 2013.

It was a sickening crime that fit an all-too-familiar storyline. Young men who turned a night of partying into an ugly sexual assault. A culture in which high school football players are treated like gods and act as if no rules apply. And an innocent young woman who was abused by people she thought were friends and then humiliated.

But what made the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case — which ended today with guilty verdicts against Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond — different and what made it feel cutting edge is the pervasive role the Internet played. It is a whole new kind of crime when teen sexual assault meets social media and goes blaringly, glaringly public.

(MORE: Steubenville Teen Rape Case: Witness Pleads Fifth as Trial Continues)

There was, to begin with, the Instagram photo of the two Steubenville High School football players holding their 16-year-old victim over a basement floor, one by her arms, one by her legs. The image, which was endlessly reblogged, has a chilling quality because we know what happened next. The young men penetrated the inebriated young woman with their fingers, which in Ohio constitutes rape. (Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, were tried as juveniles; they could face detention until they turn 21.)

There was the now infamous 12-minute video from the night of the assault.  In it, a former classmate of the young men can be seen mocking the victim, laughingly referring to her as “dead” and repeatedly joking about sexual assault. And there was nearly one more video: a classmate of the attackers testified that he took a video of part of the actual assault with his cell phone but later deleted it.

And then there were all of the text messages. There were messages recounting the events of the night. One the attacker allegedly wrote: “I’m pissed all I got was a hand job, though. I should have raped since everyone thinks I did.” And messages to the victim, including one in which one of the attackers tried to persuade her that “nothing happened.”

At the trial, social media were front and center. The prosecution introduced many text messages, including one in which the victim wrote, “I wasn’t being a slut. They were taking advantage of me.” The victim testified that she watched at least part of the 12-minute video mocking her, though she could not take more than a minute of it.

All of this documentation proved critical to a conviction. Sexual-assault trials often come down to “he said, she said” battles. Cases like the Steubenville rape, which the victim has few memories of, can be especially hard for prosecutors to win. Text messages from wrongdoers and viral photos and videos from bystanders can provide a robust record of what actually happened.

Social media can also shine a needed light on how people actually behave. When high school football players, and other young athletes, are charged with sexual assault, many people believe reflexively that they are not capable of the sort of crude and cruel behavior they are accused of. The 12-minute video and some of the other online evidence in the Steubenville case are powerful refutations of that rosy view. Anyone who sees them can understand precisely how the attack happened.

But the influence of social media on sex-crime cases is, not surprisingly, a double-edge sword. We live today in a digital echo chamber, in which the most private of moments may be captured in text, photograph and video, and put online. The victim of a sexual assault can be victimized a second time when images and rumors about her ricochet across her peer group — and a third time when they find a global audience on the Internet.

(MORE: Steubenville Rape Case: Witness Says He Took Photos of Alleged Victim)

Worse still for victims, the Internet never forgets. Memories fade and newspaper articles get thrown out. But images like the Instagram photograph and the 12-minute video live forever online. Years from now, anyone who is curious about the Steubenville rape will be able to bring the worst aspects of the story to life with a few mouse clicks.

One thing, though, is certain: social media is not going away. New technology is on the way that will further up the ante — like Google Glass, which will allow people to constantly videotape whatever they are seeing. As shocking as the images, text messages and videos in the Steubenville case are, we should get used to them. They are likely to be the new normal — for good and for bad.

MORE: Steubenville Authorities Launch Website to Dispel Controversy Around High School Rape Case

157 comments
MichelleFisher
MichelleFisher

@ArnoldRipkin just because the girl was drunk did not mean she wanted to be raped. rape is when the person did not give consent, and in this case she definitely did NOT give consent. no victim is ever responsible, no matter the circumstances. blame the rapist, not the victim.

ArnoldRipkin
ArnoldRipkin

As unpopular as it may sound, the victim also had role in this unless she was forced to drink. Without social media this crime would not have been prosecuted, with it the victim will suffer much more humiliation. And where were the parents who owned these homes?  Teach your children basic respect for others.

PaulineLambertReynolds
PaulineLambertReynolds

It used to be that God was watching.  Hopefully,  the knowledge of social media watching can prevent further party rapes.

JefTaylor
JefTaylor

Justice was served but the penalties weren't enough...

Abdul
Abdul

Even animals have a season, these rapists are worse than animals and must be treated as such. Lock them up and throw away the key, better still, HANG THEM.

Michael_Skiba
Michael_Skiba

Death to rapists. This is unforgivable, and no amount of punishment is enough, nor is any punishment too cruel.

GrammarNahtzi
GrammarNahtzi

Technology is the enemy of the pavement ape.

HannahMasters
HannahMasters

We need to know when our children are falling into harms way...if any of these parent's had our service www.aBeanstalk.com then this event would have immediately been put on their radar the first reference to sex, partying, their child's name mentioned in a post then they could have taken immediate action in real time. Our kids are posting everything as it is happening...this can help us protect our kids...if we are alerted the second things are going out of bounds.

Marl
Marl

With or without media, what those males did was disgusting and vile and should be punished.

Even if a female is naked and drunk, NO one has the right to violate that person.

If males feel that need, they should go home and speak with their mothers and grandmothers.

Macho shithead males also think it ok to rape guys who are gay ... think about THAT!

baneofspam
baneofspam

"Now if we can teach young ladies to act as such and not go getting wasted from party to party."

really?  how about we teach young men not to commit felonies?  

i started drinking when i was 15 years old.  i had "opportunities" to rape, steal, fight, vandalize and commit all manner of crimes while i was under the influence.   i didn't do any of those things.  why?

BECAUSE THEY'RE WRONG AND I WAS TAUGHT SO.  and being properly raised doesn't take a backseat to your vices.  wrong is wrong, and if you're not chastising the punks who committed this crime for not having self-control, you are pathetically ignorant of the value of proper upbringing.

... oh wait, you apparently only care about that for girls.  

raidx259
raidx259

Glad justice was served. Now if we can teach young ladies to act as such and not go getting wasted from party to party. Unfortunately as it might seem, people only give you the same level of self respect as you give to yourself.

drudown
drudown

Give me a break.

Either rape was there, or it was not there.

Citing "social media" is silly.

MartiWilliams
MartiWilliams

Are the Adults that supplied the alcohol to these under-age kids going to be held accountable??? The young men who committed the crime were found guilty...and they were...but the alcohol that was made available at least to me mitigates the rape and the taking the pics/videos which was horrible, because alcohol disinhibits those who do drink and especially young people. There are a lot of people who are responsible for this whole debacle, not just the 2 boys who were charged.

championofwomen
championofwomen

This case is the rape culture of Ohio, the US military and most of America.  There is so much the media isn't telling you about this case because it is bigger than Ohio wants you to know.  They also don't mention the blogger or Anonymous that have brought this case to light.

Time for the US military, whose rape numbers are worse than the rape capital in Africa, to be brought to justice.

theusmarinesrapecom

pendragon05
pendragon05

Eliminate sports of all forms in schools so that academics and brain cell growth can be elevated to the throne of worship.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

The firstline of the article say it all "  A culture in which high school football players are treated like gods"

In the USA and Europe we worship sports, it is literally a God. Wake up people, a 15 year old throwing and catching a ball? This is our new God. These small town parents should get a life   

Coach-K
Coach-K

Ma'lik Richmond sure had that smug smirk from day one of the trial wiped off his face didn't he?

arvakr_alsvior
arvakr_alsvior

All right, this is to everyone who's claiming that the girl was stupid and senseless for over-indulging in alcohol, everyone who's on the 'she deserves to be raped' bandwagon. Oh, oops, you don't even believe it rape. Replace the girl with a boy, if it were a boy being raped by two men, I would bet my paycheck, you'd exclaim with great, extreme disgust that it's rape. While this brings in the other contentious topic of gay rights, (For the record, I'm pro gay-rights) but that's another issue altogether, so I'll leave that out.

So... Guys can get drunk, but girls can't. This reeks of the type of gender inequality I'd thought grown outdated and medieval. It's barbaric and absolutely vulgar. It's barely a step up from, 'If she wears pretty clothes and make-up, she deserves to be raped.' The callousness people are perfectly capable of astounds me. At incidents like this, I do feel a certain desperation wondering if humanity's already beyond salvation. We've advanced so far, and yet one simple incident rehashes all our old faults. Must humans always remain barbaric and vulgar? Can we not ever grow to become decent, empathetic, compassionate beings?

TokiLoki
TokiLoki

I cannot believe in 2016 we are STILL finding people who blame a victim from being attacked (eg "nuclear mike' on this posting and JeffJared)  unreal. She only did offense to herself by drinking. She did not ask or make those guys rape and humiliate her while she was unconscious. ONLY the rapists are too blame for their own actions. She was unconscious. So, if lying unconscious whether due to alcohol or a brain injury means ppl are not to blame for assaulting and raping you, then we live in a sick world, nuclearmike and jeffjared. And yes, juan.suero, NObody won, but this was not a game, this was a crime, no one is supposed to 'win' and no matter what happens to those two awful men, that girl was raped, humilated, and the picture of her victimization is there for all the world to see, and she is only 16. horrid. One of the boys thought it wasn't rape because she didn't say no, even though they stripped her and assaulted her while she was unconscious. unreal. unholy, and disturbing. A shame on our so-called 'culture' for many years to come. Watching those boys cry knowing they do not feel they did nothing wrong (their words) makes me sick. 

jahoney
jahoney

The town reacted just like Penn State and just like the Catholic Church.  Blame the victim and hide the evidence.  

KerriAndress
KerriAndress

You sir, are contributing to the collapse of western civilization. Guess what? Drinking? Not illegal. Guess what? America has no dress code. Guess what else? Rape is illegal. Rape is wrong. Rape is simply a violation of human rights. 

Maybe before making such disrespectful, immoral, unjustified and pathetic comments.. you should imagine your child, wife, sister or mother in her situation. Getting drunk might of been a stupid move by a teenager, but raping her was not. It was cold, hideous, disgusting thing to do.. and no amount of alcohol accuses it. 

Also, by making this statement, you are assuming that as a man, your natural state is rapist. That maybe, just maybe if women dress conservatively and don't drink... you won't rape them. You are assuming that the only way a man can keep from raping is if a woman is covered completely and 100% sober. Perhaps you should consider the implications of your statements, and stop talking about things you clearly don't understand.

Have a nice day.

JeffJared
JeffJared

They should throw that girl in jail with the rest of this farce of an American town.

LeilaKincaidHayes
LeilaKincaidHayes

You know what is worse for victims than the documentation of their rape on the internet? Their visceral, cerebral, and kinesthetic memory of the crime, the violence, the violation of their person. What is worse for their victims than images of the rape on the internet and words about the crime is what their own bodies and minds know and remember. The reverberations of such a violent violation will haunt and terrorize them for the rest of their lives. No one can salve this. No conviction can cure or heal it. No apology or therapy can remove the fact of the basic violation of a human being that occurs in rape. Rape is a damning action. It damns the victim to a life of hyperactivity to stimulus. A phone ringing can cause a panic attack. A car door slam can cause hyperventilating. A loud voice can cause hives and the inability to feel calm and okay. A daily living on the edge experience is what a rape victim gets from the rape. A daily living in hell.  No one has the right to say that what is worst about a rape is the story perpetuated on the internet. Such ignorance is an oasis for those who cannot even imagine the horror of being someone who has been raped.

nuclearmike55
nuclearmike55

To those who have daughters..."ALCOHOL is NOT a girl's best friend"...and this girl
shares the blame for initiating all this by losing control of herself by being drunk.

I have intervened before in past years at several all night parties where drunken women made themselves the "done deal" by being totally drunk & out of control, placing themselves at the whim of hormones and of men w/o concerns for the woman's choice.

All 3 are guilty of being stupid and this definition of rape should apply to a girl under the age of 14. The boys did not drug her, kidnap her nor injure her to result in this conviction...ALL are guilty of being teenage STUPID!!! The jails could not hold all the stupid teenagers if all are brought before the judge. It was a TV verdict!

Expect more sudden such accusations where girls/women who have now re-thought their actions will want a "revenge of my stupidity" against boys/men...Social media be damned....

justiceday
justiceday

The sad thing is how people reacted in that area.  There were people associated with football that were more worried about the team than the fact that the girl was raped and humiliated.  There were not women's groups there to support her in numbers.  There was only Anonymous who helped break the story internationally.

The US military needs to learn that people are watching sexual assault.

theusmarinesrapecom


zilberus
zilberus

There in no point to blame a social media. We live in it and we're part of it want we or don't. This case should be discussed  in every school in America. Other kids must learn from this.

LaureneHamilton
LaureneHamilton

Social media is what got these 2 in the court room. She wouldn't have known what happened herself , only rumors would have told the story. No one would have believed her, not even the police, without evidence. Social media is basically an online confession, evidence included. So hats off to social media and the idiots that commit the crime and post it. Lesson to be learned. Don't commit the crime, there is always someone near with a cell phone, hidden cam or other. I'm glad these two where found guilty. I hope others are shaking in their boots afraid to get caught. I hope, if there are any other victims that they will come forward. Who knows what the outcome of this girls life would have been. I hope now she can start to heal and move on.

JoelPaull
JoelPaull

Everyone was shocked over the outcome of the Casey Anthony case, but how many actually watched every minute of the trial?  But they still felt their opinion mattered as armchair jurors.

I would put that question also, to all those celebrating the successful prosecution of this case on this thread.  You owe it to yourselves to know more than the headlines about this case.

JoelPaull
JoelPaull

I certainly hope that social media didn't win this case.  that's just what we need, the masses deciding "justice"  Rather, social media brought this incident to the attention of the authorities who pursued it to the extent of the law.

cscapitalsfan
cscapitalsfan

Justice was brought for that girl!

We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.  Expect us!

shanghaiTA
shanghaiTA

First off, there are many good points in this article!  However, the use of "And" at the start of 4 sentences and even a paragraph made the paper hard to follow.  This piece also includes 3 "But"s at the start of a sentence, of which two are at the start of a paragraph.  I'm currently taking a Master's level law class at a nationally recognized University.  If I was to submit a paper like this I would would never pass the class.  Teachers at the finest Universities of our nation should be able to follow basic grammar rules, unless they would like us to regress in language to the point of uttering grunts.