Last Summer in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl went to a party. An end of Summer bash that has proven over the last seven months it will change her life forever. She, like teenagers can, drank alcohol in excess and surrounded herself with company she thought she could trust. Months after the incidents of that Summer night, the mainstream media, bloggers and social media have brought it to the attention of the nation and just like rolling a rock down a hill, it has only gained more and more momentum. It all culminates today.
The anonymous 16-year-old girl from Weirton, West Virginia is invited to party across the river in Steubenville, Ohio with some friends. The end of Summer parties would grow larger and larger and amount of alcohol consumed by the party-goers would increase as fast as the crowds. Trent Mays, the quarterback of the beloved Steubenville Big Red football teams, described it as “Huge Party!!! Banger!!!!” on his Twitter account. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only part social media would play in the evenings events.
Twitter posts, videos and pictures began to circulate around the town by the next morning. This 16-year-old girl got extremely intoxicated and, from looking at the pictures, appeared to be paraded around the parties for all people to see. But it didn’t stop there. Some people took advantage of the girl.
One photo, shown above, showed the victim being held, unconscious, by her arms and legs. As more pictures and videos began to surface and suggest that sexual misconduct had occurred, the terms “drunk girl” and “rape” began to be associated with them. Strong words that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Not soon enough after, names became associated with the accusations.
Trenton Mays, now 17 and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 were arrested and charged with kidnapping and raping the 16-year-old girl. They were accused of sexually assaulting the girl once in a car and once in the basement of a house.
A juvenile judge ruled that there was probable cause for rape charges to continue against Mays and Richmond but the kidnapping charges were dismissed for the both of them. According to the judge, there was enough evidence against the young men to bring charges of rape because of eyewitness testimony. Three of the witnesses were other Steubenville high school students.
In addition to a forensic analyst recovering incriminating images from Mays’ cell phone, the three students testifying painted a dark picture of the evenings events. One witness testified that the victim was so drunk she could barely walk from house to house and that she wasn’t capable of walking on her own. He also shot a video of an incident in his car between Mays and the victim but later deleted it.
Another witness testified to witnessing the victim unconscious and naked in a friends basement with Richmond behind her. He claimed he couldn’t tell what he was doing exactly but said that he was “smacking his penis off her side”. The witness claimed to try to get Richmond to stop what he was doing but Richmond persisted.
“It is all right … don’t worry.”
The New York Times is a powerful publication with a far-reaching grasp on the nation, so it isn’t surprising that when they published the Steubenville rape case story in December, months after the incident, it began to quickly become the biggest story in the country. What had been essentially a local news story was now thrust into the national spotlight. The Times reviewed the case to its readers and in doing so, introduced us to Alexandria Goddard.
The 45-year-old web analyst who writes about national crime on her blog was intrigued by the story. She once lived in Steubenville and knows how far a city would go to protect its football team. But would they go that far? She had to investigate.
As she investigated in the days after the incident, she found the numerous tweets and photos from that night all along different social media outlets. Before the posters could delete their content, Goddard got ahold of them. She then posted them, with the details of the case, to her website Prinniefied.com. She didn’t stop there. She named names, accused people and made some bold claims. All of which culminated with her being sued for defamation.
In her brave and bold outspokenness, she attracted attention to this case that was unprecedented. Never had social media played such a role in a violent crime as it did on that August night. She was a pivotal part of the New York Times writing their article and the Times, in turn, attracted the attention of Anonymous.
When the hacker group Anonymous got wind of the whole situation, they did what they do best. They uncovered everything they could find about the case, the people involved and even faculty and staff at Steubenville high school. The biggest thing they uncovered was the previously deleted video of a male teen talking candidly about the 16-year-old victim. The video below, where victim is referred to as “the dead girl”, may be the most damning evidence, next to actual testimony from the victim, against the two young men accused. It is hard to watch.
Anonymous didn’t stop at just posting the information online. The group organized two protests in Steubenville that grew so large the city opted to hire a consultant from Columbus to help handle the situation. It seemed as though the trial was already under way in the court of public opinion. The same social media that captured the events of that night were proving to be the vehicle that would take them to jail.
Today, almost 7 months to the day of the incident, the trial for Trenton Mays and Ma’lik Richmond will begin. The accuser has agreed to testify and the defense has gotten permission to have three of her friends take the stand too. They will be asked about the events and comments from the victim the day after. Did she remember? Did she consent? The angle the defense will take was that she was drunk, but able to consent to sexual activity with the two boys. The angle the prosecution will take is that these two young men took advantage of a girl who was unconscious and not able to consent. They will have to find a way to show that she was too drunk for consent.
In this country, all men and women are innocent until proven guilty. That has never changed. What has changed is the ability we have to access the information pertaining to, depending on how we perceive the information, ones guilt or innocence. Did this girl have too much to drink, pass out and get taken advantage of? The evidence definitely strongly suggests that. Is there a possibility that this girl is just embarrassed and accused Mays and Richmond of these heinous crimes out of fear?** Though it seems unlikely, it can be considered a possibility. This is why we have a trial. This is why we get the evidence, weigh the facts, have reasonable doubt and have an impartial jury.
I feel bad for the innocent people in Steubenville. The people getting the bad rap. Clearly these individuals actions aren’t indicative of what the town stands for. Unfortunately, the city of Steubenville will have to spend years proving that to a nation that has already handed over their verdict.
**It should be noted I believe these men are guilty. I think they took advantage of this young woman and should pay for their crimes. For the sake of the innocent until proven guilty, I had to shed light on both sides of the case.