The Steubenville Rape Verdict: Guilty

Both high school football players accused in the Steubenville, OH rape trial were found guilty on all counts Sunday morning – the same Steubenville that became notorious earlier this year for its football team’s “rape crew,” who proudly boasted about gang-raping a girl in a video that went viral. To catch up, quickly:

The 16-year old victim claimed to have been unconscious at the time of her assault. She was at a party with her assailants, blacked out, and woke up in a strange house, naked. She later learned what happened to her through text messages, pictures, and posts on social media by classmates who witnessed the assault (let that sink in for a minute). Witnesses say she was seen to be too drunk to move or talk – whether she was roofied remains unclear. The suspects convicted as juveniles with rape by digital penetration are Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, members of the Steubenville High School football team.

1. Two ex-friends of the victim testified against her, saying:
– She had a crush on one of her assailants
– She drank at least four vodka shots and two beers that night
– She did not believe the accuser, “Because she lies about things.”

2. Mark Cole, a member of the football team who was present during the assault and granted immunity for his testimony, said he recorded video of Trent Mays performing a sex act on the unconscious victim in a car on the night of the assault, but deleted it the next morning, realizing it was wrong. He also testified that later, when Mays attempted to have the girl perform a sex act on him, “she didn’t really respond to it.”

3. Evan Westlake, 18, also on the football team, testified that he witnessed Richmond digitally penetrating (ie. with his fingers) the victim, but didn’t stop it, because, “It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone.” Anthony Craig, 18, another witness, also testified to Richmond digitally penetrating the victim, saying, “She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t talking. She wasn’t participating,”

4. The victim was initially reluctant to name her assailants when she went to the hospital after the incident, “because honestly, I was praying that everything I heard wasn’t true. I didn’t want to get myself into drama because I knew everyone would just blame me.”

Let’s just clear up a few things, lest anyone be confused:

1a. No matter how hard someone is crushing on you, it doesn’t give you a right to penetrate them in any non-consensual way. Not with your fingers, not with your boner, not with anything. Ever. Even if you’ve had consensual sex before, it has to be consensual every. single. time.

1b. A drunk person does not equal a rape-able person. No one equals a rape-able person. EVER.

1c. “Because she lies about things.” — While I respect testimony under oath and have no idea what the accuser’s honesty level is, let’s just pause for a second to appreciate this insightful reasoning that carries all the lyricism of a hastily scribbled note passed during 4th period Bio.

2. “She didn’t really respond to it.” “She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t talking. She wasn’t participating,” <— If this sums up your sexual partner’s reactions to you, then she is not actually a partner and you need to back the f*ck up.

3. “It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone.” THIS. This is a huge HUGE problem with a common perception of rape and violence. First of all, shoving your fingers into an unconscious person is violent. Second, rape means any kind of penetration or sexual act that is not consensual, not exclusively penile penetration. When someone is unconsciously photographed with semen on their body, as the girl in this case was, that in itself is reason enough to define rape as unwelcome sexual assault.

4. “I knew everyone would just blame me.” My neck hurts from shaking my head so much. This is why cases like this are so important. Because rapists should be the ashamed ones, but we perpetuate a culture of victim blaming while 97% of rapists are never jailed. There is no reason, under any circumstance whatsoever, that a person deserves blame for an uninvited sexual assault. There is a vast ocean of interactions, consent, and mutual engagement between flirting and sex, and one partner being unconscious is not even a seagull flying over it.

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