Justice in Ohio: But the painful episode in Steubenville is not over
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The convictions of two high school football players in Steubenville for raping a 16-year-old girl last August amount to justice done. But there is little satisfaction in the outcome. Instead, the whole sordid affair -- including its wide exposure on social media -- has been, as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said, "a tragedy."
A juvenile court judge in Jefferson County determined Sunday that both young men penetrated the victim with their fingers, which Ohio law defines as rape. The victim testified that she had been too drunk to remember most of what had happened to her, much less to agree to any sexual activity.
One defendant, 17-year-old Trent Mays, was sentenced to at least two years in a juvenile lockup. The other, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond, will serve at least a year. Both could remain in state custody until they turn 21.
Other youths witnessed the assaults during a six-hour sequence that included two parties at which alcohol flowed freely. It's despicable that many of them were less interested in stopping the rape than capturing the abuse of the victim on cell phones and in text messages, and posting the degrading images and descriptions online.
Mr. DeWine is correct to call for a grand jury to determine whether other charges in the case should be filed. He notes that 16 potential witnesses who attended the parties have refused to cooperate with his office's investigation. The grand jury review also should include adults who became aware of the rape but did not report it promptly.
On Monday two Jefferson County girls, ages 15 and 16, were charged with making threats on Facebook and Twitter against the victim. The older girl threatened homicide and the younger threatened bodily harm.
Some Steubenville residents complain that their town has been singled out unfairly for negative attention. They are right that sexual assault among teenagers is too prevalent. But they should ask whether football at their high school commands too much influence in the community.
Although the cases are different, there are troubling echoes of Penn State's situation with the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Mr. Mays at one point expressed confidence that his coach would "take care of it" and "was joking about it, so I'm not that worried."
Some apologists for the young men assert that the victim must share the blame for her assault because she drank to excess -- the contemptible "she was asking for it" defense. But Mr. DeWine rightly observed: "Rape is not a recreational activity... [Young people] need to know it is a horrible crime of violence. And it is simply not OK."
When the judge announced his decision, young Richmond cried: "My life is over." No, it isn't, but it will never be the same. That's even more true for the victim of this ugly, appalling assault.
First Published March 20, 2013 12:00 am