Media Coverage of Steubenville Rape

Two Steubenville, OH football players were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl yesterday. Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were both found guilty of rape and Mays was also found guilty of disseminating a nude photo of a minor. Mays was sentenced to serve at least two years in a juvenile detention center and Richmond was centered to at least one year. Both could be held until they turn 21. Both are labelled as registered sex offenders.

There has been a lot of media coverage regarding the nature of the crime and the short trial (a juvenile court judge heard the case for four days before making his decision). You can read up on the specifics here and here.

CNN has received a lot of criticism for their coverage of the trial and the verdict, including heated accusations that Poppy Harlow, the reporter on the scene in the courtroom, is a “rape apologist.”

After a judge read the guilty verdict, Candy Crowley told Harlow, “I cannot imagine having just watched this on the feed coming in. How emotional that must have been sitting in the courtroom.”

Harlow  responded:

“I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.”

You can read the full transcript of the interaction here. Harlow goes on to say that the parties were “alcohol-fueled” and discussed Richmond’s unhappy childhood, as if to excuse his actions. Crowley later asked asked CNN legal contributor Paul Callan how the guilty verdict would affect the teenagers. He responded “it will have a lasting impact” on their lives. It seems as though they are more concerned with the boys’ lives who are ruined than the young girl who was raped. There were many mentions of how the “verdict” ruined these boys’ lives instead of their decision to rape an unconscious, underage female, photograph and video the act, and spread it around.

Watch the interview below:

There is a Change.org petition demanding an apology from CNN for their coverage. The introduction to the petition, written by Gabriel Garcia, reads as follows:

“That CNN decided to paint the tears of the convicted Steubenville rapists in a sympathetic light and say how their lives were ruined — while completely ignoring the fact that the rape victim’s life is the one whose life was ruined by these rapists’ actions — is disgusting and helps perpetuate a shameful culture in which young people never understand the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed and ostracized. Changing that culture must be done brick by brick, and it can start by heaping public shame on this major cable news network and forcing them to admit that they are wrong. Publicly.”

This petition has over 45,000 signatures at this time. Including mine. The lessons the media are presenting are perfect example of how strong rape culture is in this country: Don’t get too drunk, if you rape someone, don’t take photos of it, if you rape someone and take photos of it, don’t share them with your friends. By saying “these poor boys’ lives are ruined” is taking their choices out of the equation and making them the victims instead of the girl who was raped.

Whenever anything happens in this world, I am always shocked at how terrible people are on Twitter. Whether it’s racist tweets during the Papal conclave, racist (and truly scary) tweets during Obama’s second inauguration, racist (and sexist!) tweets regarding Michelle Obama’s Oscar presentation, I am always disgusted because I forget that people like this exist. People who thrive on hate and violence behind the safety of their computer screen. This case has been no different. Victim-blaming at it’s ugliest:

You’re right Kayla, it IS all too familiar. It’s too familiar that women aren’t safe. It’s too familiar that men take advantage of women when they are vulnerable. It is too familiar that guys can get drunk, pass out, etc. without fear.

Through this trial, Ohio has taken an important step in holding rapists accountable for their actions. An absence of “no” does not mean “yes.” “Enthusiastic consent” should be taught to all men and women so we are all on the same page. This case shows that putting high school athletes on a pedestal and making them think that they are above the rules is dangerous for everyone.

The investigation is not complete. A grand jury will be convened starting around April 15 to determine if anybody else should be charged. Keep an eye out for continued coverage.

UPDATE: Two teenager girls were charged with threatening the rape victim on Twitter and Facebook.

UPDATE 2: Ma’lik Richmond’s attorney plans to appeal the conviction claiming that a 16-year-old’s brain is not fully functional enough to determine whether raping an unconscious girl is a bad decision. Walter Madison appeared on Piers Morgan to argue his point:

“I don’t believe that a person at 75 years old should have to explain for something they did at 16 when scientific evidence would support your brain isn’t fully developed … when evidence in the case would suggest that you were under the influence.”

You can watch the video here.

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