Steubenville Rape Case: When Social Media Won A Sexual Assault Case

Posted on March 18, 2013 in GlobeScope, Society

By Ayushi Sareen:

March 17, 2013 marks a milestone in the history of “Fight for Women”, as on this very day the two accused in the Steubenville Rape Case have been charged as guilty for sexually assaulting a minor girl.

Many of us sitting in India have no idea about this case. So here’s a brief account as to what exactly happened-

It was the end-of-summer party time for high school students of Steubenville, Ohio- lots of booze, drugs, sex etc. It was during one of these parties, on August 11, 2012, when Trent Mays, 17 and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, allegedly raped a drunk, 16-year-old girl, whose identity has been kept under wraps, ever since the case was made public.

According to the prosecutors, Mays and Richmond had penetrated the victim’s vagina with their fingers. Now you may not call this rape, but the Ohio law constitutes this act as rape.

The girl remembered very little on what happened to her on that fateful night in August 2012.

Now this might seem like just another rape case to you, but trust me, it’s not. What made this case different is the pervasive role the Internet has played here. How a teen sexual assault was made public over social media?

First in the line was, the shocking(because we know what happened next) Instagram photo of the two Steubenville High School football players holding their victim over a basement floor, one by her hands, the other by her feet. This picture was endlessly shared over other social networking platforms.image

Second was the 12-minute video from the night of the assault, which shows a classmate of the accused mocking the poor girl, referring to her as “dead” and repeatedly joking about the sexual assault. There was also another much-shocking video; another classmate of the attackers testified to have made a video of the actual assault with his cell phone, but deleted it the next morning on realising it was wrong.

Finally, were the text messages recalling the events of the night- one allegedly from the attacker, saying, “I’m pissed as all I got was a hand job, though. I should have raped since everyone think I did.” And messages were also sent to the victim, in one of which an attacker tried to persuade her that “nothing happened”.

All of this documentation proved critical in the conviction process. Trials of this nature, often assume the form of a battle comparing statements from both sides. Cases such as the Steubenville Case, where the victim has little or no memory of the incident, are very hard for prosecutors to win. It is evidences like these- text messages from attackers, photos and videos etc that provide a strong record of what actually happened.

But social media in sexual assault cases also has a negative impact, on the victim. The victim will be traumatised a second time when images and rumours about her spread like wild fire across her peer group; and a third time when they find a global audience. Worst is the fact that the Internet never forgets. Memories will be forgotten, newspaper articles will be thrown away, but the ones like the Instagram photo and the video will remain online forever and anyone, in future, wanting to know more about the Steubenville case will be able to bring to life the most painful and traumatising aspects of the story with a few mouse clicks.

Mays and Richmond were finally convicted of intoxicating and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, and were tried as juveniles. Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a juvenile correctional facility, whereas, Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year. But they both could be put in detention until the age of 21 years.

But what is the moral of the story? Teenagers and youth rely too much on social media, these days. Everything you do, everywhere you go etc are shared with the entire world in the form of photos and videos and status updates and the likes. There are features, settings to make your activities private and invisible to people who you don’t know, but they hardly pay attention to them. These settings are next to non-existent. It’s time we realised what is at stake here- it’s our respect, dignity and privacy. Please stop being reckless on social media and care about yourself, because no one else will.

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