Steubenville Sentence Signals Need for Change

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Illustration by Christine Hipp
Illustration by Christine Hipp

On March 17 the Jefferson County Court of Steubenville, Ohio found Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl and dispersing child pornography. It sentenced them to one and two years, respectively, in a juvenile detention facility. They were also ordered to register as sex offenders.

CNN anchor Poppy Harlow lamented how “incredibly emotional and incredibly difficult” it was to watch the convictions of the young men. Another anchor asked about the “lasting effect” of the sex offender label. CNN shortly thereafter experienced a biting response from a public insulted by the network’s perceived sympathy with a pair of rapists.

Regardless, the Steubenville rape case has hit its media denouemont — this is not acceptable.

Far too many Americans believe “justice” was served on Sunday. The pending appeal, as well as grand jury trials of dozens of other teenagers involved with the crime will be surveyed with superficial disgust — then forgotten.

The victim pieced together what had happened to her over Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, as posted by the perpetrators. Along with the rest of the world, this young woman saw herself carried away, raped, and mocked by teenage boys thoroughly aware of their actions.

After months of conspiring to keep the star football players out of court, residents of Steubenville also woke up to find themselves surrounded by a media circus. But their indignation — expressed in rampant slander and threats to the victim — only highlighted the town’s deeper prejudice.

Yes, the American populace has a heinously short attention span. Yes, many courtrooms have dwindled to little more than “he said/she said” arenas of misogyny. And yes, the mainstream media abandoned “fringe” ethics long ago.

But far too many of us know a person like Michael Nodianos, who can gleefully chortle for 12 minutes over dehumanization. Far too many of us have only to look in the mirror (or our Facebook and Twitter feeds) to find him.

We need to rethink rape culture. We need to rethink how we educate ourselves on what rape is (by the way, that chivalrous defense “what if she was your daughter/mother/sister?” misses the point).

Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley’s indignation over criticism for their sympathy with the rapists speaks to a larger injustice still being perpetrated against the victim. After all — who’s to say the thousands of comments telling CNN no really mean no?

The public now pieces together the forensic evidence of media — social media included — that unjustly covered this rape. It is time the mainstream media stop drifting in the rip tide of hatred found on social media and take anchor in justice.