The verdict in what has become known everywhere as “the Steubenville rape case” came down on Sunday but, far from bringing any kind of closure to an ugly episode, it has touched off an unparalleled round of social-media nastiness and exposed a widespread belief that the victim was to blame for her plight.
It’s almost impossible to believe that some of the things that have been tweeted in the wake of the decision are the real opinions of real people, and not some sort of sick satire.
In the case, a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, who had passed out at a high-school party from drinking alcohol was repeatedly raped and violated by teen boys while others stood by and cheered them on. There are also reports that she may have been urinated on. The boys boasted of their actions on various social media, and took pictures of the unconscious girl and triumphantly shared those, too.
Two of the boys, Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, were convicted in juvenile court on Sunday and sentenced to at least one year in juvenile detention.
Within hours, people on Twitter, including many who seemed to be teenagers themselves, were posting their opposition to the conviction and/or voicing sympathy for the rapists.
“They did what most people in their situation would have done,” said @zJosiah.
“That’s not rape you’re just a loose drunk slut,” typed @romano_santino.
A number of Tweeters rounded up here were convinced the girl brought it on herself by drinking too much, and that she should have been more thoughtful of the teenage boys around her before putting them in the apparently unfair and difficult position of having to rape her. “Be responsible for your actions ladies before your drunken decisions ruin innocent lives,” wrote @THEkayla_jeter.
Even some mainstream media seemed confused about the issue. CNN has taken a beating for going to the scene of the verdict live in the minutes after it came down, only to have the first reaction from reporter Poppy Harlow to be a lament for the “two young men who had such promising futures” seeing their lives ruined by the verdict. The reporter goes on and on about the boys and how “moving” it was to see them face the consequences of their actions, and never once mentions the victim. In the same segment, a CNN analyst refers to the “tragedy” of the verdict.
This was a case of children raping a child. It is incredibly tragic, but the real horror is that many young people believe that there is nothing wrong with sexually assaulting an unconscious girl at a party, because, as they used to say, she’s asking for it.
The Ohio attorney general said Sunday there will be a grand jury hearing to look at more evidence – which includes thousands of text messages and tweets, as well as more photos and even a video of a boy joking about how often “the dead girl,” as he calls her, was raped – and that more boys may be charged.