The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Steubenville, India, Turkey: Steps toward justice for women around the globe

Placeholder while article actions load

Sunday was a day of justice for women. Rape convictions were announced for two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, while arrests for murder and gang rape were made in Turkey and India.

The highest profile case, of course, was that of star high school football players Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia, during a series of drunken parties Aug. 11 and 12 that were captured on cell phone photos and video and discussed in texts and tweets.

After a four-day trial, Judge Thomas Lipps found the pair of football players “delinquent” — the equivalent of a guilty verdict in juvenile court — of the charge of “digital penetration” of the victim, considered rape in Ohio. Mays was also found guilty of taking a nude photograph of a minor. Both face at least a year in juvenile detention for sexual assault, and Mays got an additional year for the nude photo. Each teen could be held until the age of 21, and both will have to register as juvenile sex offenders.

It’s a case that divided the Ohio town where high school football rules, as it does in many small towns across the Midwest. Athletes can do no wrong.

The victim’s mother told The New York Times that the town’s obsession with football was partly to blame for her daughter’s assault. “I do feel like they’ve had preferential treatment, and it’s unreal, almost like we’re part of a TV show,” she said. “What those boys did was disgusting, disgusting, and for people to stand up for them, that’s disgusting, too.”

The story of that night unfolded in tweets, text messages and even photos and videos on the 17 cell phones that were taken by the state as evidence. One 12-minute video was leaked before the trial by “Anonymous.”

“They [the defendants] treated her like a toy,” said special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter.

On one hand, social media gave the prosecution the evidence they needed to convict the young men. On the other, the cyber record also fueled the victim’s public humiliation.

As expected, testimony and comments in the trial got downright nasty. The victim was accused of lying and drinking heavily. She testified that she didn’t remember the details of the attacks (which may have included being urinated on), but she woke up naked the morning after the party in a strange house.

One of the most disturbing aspects to me? No one tried to stop what happened that night. No one tried to protect the victim from assault. There’s almost a feeling of audience participation when reading some of the tweets about the events.

Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, announced after Sunday’s trial that he will convene a grand jury next month to investigate whether additional charges should be filed. “This community desperately needs to have this behind them, but this community also desperately needs to know justice was done and that no stone was left unturned,” he said.

The controversy continued Sunday when CNN reported the verdict. Both young men sobbed when the judge announced the sentence and Richmond told his attorney, “My life is over.” They did apologize to the victim’s mother who was in the court room. Reporter Poppy Harlow sounded sympathetic not toward the victim, but toward the rapists, when talking to anchor Candy Crowley about “these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students.” Harlow said she “literally watched as, they believed, their lives fell apart.”

The football players are having to face the consequences of their actions. Justice, in other words.

Justice also took a potential step forward in Turkey and India over the weekend, for other women who have been victims of violence.

Turkish police arrested a man suspected of murdering American Serai Sierra. The same early February weekend that Sierra’s body was discovered, four Turkish women were murdered; their deaths have failed to garner the same sort of international headlines.

Also on Sunday, six men were arrested by New Delhi police for the gang-rape of a 39-year-old Swiss tourist who was attacked Friday night while camping with her husband near a forest. The couple reported that the man was beaten and the woman raped by seven or eight men.

But once again, blame seemed to shift to the victim, at least in some quarters.  “What happened is unfortunate for our nation,” Home Minister Uma Shankar Gupta told reporters,. “When foreign tourists come, they should inform the (superintendent of police) about their plans. This is the system, but it is not being followed.”

India’s already gotten a bad rap for the gang-rape of a 23-year-old medical student who died after a brutal attack on a bus in December. One of her alleged attackers subsequently committed suicide in jail.

I hope the conviction in Ohio brings some measure of peace and relief for the high school girl who was the victim, and who must somehow figure out how to go on with her life. Her mother sounded hopeful when she spoke to reporters. “This does not define who my daughter is,” the mother said. “She will persevere, grow, and move on.”

I hope, too, that parents discuss this story with their teenagers. Sadly, we have to remind our daughters to be vigilant, while we must figure out how to teach our sons to respect women.

“Why do we teach girls how not to get raped?” my 20-year-old daughter asked me.

“Why don’t we teach guys ‘don’t rape?'”