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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
A disturbing aspect of Steubenville? The backlash

By Jane McManus

Trent Mays
Trent Mays, left, and Ma'Lik Richmond both apologized to the victim in court this past Sunday.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole cauldron of a mess in Steubenville, Ohio, is what happened after high school football players Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond were found delinquent Sunday -- guilty in juvenile court parlance -- of raping a drunk, unconscious 16-year-old girl from a neighboring town.

The backlash.

People from the area, perhaps Jane Doe's former friends and acquaintances, unleashed a barrage of scorn and anger on the same social media sites used to expose the criminality in the first place. And, even more disturbing, the backlash isn't coming just from young men defending the honor of the Steubenville football team that Mays and Richmond played for. No, some of the worst of the name-calling and vitriol seems to be from Jane Doe's female peers.

On Monday, two teenage girls were arrested for threats they made via Twitter -- one threatening to kill Jane Doe, and another merely offering to beat her up.

It is surprising. Women are often the victims of rape -- many of us have a friend or sister who has poured out the details of her worst moment, whom we tried to counsel as she debated whether to go to the police, a teacher or some trusted person in a position to help. We know a rapist isn't always a stranger in an alley.

But there seems to be little sympathy for a 16-year-old girl who has been violated and humiliated as jokes and photographs of her limp body were traded like currency in a secret economy.

Teenagers have been experimenting with drugs and alcohol with friends probably since the first grape was fermented. As a parent, you hope your children are the exception. You hope there is safety in the group they choose. You study their friends to see if they seem like the kinds of people who will help an inebriated teen back home safely rather than set up the camera phone.

Which leads to another disturbing element of that night in Steubenville: There was no one who could simply be a good friend to a girl who, according to court documents, was dragged around in an unconscious state for hours.

Steubenville
Ma'Lik Richmond broke down in tears after Sunday's verdict was read in court. He and fellow Steubenville student Trent Mays were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile jail.

There have been a few who stood up for her: Alexandria Goddard, a blogger who screen-grabbed the tweets on the night of her rape before they could be removed; the hacktivist group Anonymous, which publicized what Goddard cached and posted the notorious cellphone video of former Steubenville baseball player Michael Nodianos, who laughed about the girl who was "so raped."

Jane Doe's most powerful defender, though, was her mother.

"This does not define who my daughter is," her mother said on the day of sentencing. "She will persevere, grow and move on."

It had to take courage for that family to come forward. Anyone with children can imagine how difficult it would be to go ahead with the charges, knowing your daughter or son could be on the stand, cross-examined about the most painful experience of her or his young life.

In the case of this Jane Doe, there was little privacy to protect, as images of her from that night were posted on social media sites. The family could have decided to move away and privately heal, closing their eyes and willing themselves to forget. But they didn't. They held Mays, Richmond and, by extension, an entire town accountable, a town that by most accounts wanted nothing to do with investigating this sexual assault.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Sunday the community cannot move on until it knows justice has been served. And the arrests of the two girls in the wake of the verdict could be the first of many more charges to come, especially with the texts, photos and implications that adults in the community were aware of the incident and did not come forward. (One man who could be under scrutiny is football coach Reno Saccoccia; Mays' texts imply Saccoccia knew and agreed to protect the boys.)

Jane Doe's mother told CNN after the verdict that she hoped this could help the town.

"We hope that from this something good can arise," she said. "I feel I have an opportunity to bring an awareness to others, possibly change the mentality of a youth or help a parent to have more of an awareness to where their children are and what they are doing. The adults need to take responsibility and guide these children."

The first step might just be helping those teenagers decide who is more worthy of their scorn -- two convicted rapists, or the girl who endured that awful night.