On Wednesday, the trial will begin for two high school boys charged with raping a young girl at a party. Their story — and the story of their town, Steubenville, OH — has captured national attention, bringing a focus onto football culture, social media, and the issue of consent.
The alleged victim isn’t from Steubenville. She’s from a town in West Virginia, across the Ohio river. But she was at a Steubenville party one night in August of 2012, where the attack is said to have occurred. Reports, and a rather incriminating video, indicate that the two boys sexually assaulted the girl over several hours, in the back of a moving car and, later, in a basement. The assault allegedly included anal and vaginal penetration and urination.
As the trial begins, here’s what you should know about the boys, the victim, and the town of Steubenville:
The alleged attackers are football stars. Seventeen-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond are both on Steubenville High School’s football team — a trait that is widely revered in Steubenville. People in the town have apparently taken sides in the case, and by most accounts the vast majority side with the boys. The alleged victim, they say, got herself into trouble by being too drunk. A New York Times story on the case paints the almost 20,000 person town of Steubenville as small place where, as a local judge put it, “Everybody knows everybody.”
They were originally charged with rape and kidnapping. Details are obviously murky about what happened on the night of the alleged assault, but original charges brought against the two young men included kidnapping, since they brought the girl to several parties without her consent. Those charges were dropped, but Maysis charged with “the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material” because of pictures he took that night.
Social media played a big role in the case. The girl who was assaulted apparently didn’t know about the attack until she found out on social media. Indeed, some of the strongest evidence against the two boys came from their friends and classmates. Videos of the alleged assault were uploaded on YouTube. One 12-minute video leaked by hacker group Anonymous captures another sports player in the town making jokes about the assault, including that the girl “is so raped right now” and “deader” than Trayvon Martin. Images of the alleged assault were also posted on Instagram, including the one below, which was retrieved by a former Steubenville resident from a deleted file.
Richmond described the above photo as a joke in which the girl was a “willing participant.”
The boys’ lawyers plan to argue that silence is consent. Attorneys for Mays tried to get the charges dropped entirely because two of his friends were denied the chance to serve as witnesses. When that failed, the defense came up with a different strategy: They plan to argue that, “[s]he didn’t affirmatively say no,” and thus gave her consent. This ignores Ohio’s law, much like laws in the rest of the country, that agreeing to go out with someone does not mean you have given consent to sex. The lawyers’ argument is perhaps most disturbing, because it actually echoes one of the jokes captured in the uploaded Anonymous video: “It isn’t really rape because you don’t know if she wanted to or not.”
There is a clear media narrative at work now: That two boys, just trying to get by on the love of football, are facing the trials of a public court, and that they might be denied the chance to play again. But that line bumps up against a broader conversation that is just beginning to crack the surface of the mainstream: That women’s bodies shouldn’t be seen as commodities, and that our culture needs to stop teaching women not to get raped and start teaching men not to rape in the first place.