CREDIT: Joshua Gunter/Plain Dealer file
This past spring, when the details surrounding the Steubenville rape case first came to light, they rocked the nation. The criminal proceedings sparked a widespread conversation about rape culture, victim-blaming, sports allegiances, and abuse of power. Guilty verdicts for the two teenage boys who perpetrated the assault — both of whom who were star football players in the small Ohio town — were handed down in March. But that doesn’t mean the case is closed.
On the same day as those verdicts were delivered, a 14-person grand jury was convened to investigate whether other adults helped to cover up the crime. Evidence presented during the trial suggests that school administrators, football coaches, and parents may have known about the assault and attempted to keep it quiet. Depending on the conclusion that the grand jury reaches, some of those people could also face criminal charges.
The grand jury reconvened this past Friday to continue considering the case. It was its first meeting in six weeks — and it marks five months after the two teens, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of rape.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Associated Press that he doesn’t know how long the jury will keep deliberating. He noted that some of the forensic evidence involving cell phones and computers is still being analyzed. It’s not uncommon for grand jury trials to stretch on for months.
Even if the current investigation finds that the adults in the town didn’t actively work to cover up the rape, it’s fairly clear that Steubenville’s football culture did play some role in the public response to the crime. During the criminal trial, much of the news coverage focused on the devastating impact that a guilty verdict would have on the two perpetrators’ promising football careers. In March, Yahoo News reported that the small town was torn apart by the possibility that the high school football stars would be convicted. One resident told Yahoo that expressing any support for the rape victim was a minority opinion because “it’s all about football here.”
In April, despite the potential evidence linking him to the rape case, Steubenville’s head football coach got a contract extension.
And speaking more broadly in terms of the impact of rape culture across the country, the Steubenville case certainly isn’t over. Over the past five months, several high-profile rape cases at high schools and on college campuses made headlines, including instances where the crime appears to have been swept under the rug because of athletic affiliations. Most recently, a sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by football players at Vanderbilt appears to have many of the same elements that were at play in Steubenville.