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Will the Steubenville rape verdict deter sexual assault?
An Ohio judge sentences two teenage football players to at least a year in lockup for raping an intoxicated girl
Trent Mays, 17, left, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, sit at the defense table before the start of their trial on March 13.
Trent Mays, 17, left, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, sit at the defense table before the start of their trial on March 13. AP Photo
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n Sunday, two Steubenville, Ohio, teenagers — Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16 — were found "delinquent" (guilty) in juvenile court of raping an unidentified 16-year-old at a series of parties last August. The trial had garnered widespread media attention because of the prominent role social media played in documenting the assault, the involvement of hactivist collective Anonymous in publicizing the case, and allegations that the defendants were initially given special treatment because they were part of the popular Steubenville High School football team.

Richmond and Mays will spend at least a year in juvenile detention — Mays will spend at least two because he was also convicted of taking a photo of the passed-out girl nude — and they both could be locked up until they are 21. Reactions to the verdict were strong, and mixed, locally and nationally. CNN came in for its own share of criticism, largely because correspondent Poppy Harlow's initial reaction was about how it was "incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart." (Watch the video below; read a scathing takedown from Gawker's Mallory Ortberg here.)

And while the trial of Richmond and Mays is over, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced after the verdict that he is empaneling a grand jury in April to examine if anyone else should face charges in the small eastern Ohio town. State investigators interviewed 56 people — including the Steubenville High principal and its 27 football coaches, plus the district superintendent — and 16 of them refused to cooperate. The grand jury is necessary because Steubenville "desperately needs to be able to put this matter behind it and begin to move forward," DeWine said, pivoting to the bigger picture:

Everything that has happened in Steubenville has been very difficult — very, very sad — and very tragic. But let me be clear — this is not just a Steubenville problem. This is a societal problem. What happened here is shocking, and it is appalling. But what's even more shocking and appalling is that crimes of sexual assault are occurring every Friday night and every Saturday night in big and small communities all across this country. And there comes a point, where we must say, "Enough! This has to stop!"... Rape is not a recreational activity. We, as a society, have an obligation do more to educate our young people about rape. They need to know it is a horrible crime of violence. And it is simply not okay. [DeWine statement]

Rape may be way too common, but rape convictions are not, says Kathleen Geier at Washington Monthly. Quite the opposite. "Using statistics from the Justice Department and the FBI, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that out of every 100 rapes that occur, 46 get reported to police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 get prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and 3 see the inside of a prison cell." The other "97 lucky rapists"? They walk. So while "at some level, it's sad to see two such young men" get sent into our awful prisons, these "prison sentences serve an extremely important purpose."

It's not even about them or their victim as individuals, it's about the message that is sent.... We have to show that rape is never minimized, excused, or tolerated by a decent society, and that rapists must pay for their crimes. Today's conviction in Ohio has probably prevented countless rapes from occurring, by unambiguously demonstrating the consequences. A powerful blow against rape culture has been struck. [Washington Monthly]

We don't need any of these "What It Means sermonettes" from the liberal media, says Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain. This was one crime, committed by two teenagers, that the media and Anonymous transformed into "a bogus narrative that impugned the entire town of Steubenville and even the tradition of high school football." The concerted effort to "turn this one incident into a symbol — something about 'rape culture' or whatever — is typical of how the media get it wrong with their 'make a difference' social-justice crusader mentality."

This rape case was different, and there are broader implications for society, says Adam Cohen at TIME. And what made the case a potential game-changer is the outside role text-messaging and social media played. "It is a whole new kind of crime when teen sexual assault meets social media and goes blaringly, glaringly public."

All of this documentation proved critical to a conviction. Sexual-assault trials often come down to "he said, she said" battles. Cases like the Steubenville rape, which the victim has few memories of, can be especially hard for prosecutors to win. Text messages from wrongdoers and viral photos and videos from bystanders can provide a robust record of what actually happened....

Social media is not going away. New technology is on the way that will further up the ante — like Google Glass, which will allow people to constantly videotape whatever they are seeing. As shocking as the images, text messages, and videos in the Steubenville case are, we should get used to them. They are likely to be the new normal — for good and for bad. [TIME]

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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