Steubenville Verdict Response Botched by Media, As Few Lessons Seem to Have Been Learned All Around

SteubenvilleReally, did we learn anything, at all?

It’s hard not to ask that question in the wake of the Steubenville rape trial verdict, which found two teenage boys delinquent (essentially equivalent to “guilty” in the trial of a minor in Ohio) for the rape of another underage girl from a neighboring school. Jane Doe has her justice, the two boys will likely be incarcerated until they’re 21 — and have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives — and we were all supposed to learn lessons about the entitlement culture of sports, and why we can never let something like this happen again.

However, the reality is that this “justice” feels hollow as long as the football teammates who actually took the social media images of their friends raping a young girl go unpunished, their coach, Reno Saccoccia, still has a job and the media still makes mistakes in the way of victim blaming and, really, missing the point of this whole episode completely.

As if the Steubenville case could get any more depressing, in the immediate aftermath of the verdict, two more teens were arrested, not for anything to do with the original crime, but for making threats on Twitter against Jane Doe. This sad addendum to a sad story only exemplifies how little has been learned, as not only did these minors use the same social media channels that blew open the original incident, but their specific threats — one appeared to be a relative of one of the rapists, saying that Jane Doe ripped her family apart — only continue to show how deep the entitlement culture went in Steubenville. According to those making threats, it wasn’t Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond‘s fault for being, you know, rapists, but Jane Doe’s fault for being a “whore.”

We can’t know this for sure right now, but it’s impossible to imagine that this isn’t still the attitude of many young people in the small Ohio town.

But that’s just one part of a messed up situation which has only created further messed up reactions. The next question to ask is, “why does the Steubenville High School football coach still have a job?” The answer is, of course, because that community still cares more about football than it does about the fact that it facilitates rapists.

What we know about Saccoccia is pretty disturbing stuff. Beyond being a local legend and a member of the Ohio high school football coach’s hall of fame, he’s also highly, highly engrained into the community. As in, he was known buddy of Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdala. Why does this matter? Because in the wake of the videos and images of the rape making the rounds on social media, some of those involved openly professed not worrying about consequences because Saccoccia would have their back. Worse yet, those comments make damn clear that Saccoccia already knew about what was going on, and was working to make it go away.

So, an adult knew that a girl was potentially raped, yet actively worked to protect the rapists because they played on his football team. Saccoccia “would take care of it.” That is nothing short of sickening, and it is of little comfort to hear that he may face charges of failure to report a rape.

Why doesn’t the school just fire him given the evidence of his knowledge of the rape that came out during the trial? Cowardice? Complete moral breakdown? It almost doesn’t matter, because ultimately the entitlement culture wins with Saccoccia’s continued presence.

And this is to say nothing of the media, who utterly, utterly failed in its duty in the wake of the Steubenville verdict. The first mistake was when FOX News, MSNBC and The Associated Press all leaked, in one way or another, Jane Doe’s name publicly. Suffice to say, that’s a gross breach of journalistic ethics to release the name of an underage rape victim, and the kind of thing a freshman communications student should know not to do, much less The AP.

Then, on the media’s end, there was the sympathy for the rapists, beginning with an ABC profile of one of the rapists before the trial, and including a CNN segment immediately after the verdict in which pundit Candy Crowley waxed poetic about how the boy rapists’ “promising” lives would be destroyed by what happened. Suffice it to say, the concern should be with the victim, and not rapists, but this is exactly how CNN failed in its duty.

To sum all of these complicated, angry feelings up, the reaction to the verdict has been nearly as horrific as the crime itself, which has shown that our society has a long, long way to go when understanding the depth of the entitlement culture and the gravity of rape. Instead of any kind of closure, or a sense of justice, we’re just left with frustration, anger and the hopeless feeling that nothing was learned.

Next time this happens — and this does happen, more often than we’d ever like to admit, at high schools and colleges across the country — we need to do better.

Photo via Flickr/simplyrikkles

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