What must first and foremost be understood when discussing Steubenville, Ohio, and the rape of a teenage girl on August 11th, 2012, is that it is a very small town. ““It’s a very, very small community here,” said Juvenile Judge Samuel W. Kerr of Jefferson County, who recused himself [from case]. His granddaughter dated one of the football players initially linked to the incident. “Everybody knows everybody.””
The vivacious pulse once was made possible by the monetary benefits of the steel mills and coal mines has been in consistent decline since around 1948. Steubenville’s former nickname of Sin City takes on an eerie new relevance in Juliet Macur and Nate Schweber’s article while accounts of a once lively history of gambling, prostitution, and organized crime during the cities acclaimed hay day are noted. With a fraction of its previous employment opportunities available after the mines and mills closed, Steubenville’s said to have experienced its steepest population decline during 1970-2000. The cities decline was the largest for any metropolitan area in the U.S. Around the 18,400 people that have stayed many are struggling, living under the poverty line, and according to William McCafferty the Steubenville police chief, “Chicago style crime” and drug use are continuously on the rise.
The Steubenville highschool’s Big Red football team has seemingly been the one outlet of celebration for a city that has endured so much. Macur and Schweber present that the athletic website displays the statement dubbing the football team’s success as credit for the continued relevance of the city which is a key point requiring further examination. Jim Flanagan, a long time resident of the area, expresses his distress at the hero like treatment, that takes form in “looking the other way” with regards to behavior from football team players.
On the night of August 11th, 2012, a string of events involving a 16-year-old female from a neighboring town and many of the Steubenville football players put the years of muffled frustrations towards the preferential treatment for the team at a record volume. While reading the horrific details, I must interject with an observation of my own. With each drink a bartender serves, they are reminded that they are responsible legally for that decision. Over serving an individual, resulting in high levels of intoxication can result in a multitude of scenarios that can not only harm the individual but also put the public at a chance for greater risk. I find it astonishing that as a bartender’s position becomes synonymous for babysitting, adults as legally defined, may drink while becoming more reliant on the bartender’s ability to call the shots, quickly stripped of accountability. Now compare the previous dynamic to a minor who already as been deemed too young to drink and make competent decisions, wouldn’t one drink thus exclude her from her ability to give consent sexually? Legally I would say yes. There should have never been a debate over this minor’s inability that night to make knowledgeable, consenting decisions.
During the protests of William Mccafferty defending against accusations of the police’s lackadaisical approach towards Big Red players, his statement, “If crimes were being committed they are not being reported.” This unwillingness to step forward exhibited by the cities people explains a larger problem of bystanders first possibly not understanding the laws requirements needed to convict, as well as second not wanting to be involved due to fear of social reprisal yet still expecting or hoping for change the latter being the harder issue to face. The fear of social reprisal is powerful in its numbers and in a small town like Steubenville your position is not likely one to stay that of anonymity.
When jobs leave, the wealth follows, and education suffers, in the case of Steubenville, sports became the symbol of something better. The revenue from the football team allows for much more to be possible in an area where resources are scares. For children these sports hold further possibilities they could not obtain by other means, they also give hope to parents who see chances for a better quality of life. Children categorized as minors are like chess pieces moved at the will of the adult players who have their livelihood to lose. This mixed interest blurs the lines of what this city is willing to let slide or in this case flat out deny. The commodification of adolescent sports is a highly conflicting message to these minors growing up in this environment, their role in football for this example not only concerns the future of the individual but also for the struggling family. The hearings in the case are open to the public, but court documents regarding the matter are sealed because the defendants are juveniles. The purpose of these records being sealed seems somewhat problematic. This allows for a speculative aura to continue throughout the history of the town, much like a telephone game where one story by word of mouth is shared somewhere details are minced and replaced. This case can take on an untrue remembrance defined by the prevailing social conclusion. Without the records, speculation becomes the facts for later audiences to base their opinion.
People like Crosier, McVey, and Saccoccia, all hugely influential in the community and involved in the school athletics admitting well after the case had been ongoing to be unaware of the alleged events and details of said events is an issue. An omission of knowledge or failure to make oneself aware of information is not congruent with being innocent. This lack of accountability is the very issue McCafferty shares complaints towards when regarding his frustrations over criticisms at the police force for allowing favoritism. Who do we hold accountable when key individuals are exclaiming ignorance? At what point is there a failure to uphold a responsibility to the children that are under their direction? McCafferty also makes a statement asking why there was a complete disregard for morals on every single individual at the parties that night. Not a single person spoke out to say “this isn’t right.” I fear that the city of Steubenville, and potentially many others, have mistaken the laws ability to enforce and uphold social justices. If individuals are not courageous enough to defend the laws at the local level how does law enforcement go about their role to serve and protect?
Richmond and May’s being said to have no previous record of sexual assault or crime is an asinine attempt at rationalizing their behavior on the night of August 11th. “Saccoccia was one of those witnesses, as was Michael Haney, the school’s varsity basketball coach, who said Richmond was a talented player that ranked in the top 100 high school players in the state.” This quote aligns with the same rationalization made for the more recent case involving Brock Turner whose swimming ability was referenced more than once by his father and ultimately what allowed for his “look the other way” slap on the wrist. These boys are witnessing their superiors who both happen to be males exclaim they were 100% innocent. That they had done nothing, nothing wrong. “She had to make something up” stated by the volunteer football coach Nate Hubbard, “what else are you going to tell your parents…” he goes on. The young men are seeing that they lack the expectation of responsibility in a situation to make judgement calls of consent. This uneven lack of acknowledged competency will continue to drive a wedge between the sexes. I believe it allows for an acceptance that men require or need sex while women are less controlled by the need and more so serve in the act.
The fan of a rival team who painted “Rape Big Red” across his chest is an example of the belief that there are varying levels of the seriousness of rape in Steubenville’s culture. This fan should have been reprimanded for the blatant disrespect. This type of social action showing an acceptance that the topic or definition of rape can be used to heckle a team is showing a lack of competency over the seriousness of this crime. To make light of such an act is to rationalize its presence and severity.
[WS301 – 1]