What Has, and Hasn’t, Changed Since the Steubenville Rape

3096167399_99f1c3002a_zAfter Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays were found delinquent of raping an incapacitated 16-year-old girl in August 2012, critics watching the case leveled a stinging allegation against Steubenville, Ohio: In the hero-worshipping football town, star players—like Richmond and Hays—can do no wrong. That accusation proved true this week when Richmond, released from juvenile detention after serving nine months of a one-year sentence, was admitted back onto Steubenville High School’s Big Red football team, rejoining a privileged class of students while his victim carries on coping with the trauma of rape.

While the justice system may have punished Richmond as it saw fit, it’s also the job of schools and communities to create a safe environment for young people. Steubenville and its local high school, unfortunately, have done little to create that safe space.

School officials say students and teachers spent a large portion of last school year discussing sexual assault and bystander intervention; however, it appears these efforts will not continue in full force this year once Richmond has returned to school. School superintendent Micheal McVey told Jezebel that Steubenville City Schools have only scheduled two assemblies to discuss good decision-making (a rather vague concept) during the upcoming year.

Indeed, community members seem more focused on bemoaning the negative media attention wrought by the incident than discussing the unimaginable emotional and physical pain caused by sexual assault and educating students about respect and consent.

Efforts to remove community leaders, such as athletic coaches, who have tacitly condoned rape culture have also fallen short. Head coach of the Steubenville High School football team, Reno Saccoccia, will continue to lead the team even after refusing to punish players who posted photos of the incident online and testifying in favor of Mays and Richmond during their trials.

Initially, players who watched and even videotaped the assault were not suspended from the team—they were only suspended after playing for a majority of the regular season games. Saccoccia says he made that choice because the players saw no fault in their decisions.

Another coach, Nate Hubbard, also directly participated in the horrific victim-blaming that accompanied the trial when he said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think … What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?”

Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, however, has taken action against other community members who failed to uphold their responsibilities as educators in the wake of the August 2012 rape. Last November, a grand jury charged the superintendent of Steubenville City Schools and others with lying or failing to report child abuse following the sexual assault.

“This community is rectifying the problem. This community is taking charge. This community is fixing things. This community is holding people accountable,” DeWine said. “That’s what this grand jury did.”

Meanwhile, the victim is still attempting to put the pieces of her life back together. Brendon Sadler, a friend of her family, told Jezebel that she wants privacy and is feeling “overwhelmed … because people won’t let it go.” Many have used online platforms to suggest the victim deserved to be raped, and Richmond’s lawyer implied that provocative comments and photos posted by the victim signal she was asking to be assaulted. 

Community members “think they’re getting too much attention? How do they think [the victim] feels?” Sadler asked.

To ensure this young woman doesn’t continue to be re-victimized, and to prevent similar situations in the future, Steubenville leaders could follow the lead of SPARK, a national movement dedicated to fighting the sexualization of girls and young women in media. After hearing about the Steubenville rape, SPARK petitioned the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to design a sexual violence prevention education program for coaches. NFHS announced last year that they will offer sexual violence prevention resources for coaches as part of their annual accreditation requirements.

In a town like Steubenville, where coaches have immense influence, educating them about consent and respect would be an important step toward creating a safe environment for students, as would continuing sexual assault education for students. As one player claimed, he didn’t know that digitally penetrating the victim constituted rape, demonstrating a clear need to expand the community’s understanding of assault.

Dozens of other steps could be taken—from encouraging Richmond to speak to his fellow students on how to prevent sexual assault to designing sexuality courses that emphasize consent to offering bystander training for community members—all actions that do not involve allowing a rapist to play on the football team.

Steubenville must send the message that rapists are not heroes and that those who condone sexual assault and blame victims will not be leaders in the community. Until that happens, rape culture will only continue to flourish.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mary L licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Margaret Nickens is a senior at Brown University and an intern with Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter


  1. Karen Tucci says:

    I agree with this 100%. But don’t let it out publicly in the city of Steubenville on your social media. You will be called a hater and trash by people who are coaching grade school kids. Why, because they defend the rapist. What is said in this article is very true. But because of the football thugs people are afraid to speak out. So if I am found beaten or dead ask my friends, they will know who did it.

  2. To call a young man you committed a rape and served his sentence a rapist in the context of his place in his school and community is counterproductive to the prevention of rapes in the future. As a society we should take a rehabilitative not retributive approach, especially in the case of juveniles. Additionally the reality of this situation is sufficiently severe that the harsh language and vague concepts in this piece are not only unnecessary but call in to question the legitimacy of the principles behind rape prevention which is unfair to past and future victims.

    • Rapists cannot be rehabilitated. Every single study ever has shown that, very clearly. It is highly unlikely that the rapists will not rape again.

    • I am sorry, but he will be a rapist all his life. That’s why he ought to be a registered sex offender and not in a school full of under age females. The girls are not safe from him or his friends or the slut shaming town that covered it up. Would you put your girl in that school with him and his supporters?

      • Again, an example of my struggle. I believe that those convicted of crimes should not be forever branded by criminal stigma. We all know that a criminal record hurts any chance of finding future employment, getting into school, etc. We also know that criminal convictions disproportionately hurt minorities. I, and I think Ms., fights against this perpetual stigma. We say that we should not be judged by actions of our past but who are now.

        YET, i constantly see that this bold statement preached in general has an implicit exception–Oh, we shouldn’t just a person’s past, except for crimes of sexual assault. In crimes of sexual assault, we must do everything in our power to forever demonize, attack, and challenge all persons (young or old) from moving on in their lives. A drug addict can be rehabilitated and we must not judge. A robber served his time in prison and we shall move on. EXCEPT let’s mob mentality criminals who commit sexual assaults.

        I struggle with this dichotomy that seems to be irreconcilable with prior chants of a liberal bent.

        I understand that sex crimes might demonstrate a biological predilection in some cases, but I sometimes struggle with, what i believe, is hypocritical rhetoric

    • Mag battista says:

      Are you saying a High School student does not know that rape is not acceptable behavior and that he needs education and rehab? Where is he from, another planet?

  3. Ed Hillenbrand says:

    This story will not change unless the voters take action. Since the voters appear to be reluctant to take action then it is time for some old fashioned corrective action. No, I am not talking about hanging him, although that would work too. I am talking about every married female “going to visit mother” until their husbands get rid of the coaches and staff that has allowed such culture to thrive in Steubenville and all the other communities where this happens. Women — you do have a powerful coercive weapon: no nookie until it is fixed.

  4. Dave Ottens says:

    This mindset is prevalent in the PA-OH area … and leads to the Paterno Penn State.
    Since when is football an academic pursuit? I stand in contempt of the community.

  5. Thank you for writing this. The lack of effective action taken by this community should be a crime in itself.

  6. Lisa Sidor says:

    The rapists should have been expelled, for God’s sake. This is hideous.

  7. Debbie Lindsay says:

    Honestly, I don’t think these boys had a clue what they were doing was inappropriate since the town they live in doesn’t seem to believe they did anything wrong. Kind of a “boys will be boys” mentality and because the girl was drunk and passed out she’s a slut and brought it on herself. Seriously that kind of thing has been going on in Steubenville it appears for a very long time. There are other girls that quietly talk that similar things have happened to them. But you figure in a town with so little going for it, parents of the “star football players” actually believe their children are the equivalent of rock stars and live vicariously through them. These parents actually believe they are something special themselves because their boys have athletic ability. Girls think they are hooking up with Super Stars when they hook up with one of these guys, and really some would do willingly what this little girl was forced to do while unconscious. They have parents kind of like the parents that want their girls to marry Doctors instead of becoming a Dr. themselves. In Steubenville it is a big deal to be with a star Football player and young girls often believe sex is the equivalent of love or at a minimum something a heck of alot more than what it is, SEX. It was pretty amazing this little girl even opened up her mouth considering the fall out she likely knew was going to ensue and it sure did. The parents of these boys need to really have a heart to heart with their boys (again if they thought what the boys did was wrong) and encourage them to become MEN and stand up and talk about their decision to do what they did, and how inexplicably wrong it was. They could single handedly bring that community back togetherwith a SINCERE public display of remorse and heart felt public apology to the girl. These boys could be the key to educating the adults in that town as well as the other teenagers. Boys need to recognize that silence isn’t yes, passed out isn’t yes, half hearted no isn’t yes….only when a girl is clearly accepting of a boy’s advances and full participation is Yes. Honestly the girl involved may be a victim of rape, but she’s a brave girl and has no reason to stand in shame. I would love to come to that town and hold an educational rally and bring every teenage girl I know, and every TRUE FOOTBALL STAR from everywhere with me, and let them educate that community since the community itself is too ignorant to do it. A coach that sits by knowingly isn’t a coach. He’s exploiting those boys for his own personal gain too. Really what else does that guy have going for him. If not for some athletic teenagers who know how to carry a football he’d be just another middle aged fat guy drinking beer wasting away in the wasteland of Steubenville. This could be an opportunity of a lifetime for that town if they had a clue, while the spotlight is on them, they could bring a valuable message to alot of communities. But instead I am afraid they will continue to wallow in their own perceived victimization, condoning anything and everything a football player does repeating the mantra that he suffered his consequences and now his life should be fully restored back to the way it was and he should not be labeled a rapist and he should not have to register as a sex offender while the little girl will never be able to undo what was done to her. Stand up mom’s and dad’s of daughters and granddaughters have a louder voice than the supporters of the team and if they do prevail because it’s all Steubenville apparently has, then pack up your daughters and head for a town where the girls are as valued as the boys. This isn’t the middle east we live in….

  8. shocking and disgusting, the middle east is far more evolved than this godforsaken place

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