After the Steubenville Trial: Pity the Poor Victimizers

If you’ve spent any time on social media today, you’ll have heard about the dreadful coverage of the Steubenville rape verdict by some news outlets and TV networks. The prime target of ire has been CNN, which focused attention right away on the two perpetrators who were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old young woman last summer rather than on the rape survivor. Here’s what CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow reported to CNN anchor Candy Crowley from Steubenville, right after the verdict was read.

I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional—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 believe their life fell apart.

One of—one of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to me, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’

But even that wasn’t enough sympathy for the guilty young men. Crowley “brought in” CNN legal contributor Paul Callan and asked him about the terrible emotional toll on the convicted rapists.

You know, Paul, a 16-year-old now just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, still sound like 16 year olds. The other one, 17. A 16-year-old victim.

The thing is, when you listen to it and you realize that they could stay [in juvenile jail] until they’re 21, they are going to get credit for time served. What’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Candy, we’ve seen here a courtroom drenched in tears and tragedy and, you know, Poppy’s description, I think, you know, sums it all up. But across America scenes like this happen all the time.

I know as a prosecutor and defense attorney, when that verdict is handed down, usually it’s just the family and families of the defendants and the victims, there’s always that moment of just lives are destroyed. And lives have already been destroyed by the crime. And we got a chance to see that.

But in terms of what happens now, yes, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law and, by the way, the laws in most other states now require such a designation in the face of such a serious crime.

That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see they’re registered sex offender. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet where these things are posted. Neighbors will know they’re a registered sex offender.

It’s really something that will have a lasting impact. Much more of a lasting impact than going to a juvenile facility for one or two years.

Finally, Crowley remembers the young woman who was raped.

CROWLEY: Paul, thanks. I want to bring Poppy back in—because, Poppy, there’s—you know, the 16-year-old victim, her life, never the same, again. And I understand you have been talking to some of the families involved.

HARLOW: Her life never the same again. Absolutely, Candy. The last thing she wanted to do was sit on that stand and testify. She didn’t want to bring these charges. She said it was up to her parents.

But I want to tell our viewers about a statement that her mother just made, just made in the court after the sentencing. Her mother just said that she has pity on the two young boys that did this. She said human compassion is not taught by teachers or coaches. It’s a God-given gift, saying that you displayed a lack of compassion, a lack of moral code, saying that you were your own accuser throughout this for posting about this all over social media. And she said she takes pity on them.

The point made here wasn’t that the rape survivor and her family might be haunted and scarred by this experience–which was shockingly publicized with photographs and vile tweets on social media–but that she supposedly didn’t want to press charges. And that she, too–like the newscasters–feels such pity for the young men.

Several petitions have now been circulated demanding that CNN apologize for this perpetrator-centered coverage–which many have called an example of rape culture at work–including this petition from

The Steubenville story is hardly over. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced he will continue investigating the case, considering charges against those who watched or became aware of last summer’s attack but failed to speak up. That could include other teens, parents, school officials and coaches for the high school’s football team. Stay tuned.

Photo of CNN center in Atlanta by Flickr user tanjila under license from Creative Commons 2.0


The late Michele Kort—a dedicated feminist—was the senior editor of Ms. magazine for 13 years. She died June 26, 2015, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She worked for decades in field of journalism, covering sports, music, culture, art and feminist issues for publications like LA Weekly, The Advocate, Shape, Redbook, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Songwriter, InStyle, Living Fit, Fit Pregnancy, Vegetarian Times, Fitness, UCLA Magazine, Women's Sports and Fitness and more. She is the author of four books, including a biography of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro. Rest in power, Michele.