Steubenville + Social Media- we are all victims

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for the latest social outrage.

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – big red football players sentenced as juveniles for RAPE of West Virginia minor.


Defendant remarks to the presiding Judge:

“I would truly like to apologize to [her], her family, my family, and the community.  Those pictures shouldn’t have been sent around, let alone even taken. That’s all sir, thank you.” – Trent Mays

“I would like to apologize to you…  I had no intention to do anything like that and I’m sorry to put you guys through this and I just… [crying].. I just want you to realize that I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I know I ruined her life” – Ma’Lik Richmond

The boys, who will get credit for time served, were sentenced on Sunday, March 17, 2013 – Mays to a minimum of two years in juvenile jail, one year for rape, and one year for illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. Ma’Lik Richmond was sentenced to a minimum one year for rape.  

  What really shocked the world about this case, beyond their abhorrent and disgusting actions, was the brazen way they flaunted their crime. That combined with the fact that a great deal of witnesses failed to ever intervene or help the girl. In this case, the bystander effect is being digitally amplified through social media; re-tweets if you will, not an original action.  With the amount of social media kids are using these days, and the tendency to over-share without thinking of the long consequences, naturally the first thing they did when they saw something so shocking was to instantly share that with their friends through text and social media. Likely not realizing that any electronic record can never be  deleted with certainty.

while she lay unconscious, PARTY GOERS FLOCKED TO TWITTER:


Bystanders took videos and uploaded them to YouTube, the most famous of which, features Micheal Nodianos (below) joking about the assault & has over a million views.  

The victim was so intoxicated the defendants had to hold her up on the way to the car as they transported her from venue to venue.   Mark Cole, a friend of Mays, testified that he took a video of an assault which occurred during the drive to his home, then later deleted it… more The young victim was assaulted by multiple attackers in at least two locations over the course of the evening, though a great deal of what truly happened remains unclear. Barely coherent for the walk to the car, the West Virginia girl passes out unconscious in the back of a car while being transported to a another house party, where she is brutally assaulted by football star quarterback, Trent Mays.

Text message transcripts were used as damning evidence.

A photo of the two boys, carrying an unconscious girl by the arms and legs, and grinning as if they had just shot the trophy buck, also surfaced. The defendants claim this photo is a joke, that the girl was pretending to be unconscious for the picture and it was all in good fun. The victim testified that she had almost no memory of the night other than leaving a party holding Mays hand and vomiting, but woke up the next morning in a strange house missing her personal effects, including underwear and cell phone.  In the messages, video and tweets from that night, the victim is consistently referred to by the perpetrators and their friends as “dead” or “dead body”.  Step one in victim blaming complete- dehumanization.

 Both defendants were charged with rape by digital penetration, Mays was also charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The defendants maintain their innocence,  but the Judge deemed them both juvenile delinquents (an apparently important distinction from guilty) thanks to testimony from the other boys involved that night – three of their team mates were granted immunity for their part in the events of that August night.

(Text message transcripts can be found here, I would caution that they are upsetting.) 

Cody Saltsman to Trent Mays:

u better check jane doe. SHE’S TELLIN PEOPLE SHE GOT DRUGGED

Trent Mays to Evan Westlake:

Deleate that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.

Evan Westlake:
Deny to the grave.
Trent Mays:

Her dad knows, and if our names get brought up,


Trent Mays:
They knew she stayed at Mark’s. You just gotta say she was asleep by the time you got there.
Trent Mays to Cody Saltsman:
Nodi’s running his mouth saying how dead she was. If anyone asks, we just took her to Mark’s, and she fell asleep.
Trent Mays to Mark Cole:
Just say she passed out at your house if anyone asks.
Mark Cole:



While both Richmond and Mays have been charged with rape by digital penetration (finger banging as the kids these days call it) the recovered text messages and tweets imply it was a great deal more than just a hand up the skirt – penetration, urination and sodomy. Their sentences, handed down to the delinquent juveniles (not guilty men) are remarkably lax; one year, including time served, and out by 21. Basically 5 years at the very most. Good behavior and they’ll be out before they turn 18. A hand up the skirt and a slap on the wrist; boys will be boys after all! Ah, the sweet smell of justice in the morning! 

Yet CNN spends its entire 6 minute report discussing how HORRIBLE it is that for the rest of their lives, these boys will be convicted sex offenders, after an ALCOHOL fueled night. Please CNN, do you really believe that, is that the America you know and love? Note how Mays only apologized for the photographs, barely even managing to sound sincere, undoubtedly his lawyer has counseled him to admit nothing. Mays seemed to know, from reading the transcripts of texts he sent to his friends, that what he had done was wrong; he instructs friends on what to say, tells them to delete the evidence.  Mays knows he’s caught and tries to save himself using very technology that ends up being the final nail in his coffin.  Clearly that will not stop him from hiring the best lawyer possible to argue that the photo was staged, the girl had given prior consent, she was conscious and consenting and those good old boys had just tried to help that poor slutty drunk girl out. Honest.

Already the gears of justice are turning as the defense for May’s tries to subpoena “friends” of the victim to testify about her “lies” and “excessive drinking”.  Slowed a little by the fact that she lives just across state lines in West Virginia, surely the Ohio lawyers will find a way to get their clients out post-haste. Out, as if their maximum sentence of just UNDER FIVE YEARS (until they turn 21) is some unbearably long time for these poor boys to suffer. Imagine watching the CNN news report if the victim was your daughter, or sister, or mother. Or god forbid that it was you. Would a maximum of five years seem like justice?  If you are a rapist sympathizer, take a minute to think about the way that girl will be forever effected by this, then step into traffic.

The primary and key distinguishing factor in this clear case of RAPE CULTURE is  SOCIAL MEDIA

This is hardly the first time a superstar athlete has assaulted someone, Kobe Bryant anyone? Settled in civil court before the criminal trial.   In other words, money and a “sincere” apology are typically enough to get away with rape.  Athlete’s are absolutely idolized, and it has become a recurring theme that the football player can rape a drunk cheerleader and we can all just have a big laugh about it. Umpteen reasons can be found to explain why those victims deserved what they got or brought it upon themselves. When we try to explain why these boys did it the primary defense is they didn’t know they had done anything wrong.

THEY DIDN’T KNOW THEY HAD DONE ANYTHING WRONG. Whether this is true or not, how is it possibly considered a reasonable defense?  The fact is rape culture permeates to a level that these boys are surely convinced of their own innocence.  In the text message they tell themselves “it was her fault, it didn’t happen”.  Its is my personal belief that they knew, and possibly even relished the fact that what they were doing was wrong in the moment.

Historically athletes have been given special treatment by the justice system, there is undoubtedly a social bias, so many millions of people LOVE sports. It doesn’t matter where you go in the universe, men are discussing sporting events.  We give young men these superstar athletes to look up to, then we give them the message that they are above the law. I asked my boyfriend what he could tell me about Kobe Bryant- apparently out with a rolled ankle at the moment but having a good season. I’m certain anything to do with rape was the farthest thing from his mind as he rattled off the stats to me. Its a good thing Kobe, and the rest of the world, managed to put the trouble of those rape accusations behind him, you know it really could have ruined his life forever…

In the past, convictions have been very rare, even coverage of similar incidents has been comparatively minimal.   Initially the boys football coach (Coach Sac, referenced above) was the one intended to “discipline” the boys.  Throughout the case police were accused of not taking the investigation seriously enough, it wasn’t until a social media expert and crime blogger, plus the rest of the twitter-sphere, took to their keyboards to sound off on the sickening miscarriage of justice that the charges were laid.  Without the damning tweets, photos and texts, its likely that what happened to the 16 year old girl would have never even been reported – let alone tried and convicted – and the boys would have carried on their marry way, just like generations of date-rape athletes before them.

Are sports to blame?

In a word, NO. Sports are enjoyed across the globe, you know what isn’t? Rape.  The problem isn’t with sports, its with the failure of the justice system to remain impartial when it comes to prosecuting rapists. It doesn’t matter if he was a quarterback, wide receiver, a point guard, power forward or a fucking fencer.  First and foremost, what we need to accept and verbally acknowledge, is that their identity goes beyond the sport they play right down into that place called individuality, where you are accountable for you’re own actions and expected to conduct yourself within a moral code. Failure to abide by the laws of society should result in equal punishment for all.  Regardless of their fantasy league stats.

Can we entirely blame these young men for not knowing where to toe the line?  At 16 these boys already are hopped up on a cocktail of hormones, give them the home town football hero status, add some alcohol and they believe they can do anything.   Next mix in a bunch of teenage girls, all wanting to be popular and pretty and jacked up on so many hormones that even repellent 16 year old boys like Trent Mays or Ma’Lik Richmond seem nice.   These boys KNOW all the girls want them, they know that any girl who gets to be with them should count herself as lucky.   These girls KNOW the boys could choose whichever girl they would like to date, but are they pretty enough? Skinny enough? Funny enough? Could they be GOOD ENOUGH to have the honor of dating the quarterback? There is stiff competition, so maybe if they drink a little they will be interesting and cool enough.  At that age, hormones do not allow you to always act rationally, particularly once alcohol enters into the mix.  It is a tragedy that things this despicable can happen (and it happens every single day) but when we see extreme cases like this, one can’t help but ask themselves, why? How could this possibly have happened?

the boys are victims too, of a  far greater crime – RAPE CULTURE

It hurts everyone, it effects everyone.  Male or female, victim or perpetrator, lives are forever changed when rape is committed.  What most people are asking themselves is where the blame really lies?  A small town is divided between home team loyalty, and an assault so senseless it almost seems unimaginable.

When taken literally, the answer is obvious- the blame lies with the boys for committing such atrocities against an unconscious victim.  Regardless of how much victim-blaming, dehumanizing spin you put on it,  they performed sexual acts on minor unable to consent.  Unquestionably wrong, and ruled as such by a Judge.

When we look at the big picture, does the CNN style of minimizing their crimes as help anyone?  If we are to believe their Oscar worthy performances in the courtroom these boys are devastated by their actions. While I may doubt their sincerity (and humanity) I do not entirely blame them for those actions.  If you never had a teenage night of drinking that got a bit out of control, you are one of the few.  Men like these are monsters of society’s making. By idolizing them (and for only a game) we put them on a pedestal to be admired, above the rest of us. Is it a wonder that they come to believe they are above the law as well?  Drinking is against the law for minors, text messaging while driving, speeding, rolling through a stop sign – little laws that get broken all the time, especially by rebellious teenagers.  What is one more little law, especially when Marijuana possession is taken more seriously by law enforcement than date rape.

The problem with rape cases is that its often only about he-said/she-said, heard in a man’s world. There is constant victim blaming, perpetuating the idea that the victims choices could have prevented the assault: what she wore, how drunk she was, she has a reputation for lying, she wanted it, she liked it, she gave him prior permission.  Basically if you are raped, ask yourself- what minuscule choice could you have made over the course of the evening (red shoes, what were you thinking you slut?!) that sent the message “please sexually assault me” if you can’t think of anything, just ask someone you know, male or female and they could probably tell you where you went wrong.  Then don’t talk about it ever again, because talking about rape makes people uncomfortable, and we all know you actually just wanted the attention anyways.

In our society, we teach our daughters not to get raped, rather than teaching our sons, do not rape.  Women are expected to be constantly on the look-out, like prey watching for the proverbial hawk waiting to swoop down upon us.  Men are taught boundaries, certainly no one says; “sure son, you go get your rape on, just be back in time for dinner!” We all KNOW that RAPE is WRONG but are then sent confusing messages because of media coverage like CNN’s which minimizes any effect on the actual victim of the crime and instead parades the guilty like some kind of martyr for going to juvie for a year.  Its a joke, and no one finds it funny anymore.

I regularly think about the double edged sword of social media – everything is available instantly, but its also available forever, despite how fleeting it may be in the moment.  Every keystroke of our online lives can be traced by the techno-savvy, the most inadvertent Facebook post these days can cost you a job. Nude photo’s can never be un-leaked.  In this case, despite how sad it is for the victim and her family, the level of exposure through social media may be the only reason she was able to find justice. 

As a woman with major involvement in social media, a blogger living in a rape culture dominated world, I worry sometimes about attracting unwanted attention but refuse to live in fear of what might happen. I suppose if someone decides to stalk me and turn me into a skin lamp that this blog will be combed by experts and the fact that sometimes I wore see-through tops just meant I had really nice skin for turning into furnishings. (If you don’t get the Hannibal reference, I give up on you.)

Standing up and speaking out are the most important things we can do to end sexual violence. While I cannot imagine the devastation of having such an assault shared with the world, the good that has come from it is at least it has opened up a global forum on the issue. I woke up this morning all set to edit photos, instead I spent literally the entire morning bawling while reading though every article I could find, and the rest of the day composing this monstrously long post. I started at 9 am, and it is now nearly after 3 am the next morning. I know I get wordy, its my crux to bear, but this post was particularly difficult to keep short and sweet.  My absolutely heart breaks for this girl. Initially I wasn’t even going to post anything on the blog, but I felt so upset and hopeless reading this case, comments on articles, and imagining how much worse the assault really was, I felt like I needed to take this poison and anger that filled my stomach and turn it into vitriolic words to be forever immortalized online. After all, what else does our generation know how to do but document the important things in our lives and then share our opinion with the entire internet?

Thank you so much for reading, stay safe for me, and remember to be beautiful on the inside. To every single Jane (or John) Doe out there, know that you are not alone, not defined by and not broken by your experience. You matter, what happened to you matters, and don’t every let anyone tell you otherwise. The can dehumanize you, blame you, take your body, your innocence, your life, but they cannot take everything. Do not let anyone diminish your spirit. Stay strong, I love you.

xo, aiyanajane

Let your voice be heard – check out Project Unbreakable, started back in October of 2011 by Grace Brown, who photographs victims holding quotes from their attackers.

project unbreakable tumblr

 If you actually made it to the end of this post and were moved please reblog or share to the social media account of your choice- click the  social media logo buttons below or paste this URL

Jane Doe, who’s legal counsel is acting pro bono, asked that any donations be sent to Madden House instead.. more

7 thoughts on “Steubenville + Social Media- we are all victims

  1. I hadn’t seen the tweets before. Strange, the hashtags add a layer of horror I wouldn’t think they would.

    I was just saying to someone how dramatically differently we’d think about the situation if we replaced the word “rape” with “physically assault” (which, of course, it is). If the story was of a group of boys beating an unconscious girl for several hours and bragging about it online… would there be an ounce of sympathy from any quarter? The very people who are saying ‘boys will be boys’ would want them hanged.

    • I think they really add a level casualness to the whole think that seems just unthinkable.

      for some reason it seems as if society has accepted that men cannot be in control of their sexual urges. we expect men to remain physically in control, yet for some reason rape is accepted as some animal-instinct right that men have, like its a natural state men just get into where they don’t know any better. its ridiculous.

  2. It is disgusting that people at the party were just hanging out there not even calling the police or telling them what they two guys are doing is wrong. Does that generation have no morality? and freaking CNN and other media, reporting on how a random baby got slapped today but with this case they were emphasizing on how the future was ruined for the boys? There are so many things wrong with this I don’t even want to go into it.

    and for those twitter idiots that tweeted about the rape, “freedom of speech” actually means ya you can say whatever you want and government can’t hold it against you legally, but it doesn’t mean you won’t have any repercussions.

    • I agree, what I think is most disgusting in this case is how social media amplified the bystander effect. Instead of doing something, helping the girl, these kids took to twitter to “share” it.. its a compulsion, and it is critically important for us to educate our children to be aware of the real world beyond the digital one.

      While its disgusting, it doesn’t shock me. In this case, I have to be thankful, because if it had never been on social media, this horrible crime would likely have gone entirely unpunished, maybe even unreported, and certainly wouldn’t have attracted the amount of attention that it has.

      At the end of the day, that’s what social media is about, attracting attention. Its why insecure teenagers over use it. We are desperate for the likes, shares, and re-tweets. Unfortunately in this case, the “big story” to share was one of unbelievable cruelty.

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