Good That the Two Steubenville Rapists Have Been Judged Guilty, But Are Dozens More in the Community Getting Off Scot Free?
A Scapegoat Is One Who Quietly Takes the Fall to Protect Others
If the rape convictions of two Steubenville, Ohio, juveniles in juvenile court turn out to be the end of the story, as some perhaps hopefully predict, then justice will be partly served but without disturbing much of the Steubenville community cover-up. And that leaves justice mostly obstructed.
The verdict and sentencing of March 17, following a three day trial, leaves little reason to think that Trent Mays, 17, or Ma'lik Richmond, 16, are innocent in any meaningful sense. What they did to a 16-year-old girl from another town was clearly unconscionable as well as criminal. But there is also ample reason to consider the possibility that they are not only guilty but, at the same time, scapegoats - taking the rap so that dozens of others in the community may escape accountability.
Who else should be held accountable for the horrible sequence of events during a drunken pre-season Big Red football team all-night celebration? The criminal possibilities surely include those who watched a felony in progress and did nothing, or those who learned of a felony committed and did nothing - categories that include an unknown number of parents, all the party hosts, perhaps all of the football coaches, and most of the players and their girlfriends, friends, and relatives - all possibly part of a widening circle of knowledgeable bystanders during or after the fact, almost all of whom who did nothing, when they weren't mocking or attacking the victim.
Who Defines a Community's Response? Who Represents It?
This is not to suggest that an entire community of 18,000 people should be condemned for law-breaking and/or ethical failure. But some significant segment of the community might well be ashamed and fearful: since there were some 50 or 60 partygoers on the night of August 11-12, then easily one per cent of the population, 180 people more or less, could be escaping meaningful accountability for their indecent behavior during and after an hours-long, semi-public sexual assault.
To underscore the point about community response, recall that three students did come forward last fall to testify at the probable cause hearing. For that, they were disciplined by Steubenville school authorities, who kicked them off the football and wrestling teams. Having apparently learned an important lesson from their elders, these students refused to testify at the trial without a grant of immunity from the prosecution.
This is not a pretty picture, but it helps to explain why the Ohio attorney general has announced plans to convene a grand jury in April to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against those who destroyed evidence, or failed to report a felony in progress, or failed to report a felony after the fact, or otherwise acted criminally to obstruct justice. Similar possibilities apply to the likely crime of providing alcohol to minors.
The State of the Evidence Is Both Detailed and Incomplete
When Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lipps rendered his "delinquent" verdict, the juvenile court equivalent of "guilty" in criminal court, he did so using a standard of proof of "beyond a reasonable doubt." The evidence before the court was overwhelming that the defendants had committed a series of sexual assaults against the victim, officially "Jane Doe," over a period of several hours, including finger-rape, which Ohio law defines as rape as much as genital rape.
But what we know from the trial is a minimum - we know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that at least this much occurred, before an as yet undetermined number of witnesses, some of whom communicated about it in real time as it was happening, as well as many more who sent around reports, comments, pictures, and video in the immediate aftermath, leaving open the possibility that they committed two crimes before they were finished: watching without reporting one or more felony sexual assaults and/or destroying evidence of a series of felony sexual assaults.