News & Politics

Defense in Steubenville Rape Case Argues Girl Didn't Say No

The number one issue the Steubenville rape case will hinge on is consent.

The trial of two teenagers charged with raping a girl in Steubenville, Ohio is set to begin tomorrow, and the number one issue the case will hinge on is consent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

The media outlet reports that the judge won’t consider whether the football players accused of the rape got preferential treatment, or whether more people should be charged. Instead, it is consent that is the fundamental issue.

The case concerns the alleged rape of a teenage girl in the Ohio town that reportedly occurred in late August. The teenage boys, both football players in town that reveres the sport, and the girl were at a party, and were drinking excessively. They were underage. The boys and the girl left the party together, and pictures of the passed out girl were published on the Internet, as well as video of teenage boys deriding the girl and saying that she was “so raped.”

Prosecutors say the girl was also penetrated digitally, which is an offense under Ohio law. Defense attorneys say the girl made the decision to drink and that she consented to have sex.

The key question is whether the girl had drank enough to "substantially impair" her ability to consent, and whether the accused knew she was that impaired. Prosecutors say that she was too drunk to consent, and the girl has said she does not remember anything from the party. “Everybody agrees she's puking. She's puking on herself. People have to help her walk. She can't talk. She's stumbling," said Marianne Hemmeter, a prosecutor.

The defense, though, is saying that the girl voluntarily drank and willingly left with the boys. The defense’s argument is also that she did not explicitly say no to sex. “There's an abundance of evidence here that she was making decisions, cognitive choices," defense attorney Walter Madison has said. "She didn't affirmatively say no." But “under the law, a victim doesn't have to resist or say the word no for a rape to occur,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

The Cleveland Plain Dealerspoke to an expert on rape cases who said that “defense strategy is typically focused on discrediting the victim in any way possible to distract and bias the fact-finder, as if how victims dressed or what they drank invited the attack.”

The media outlet further reports that other teenage boys who were in the basement where the alleged rape occurred “painted a picture of someone who was in and out of awareness of her surroundings.”

“I wouldn't say she was passed out but she wasn't there to say yes or no,” one boy said.

The Steubenville case has caught national attention. Demonstrations are planned this week in support of the teenage girl allegedly raped.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.