Here’s a painful story from Steubenville, Ohio, a hardscrabble Rust Belt town that worships its high school football team, and has been torn apart after two popular members were arrested on charges of raping a drunk girl at a boozy team party. Excerpts:
“Huge party!!! Banger!!!!” Trent Mays, a sophomore quarterback on Steubenville’s team, posted on Twitter, referring to one of the bashes that evening.
By sunrise, though, some people in and around Steubenville had gotten word that the night of fun on Aug. 11 might have taken a grim turn, and that members of the Steubenville High football team might have been involved. Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She even might have been urinated on.
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.
Rumors of a possible crime spread, and people, often with little reliable information, quickly took sides. Some residents and others on social media blamed the girl, saying she put the football team in a bad light and put herself in a position to be violated. Others supported the girl, saying she was a victim of what they believed was a hero-worshiping culture built around football players who think they can do no wrong.
Here’s what makes this case even more complicated:
But the situation in Steubenville has another layer to it that separates it from many others: It is a sexual assault accusation in the age of social media, when teenagers are capturing much of their lives on their camera phones — even repugnant, possibly criminal behavior, as they did in Steubenville in August — and then posting it on the Web, like a graphic, public diary.
Within days of the possible sexual assault, an online personality who often blogs about crime zeroed in on those public comments and photographs and injected herself into the story, complicating it and igniting ire in the community. She posted the information on her site and wrote online that the police and town officials were giving the football players special treatment.
The city’s police chief begged for witnesses to come forward, but received little response.
[Head Coach Reno] Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.
The two players who testified at a hearing in early October to determine if there was enough evidence to continue the case were eventually suspended from the team. That came eight games into the 10-game regular season.
Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not “do the Internet,” so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated.
“You made me mad now,” he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car.
Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.”
Read the whole thing. No idea whether or not the girl was raped — but am pretty certain that on the matter of the conduct of his players, that coach is bad news, and sets the tone for the team — and quite possibly for the town. Would you want to come forward and tell what you had seen with a bully like that as the town football coach?
I am so grateful I got to grow up and behave stupidly and humiliatingly at teenage parties before everyone had a camera and a Twitter feed and a Facebook account.
UPDATE: To clarify my point, I’m saying that I’m glad that I was able to make my stupid mistakes — puking at parties, acting like a fool — without it being documented on 10 cellphone cameras, and uploaded into social media. On the other hand, if this girl really was raped, the only way her attackers will face justice is because of this.
UPDATE.2: More detailed allegations and social-media posts from the night of the alleged rape here. Whether or not rape occurred, these young men who watched all this happen and did nothing more than record it and tweet about it are scum. If I were the father of a boy who behaved that way, I would be overcome by shame and disgust at my son, and would come down on that little bastard like a ton of bricks.