Steubenville Rape Trial: Defense Argues Barely Conscious Victim Gave Consent

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I’m going to start this post with a trigger warning for rape, misogyny, and reprehensible behavior. If you feel like you can stomach what I’m going to say then read on. If not I completely understand. Who wants to read yet another horrific story about a barely conscious 16-year-old-girl being publicly denounced for her own rape?

After several hours following the Steubenville rape trial, which opened today, it was all I could do to sit here and write about it. Among other new details, there’s a blanket with the victim’s DNA. Two new photos were introduced of the victim naked, allegedly taken and sent from the phone of Trent Mays, one of the two high-school football stars accused of raping her. She was “degraded” and “repeatedly violated,” prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter told Judge Tom Lipps during her opening statement.

It was extremely disturbing to hear all this on the first day.

The courtroom at the Jefferson County juvenile court was packed. The bad news began almost immediately, when the defense attorneys for Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the other football star accused of raping the victim last summer during a night of partying, flatly and unapologetically announced their strategy. The girl wasn’t unconscious. She never said no. She never said anything. And because she wasn’t unconscious and she never said no and she never said anything, the boys felt that it was a green light to attack her.

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Image: © Jeremy Brenignstall/ZUMAPRESS.com/

I thought they’d at least come up with a real defense. But it’s the same infuriating victim-blaming trope we’ve been hearing in sexual assault cases for decades. She never said no, so she must have said yes. Or she didn’t say a thing. So there wasn’t any rape.

Even though she was so drunk that she could barely walk and was slurring her words. Even though she vomited several times. Even though at one point during the evening’s festivities she was seen in that infamous Instagram photo being lugged by her hands and feet by the defendants like a bag of trash.

“She’s deader than a doornail," joked a Steubenville teenager of the victim, in an infamous video he posted on YouTube.

Some of the details about the victim’s condition actually emerged during pre-trial testimony by three Steubenville High athletes back in October. But it was the first time I’d heard most of it, along with everyone else.

Hemmeter offered a chilling account of what had happened, and what that “consent” had looked like:

“You heard the testimony that in the car, Trent Mays unzipped her shorts and slipped his finger into her vagina ... They [witnesses] will tell you that Trent Mays tried to put his penis in her mouth and you'll hear that Ma'lik Richmond was down by her feet and inserted two fingers into her vagina while she lay motionless.

According to the NY Times:

At that third party, the girl could not walk on her own and vomited several times before toppling onto her side, several witnesses testified. Mays then tried to coerce the girl into giving him oral sex, but the girl was unresponsive, according to the player who videotaped Mays and the girl.

At the parties, the girl had so much to drink that she was unable to recall much from that night, and nothing past midnight, the police said. The girl began drinking early on, according to an account that the police pieced together from witnesses, including two of the three Steubenville High athletes who testified in court in October.

There you have it. One of the girl’s friends from West Virginia who went to the parties with her testified that she had tried to help the victim that night, to keep her from going in a car with Richmond and Mays. She was drunk by then, a mess. The boys took her anyway. The friend didn’t want to be seen on camera so the live feed went dark, and there was no audio. Strange for a trial that has hinged so much on social media. Anyway. Other than her friends, no one else even tried to intervene that night. They watched and they laughed and worse. Much worse.

Again from the NY Times:

Some people at the party taunted her, chanted and cheered as a Steubenville High baseball player dared bystanders to urinate on her, one witness testified.

That’s all I can take for now. But I’ll leave you with some of the chatter that was exploding on Twitter about the trial. It’s one of the saddest cases I’ve ever had to cover.

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