The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 23, 2013

Football team isn’t only problem in Steubenville case

The Back Porch

Editor’s note: This column uses the proper words for what was or was not used during what happened to the victim. Reader discretion is advised.


The verdict is in, and two teenage boys are serving time in the national saga known as the Steubenville rape case.

The 16- and 17-year-old boys were convicted by a judge in juvenile court for the liberties they took with a drunken, passed-out 16-year-old West Virginia girl who went across the border into Ohio for a night of partying last August.

Anti-sports critics made a cause célèbre of the case, claiming that Steubenville, an economically depressed Appalachian town, cared more about protecting its football team — the two defendants played on the team — than prosecuting criminals.

Well, that argument didn’t hold water as the boys were convicted and are serving time. They may be in juvenile detention until they are 21, and they must register as sex offenders. Further, the entirety of their trial was open to the public despite being adjudicated in juvenile court, which means the world knows their names.

Had they come across the border into West Virginia to party, that may not have been the case.

Chapter 49 of the state code regarding child welfare would not automatically make the proceedings open to the public because the charges would have to be transferred to circuit court for that to happen. Juvenile criminal proceedings are behind closed doors unless the prosecutor files a motion to transfer the juvenile to adult court and the judge grants it.

In the circumstances reported in Steubenville — the lack of a prior criminal record for the defendants — prosecution of this case probably would have been behind closed doors because the boys had not previously been declared juvenile delinquents.

Their stupidity has marked them for life. Had they not documented their acts on social media, they probably would never have been charged because the complainant in the case doesn’t remember the incident.

Here’s the second point: Where were the defendants’ and girl’s parents?

What happened to the girl is terrible and most certainly a crime, but people who act irresponsibly should expect negative consequences. She put herself in a dangerous place through her behavior. So did the boys.

CNN reported one of the girl’s friends testified she saw the girl consume four shots of vodka, two beers and a slushy mixed with vodka. Depending on the brand, vodka is about 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol per shot. It’s no wonder she has little memory of the night and no memory of the incident.

A person who habitually plays in traffic should expect to get hit by a car. Someone who repeatedly drives over a cliff should expect car damages and personal injury.

The notion that people should be free to engage in whatever behavior they choose and that the state should absolutely guarantee nothing bad will happen to them is naïve and ridiculous.

Parents need to start acting like adults or else they’d better get used to sitting by their children in court when the children are accused of felonies or victims of them.

Finally, the temerity of broadcast outlets to fully report on the crime on their TV newscasts is ironic and laughable.

Owners of TV stations have little qualms about broadcasting and glorifying the worst kinds of violence in TV shows. Yet, the news side didn’t have the gumption to report the sordid specifics in Steubenville.

If one viewed only the TV reports, the person would think both boys penetrated the girl with their penises. The facts of the case and the photo circulated on social media showed they used their fingers.

It’s still a crime, it’s still rape in Ohio and it would be rape in West Virginia as second-degree sexual assault. However, a victim of rape by penis would probably agree there is a difference.

A person raped by penis faces more risks than a person raped by finger: pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

That this case occurred in a poor Appalachian town and that it involved football players are the least of the problems in Steubenville and across the country.

It’s time for everyone to start acting responsibly.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2013 by Nerissa Young


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