Echoes of Steubenville Sex Assault Cases Show How Internet Speculation Runs Way Ahead of Evidence

By Hess, Amanda | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

Echoes of Steubenville Sex Assault Cases Show How Internet Speculation Runs Way Ahead of Evidence


Hess, Amanda, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Last month, two dozen Georgia high school students headed to a post-prom celebration at a rented resort cabin stocked with booze. By morning, according to local police, an 18-year-old woman had been isolated in a room and sexually assaulted by three other students - all prominent athletes at Calhoun High - who left her passed out and injured from the attack. Other students present that night reportedly witnessed the attack but said nothing.

As reports of the night proliferated on social media, local residents created the #standforHER hashtag to voice support for the victim and criticize local police forces for failing to respond quickly enough. Two weeks after the attack, the three men, all 18, had been charged with aggravated sexual battery in the case and barred from their own graduation ceremony.

The allegations in the assault case - a drunken high school party, a pack of male athletes - and a social media outcry have drawn comparisons to Steubenville, Ohio. But in light of the quick arrests, Calhoun is now being billed as the anti-Steubenville, a town where even star athletes are subject to swift justice and community members lend their support to victims, not their attackers.

After condemning Steubenville, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote at Jezebel,"Authorities shouldn't be applauded for doing their jobs, but given this country's embarrassing history of prioritizing sports achievement over the right of women to not be raped, when police actually give a damn, I reflexively feel like I should applaud. That's how low the bar is."

Police not giving a damn is the narrative that coalesced around the town of Steubenville after a high school girl was sexually assaulted by football players at a house party in August 2012, earning the town the scrutiny of local bloggers, New York Times reporters and Anonymous hackers. As the world watched, the investigation into the assault revealed deep, systematic failures in the town's school system's handling of rape, and five school officials were later indicted for tampering with evidence, obstructing justice or failing to report child abuse.

But, as the dust cleared, there was little evidence police mishandled the case. In fact, the Steubenville police response was almost identical to the one that's being praised in Calhoun.

In Steubenville, the rape occurred Aug. 11; the victim's parents reported it to police Aug. 14; on Aug. 22, police told the public that 16-year-old football players Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond had been arrested and charged in connection to the crime.

Police Chief William McCafferty appeared on local television begging more witnesses to come forward, but few did. (Three boys who witnessed the attack were ultimately granted immunity for key testimony. …

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