Author’s Note: I live roughly 20 miles south of Steubenville, OH, driving along Ohio State Route 7. Across the Ohio River, I can see Wheeling, WV from my doorstep; I see the stadium lights, hear the numerous fans of whatever team is playing at the athletic multiplex. This is not an easy post for me. I don’t sympathize with the Big Red players, I don’t sympathize with the character witnesses for the defense, and I certainly don’t sympathize with the media that would simplify the entire ordeal to nothing more than boys being boys, or girls showing a little too much. I would have liked to think — in another day and age perhaps — that the Ohio Valley might garner a more positive review from The New York Times. Though I applaud the thorough coverage the NY Times has given this particular debacle, I am still outraged.
Bystanders knew. Those who took pictures knew. Those who made videos knew. There is little, if any, evidence — caught on video, Instagram, or any other form of capturing a moment — that would even suggest this girl was willing, let alone consensual (after all, when it comes to sex, an initial “yes” does not trump a secondary, tertiary, or any other level of “no.”)
And yet, there is something wrong with this: the boys were great athletes, poised to take the Big Red to a state championship (excuses, excuses: the team missed the opportunity simply because this case took away their best players); the girl was from another state (West Virginia, which in Ohio is generally considered less-than-worthy of equal treatment, especially where both states meet at The River) and was said to be sexually provocative, according to the NYT. Maybe she was flashing some skin, trying to be older by drinking more… trying to fit into the crowd that is today beset by images of promiscuity and lavish, unrestrained sexuality. Maybe she was. But, I bet, at the end of the day, she wasn’t looking for what happened. The people who did it, filmed it, photographed and shared it: I bet they weren’t looking for it either, though they also weren’t overlooking an opportunity to be indifferent.
And then, the football culture in this area! It worries me more that this might be the only reason this story came into the national spotlight (aside from the premise that social media now make it easier to be indifferent).
Had the two suspects not been high school football stars, would this even be a scandal? What if the suspects had been members of a science club? What if the victim were an exchange student from Uzbekistan, rather than right-next-door W.V.? What if this had just been a random rape in the streets of Steubenville, not involving football boys, but a homeless man who’d think he’d get something from a drunk passerby who just happened to be female?
Would the world care then?