The easy silence over a school rape,the callous chatter online roil an Ohio townhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/the-easy-silence-over-a-school-rape-the-callous-chatter-online-roil-an-ohio-town/

The easy silence over a school rape,the callous chatter online roil an Ohio town

The ordeal of an Ohio community roiled by allegations of rape against two high school football players is far from over,despite the teens’ conviction and sentencing

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

The ordeal of an Ohio community roiled by allegations of rape against two high school football players is far from over,despite the teens’ conviction and sentencing. The state’s top prosecutor said he would consider charges against anyone who failed to speak up after the attack last summer.

Trent Mays,17,and Ma’Lik Richmond,16,were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl,and Attorney General Mike DeWine said he is investigating whether coaches,parents and other students broke the law,too.

Mays and Richmond were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison in a case that has rocked this Midwestern city of 18,000 and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville High team,which has won nine state football championships. Mays was ordered to serve an additional year for photographing the underage girl naked. They can be held until they turn 21.

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The two broke down in tears after the Juvenile Court verdict. They later apologised to the victim and the community. “My life is over,’’ Richmond said as he collapsed in his lawyer’s arms.

The crime,which took place after a party last summer,shocked many in Steubenville because of the seeming callousness with which other students took out their cellphones to record the attack and gossiped about it online. In fact,the case came to light via morning-after text messages,social media posts and online photos and video.

“Many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane,were ugly,’’ Judge Thomas Lipps said.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he will convene a grand jury next month to investigate whether anyone else should be charged. Noting that 16 people refused to talk,many of them underage,DeWine said possible offences to be investigated include failure to report a crime.

Among those who have been interviewed are the owners of one of the houses where parties were held that night,the high school principal,and the football team’s 27 coaches.

Text messages introduced at the trial suggested the head coach was aware of the rape allegation early on. Coaches are among officials required by state law to report child abuse.

Mays and Richmond were charged with penetrating the West Virginia girl with their fingers,first in a moving car after a mostly underage drinking party on August 11,and then in the basement of a house. “They treated her like a toy,’’ prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said.

Prosecutors argued that the victim was so intoxicated she couldn’t consent to sex that night,while the defence contended the girl realised what she was doing and was known to lie.

The girl testified she could not recall what happened but woke up naked in a strange house. “It was really scary,’’ she said. “I honestly did not know what to think.” She said she believed she was assaulted when she later read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself naked,along with a video that made fun of her and the alleged attack.

Three other boys,two of them on the football team,saw something happening that night and didn’t try to stop it but instead recorded it with their cellphones. They confirmed the girl was assaulted and said she didn’t seem to know what was happening.

Evidence at the trial also included sexually explicit text messages sent by numerous students after the party. A computer forensic expert documented hundreds of thousands of texts found on 17 phones.

Lipps urged parents and others “to have discussions about how you talk to your friends,how you record things on the social media… and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends’’.

The accuser’s mother rebuked the boys for “lack of any moral code”. “You were your own accuser,through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on,’’ she said. She added that the case “does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere,grow and move on’’.

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Echoing that,the judge said that “as bad as things have been for all of the children involved,they can all change their lives for the better’’.