“Boys will be boys” — but only in certain zip codes.
Let me start by quoting two paragraphs printed in the New York Times:
HOURS AFTER SUNSET, the cars pulled up, one after another, bringing dozens of teenagers from several nearby high schools to an end-of-summer party in August in a neighborhood here just off the main drag….
Some in the crowd, which would grow to close to 50 people, arrived with beer. Those who did not were met by cases of it and a makeshift bar of vodka, rum and whiskey, all for the taking, no identification needed…
This was not Beach Week in Ocean City in 1982.
It was Steubenville, Ohio on August 11, 2012.
On August 12, 2012 a 16-year-old girl woke up in a strange basement, hungover and naked, only to discover that while she had been heavily intoxicated at a party the night before a pair of boys from the local football team had undressed her, groped her breasts, committed digital rape, and shoved a naked penis in her face in attempt to get oral sex.
She discovered all this because details of her assault had been posted on social media.
Sometime during the next three days, word of her assault reached her parents. They took her to a hospital and then reported the attack to the local police.
The assault went viral, complete with pictures, YouTube video and tweets. Local bloggers and the hacker group “Anonymous” picked up the story and soon national media outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times were flying journalists to Ohio to cover the case.
Steubenville is the county seat of Jefferson County, Ohio. It sits next to the Ohio River, not far from Pittsburgh. Data from the 2000 Census reports the median family income there is $36,597. According to that same census, 15.37% of Steubenville’s residents live below the poverty line.
National reporters filed stories filled with grim descriptions of Steubenville’s dilapidated downtown and its feverish support of the high school football team. The two accused rapists were stars on that team.
What else did Steubenville have to be proud of, after all? No doubt the residents of this hardscrabble backwater would do anything to protect their Princes of the gridiron.
The serene and manicured campus of Georgetown Prep lies two states and one universe away from Steubenville.
Georgetown Prep is located in North Bethesda, roughly four miles northeast of our nation’s capitol. According to a 2005–09 survey, the median family income there is $113,719. Only 2.2% of North Bethesda’s families live below the poverty line.
Wikipedia ranks Georgetown Prep the 4th most expensive boarding school in the nation. Tuition was $56,665 per year in 2015.
Georgetown Prep and a cluster of nearby private academies like Holtan-Arms School and Landon School form a kind of pipeline to power; a treadmill that regularly delivers the next generation of the Best and Brightest to elite universities and, from there, to positions of power and influence in law, media and government.
But this year they also produced something else: accusations of sexual assault nearly identical to the Steubenville attack.
Accusations that are now decades old.
Those inclined to doubt the recent Senate testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or the claims of Deborah Ramirez need not look far for a more recent and better documented example.
In 2014 a fifteen-year-old girl was lured to a party given by some older boys at a private academy, pushed into a room and, she later charged, raped.
That school was the equally prestigious, equally expensive St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, alma mater to senators, congressmen and at least one Secretary of State.
The defendant in the case, a student named Owen Labrie, pleaded not guilty and said the encounter was part of a tradition called the “Senior Salute,” a kind of sexual contest among upperclassmen.
A jury found Labrie not guilty of rape or simple assault, but guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault and a handful of lesser charges.
Labrie was a scholarship student. Parents of his classmates funded his defense.
In the insular world of pedigreed, private schools charges of sexual assault are not unheard of, but they can take decades to actually make it into court.
Some alumni point the finger at disconnected parents.
“It was a highly professional culture of parents, many of whom self-selected those schools to be a big babysitter . . . a lot of them just parked the kids and left,” one 1980s Landon alum told Vanity Fair.
This week The Intercept reported that in 1990 the headmasters of seven prestigious North Bethesda schools — including Georgetown Prep — sent a letter to parents warning them their kids had created a party culture prone to sex and violence at their schools.
Georgetown Prep even scheduled a conference to discuss the danger of unsupervised parties.
But disconnected parents were not the only adults in the equation.
Georgetown Prep’s 1983 edition of The Cupola — the school yearbook — may have been cobbled together by students, but the final draft had to be read and approved by faculty.
It’s not unusual for students to scrawl private jokes and off-color references in each other’s yearbooks, but the official printed text of the 1983 Cupola is full of phrases that should have raised eyebrows, if not questions: RKK(Ridge Klux Klan). Mustache rides. Lost in Devil’s Triangle. Alcoholics Unanimous.
Yet the adults supervising the yearbook seem to have approved these phrases without comment.
Georgetown Prep alum Mark Judge has written two books that discuss his experiences as a student. He describes students organizing a keg party featuring a stripper for one teacher and bragging their drinking and sexual escapades to another teacher.
That teacher would later serve six years for distributing child pornography.
If the boundaries are blurry enough, adult supervision becomes meaningless.
In 2016 the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team investigated allegations of sexual abuse at prestigious private schools in New England.
They were met with the kind of silence only money can buy. Accusers were pressured into signing gag orders. Claims were quietly settled out of court. Teachers accused of molesting students were shuffled from school to school, accompanied by glowing references that made no mention of any allegations.
Unsurprisingly, wealthy institutions famous for producing successful lawyers had the law on their side.
Private schools, the Spotlight team found, are exempt from public records laws. Private school teachers usually don’t need to be licensed. And these things together meant that there was (at least in 2016) no central database of abuse allegations against any of the institutions they surveyed.
Steubenville High School is a public school.
Ohio state law mandates that schoolteachers and administrators (among other professionals) must report suspected child abuse or face criminal charges.
(Maryland, the home of Georgetown Prep, also has a mandated reporting law, but there are no penalties for failure to report; only for obstructing a report.)
On March 17, 2013 Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called for a Grand Jury to investigate the assault. The Grand Jury later indicted William Rhinaman, IT director for Steubenville City Schools, on charges of tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice; Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey on charges of obstructing justice and evidence tampering. At least two other school system employees were charged with failure to report child abuse.
“While this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults,” DeWine told the press.
The two students who attacked the victim, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were tried separately as juveniles. Mays was sentenced to one year of juvenile detention for rape; Richmond received two years for rape and posting a nude picture of the victim online.
The Washington Post celebrated this legal outcome by lumping Steubenville in with two third world countries.
“Steubenville, India, Turkey: Steps Toward Justice for Women Around the Globe” read the headline.
Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate, came to a different conclusion:
“The country is full of nonrapist D students, teen moms, high-school drop-outs, and dim but well-meaning people who have severely limited opportunities to become the sort of community leaders these boys were clearly slated to be,” she wrote of the student attackers.
“ A system that takes rapists out of the running for certain opportunities so nonrapists have a better shot is a system that is working.”