Rape, Fear, and Football in Steubenville, OH
“You don't get any foreplay with a dead girl,” says former Steubenville High student Michael Nodianos to the camera while giggling like the little shit he is. “If it ain't wet now, it ain't ever getting wet." The person holding the camera laughs.
In a different part of the house, Steubenville students Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond are sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia who crossed the Ohio river and came to Steubenville, OH, for a night of partying and fun. A girl who is currently too drunk to stand, talk, or process what is going on. A girl who is in dire need of help while two boys take advantage of her and treat her like a toy.
Back in the other room, Nodianos, thinking himself a comedian gets himself into a frenzy. “They raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction… They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl… They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team," he says holding back laughter. Nodionos's entire monstrous speech is caught on film and later uploaded to YouTube for the world to see. The situation is unequivocally not funny.
But let's try to better understand how we got to this point.
On the evening of August 11, 2012 in a middle-class home in West Virginia, a 16 year old girl tells her parents that she's going to sleep over at a friends house. Instead of meeting up with any specific friend, she crosses the Ohio River into Steubenville, OH, for a grand night of partying. It's the end of the summer and many of the just-graduated high schoolers are saying their final good byes. For the rest of the students, it's a last hurrah for the summer before classes start. There's plenty of alcohol and no supervision. The kids imbibe and revel.
By 10 pm, the young girl has had so much to drink that she's stumbling and slurring her words. Her drunkenness draws attention and other partygoers start to taunt her for the way she is acting.
Two hours later, the girl blacks out and fails remember anything after this point. At midnight, she leaves one house in search of a second party with a group of people. This group includes Terence Mays (17) and Ma'lik Richmond (16). At this time, she is drunk to the point of falling if she doesn’t have assistance walking.
After only a short time at the second house, the teenage girl is found in the middle of the street vomiting. One of the male partygoers removes her shirt to "prevent her from staining it," leaving her in nothing but shorts and a bra while she pukes in the street. Though she is clearly in need of immediate care, a nearby group of kids is laughing at her state instead of helping her. One Patrick Pizzoferrato pulled out $3 and offers it to anyone who will urinate on her. Fortunately, nobody took the piece-of-shit human up on his offer.
Mays and Richmond decide it’s time to move on to a third and final party. Since she cannot walk, the girl is carried out of the house by Mays and Richmond while she is "sleeping."
Another student Evan Westlake, who was sober, decides that Mark Cole is too drunk to drive his car to the third party. Cole refuses to turn over his keys insisting he is fine, but Westlake eventually tricks Cole into relaxing before he jumps and takes his keys.
In the car, Cole who is newly unburdened from the responsibility of driving, takes out his cell phone and films while Mays exposes the girl's breasts and violates her with his fingers. The girl in need of desperate assistance is suddenly the subject of an amateur porn shoot.
At the third house, the girl vomits several more times. Mays tries to coerce the girl into giving him oral sex, but she was completely unresponsive (as she is nearly unconscious).
Unhappy with the lack of sexual interaction, Mays and Richmond take the girl into a secluded room. While the details are unclear of how she became completely naked, it's safe to assume the two young men stripped her.
Evan Westlake accidentally walks in on them later. He finds Mays has exposed his penis and is slapping it on her hip while Richmond penetrates her with two fingers. Westlake who was responsible enough to insist that his drunk friend not operate a car decides it’s morally okay for his friends to take advantage of an unconscious human being and leaves them to it.
Before the night ends, Mays takes a picture on his cell phone of the unconscious girl lying naked in the basement with his semen on her body.
In the other room, Michael Nodionos is on camera joking about how “the dead girl” was “so raped.”
When the 16-year-old victim of unquestionable sexual assault wakes up the next morning, she finds herself completely naked, surrounded by Mays, Richmond, and another boy, with no idea where she is, how she got there, or where her clothes, shoes, or phone are. At the same time, photos of her intoxicated, naked, and being taken advantage of are circulating on social network sites like Twitter and Instagram. She has no recollection of what happened during the night after she first saw Mays and Richmond.
The 16-year-old girl from West Virginia found out she had been raped by seeing it on social media.
The girl’s parents notify the police and take the girl to the hospital. Two days later, on August 14, the family went to the police station with a flash drive of digital evidence collected from the images, comments, and videos that the students had been sharing. It’s up to the officers to fill in the blanks and determine precisely what happened that night.
Six months later, on March 17, 2013, Mays and Richmond are found guilty of rape in juvenile court. Mays is to serve at at least two years and Richmond one. Mays was found guilty of distributing a nude image of a minor adding a year to his sentence.
Open and shut case right?
The time between August and March was a complete clusterfuck.
Because (I must have failed to mention) Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond aren’t just rapists. They’re also exceptional football players.
In fact, every person mentioned up to this point aside from the young girl is a member of Steubenville’s football team or member of another one of their athletic programs.
For the sole reason they are great at a game where men toss an oblong ball and shove each other for no great reason, they were afforded special treatment from their coaches, their school, and their community, in addition to special favoritism in the press. Just, you know, because.
Here’s the side of the story I didn’t tell because it has nothing to do with the atrocity of the girl getting raped, but it does have everything to do with understanding rape culture and the incredible arrogance of the members and coaching staff of the Steubenville “Big Red” football team.
In 1786, Fort Steuben is erected. In 1790 it is burned to the ground.
In 1797, Steubenville is founded in the ruins of the old fort.
In 1815, a factory and mill open up employing most of the town. In 1819, the factory is shut down.
In 1815, the first brewery opened in Steubenville. Come 1919, Steubenville’s breweries and 80 bars were forced to close due to prohibition.
In the 1900s, steel milling and coal mining took off. Until that part of the economy fell apart as well.
In case it isn’t perfectly clear, Steubenville has had its back broken a number of times, just like many other cities in that part of America.
What the rest of the rust belt doesn’t have is a 10,000 seat football stadium with fans anxious to fill it, and a kick-ass team to play in it under the Friday night lights.
Residents of Steubenville feel economic hardship beating down on them everyday and think of the success of their football team as the only glint of hope they have. Some residents would go so far as to consider any threat to the Big Red football program as a threat against the only thing they have left. Some would even go as far to squash this threat at any cost.
This is what makes some residents of Steubenville, OH, incredibly fucking stupid.
With that in mind it, it’s possible to process that one of Steubenville's 19 assistant coaches said this to the New York Times:
“The rape was just an excuse, I think… What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it”
Now, dear Reader, if you had the sudden urge to find this man and poke his eyes out, don’t be alarmed.This is, perhaps, one of the slimiest, most repugnant, and ass-hatted quotes ever uttered. Why? Well for one, it makes no fucking sense. The girl came home and told her parents she had been raped because she had been, uhhh, raped by two people in front of a host of witnesses, and this rape had been carefully documented by these witnesses and the perpetrators. Had she simply gotten drunk, she likely would have done what every other teenage kid does when they get drunk and come home: she would have hidden from her parents (or if she had a more open relationship, she might have confessed she had too much to drink).
Instead, she was raped. And she rightfully told her parents so.
Let’s look at another member of the Big Red coaching staff, head coach Reno Saccoccia. Many of the players on the team had assisted in spreading photos and information about Mays and Richmond’s conquest online. Saccoccia told the principal and school superintendent that the boys on the team didn’t think they had done anything wrong and therefore he shouldn’t punish them.
Because the people who did something wrong didn’t think they had done something wrong meant they weren’t punished. In other words: because the players were so arrogant and bankrupt of any sense of morality that they felt neither guilt nor understanding for what they had done, they weren’t punished.
Well, it’s a lucky thing that makes a lot of fucking sense because if they had known what they did was wrong, then more than half of the Big Red team would have been benched for the season and they wouldn’t have been able to compete.
Oh, right. Special treatment just because.
In a text message that was uncovered during the trial, Mays expressed that he was less worried because he believed he had gotten the coach to “take care of it.” In another message he continued to express his lack of concern because Coach Saccoccia “was joking about it so I’m not that worried.”
In addition to not penalizing the student-athletes, Saccoccia was on the side “taking care” of the matter (whatever that might mean (subtext: it means something incredibly crooked)), and he was joking about it. Yes, the honorable Coach Saccoccia was laughing about his two prized athletes raping a helpless 16-year-old girl. A real role model, that one.
When the New York Times asked Saccoccia about the involved players and why he chose not to discipline them, the coach became agitated and said, “you’ve made me mad now.” The reporter kept following him and the coach shouted expletives at him before yelling, “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.”
Is that a threat Coach Saccoccia? Are you threatening a reporter because he touched a sore subject, namely that you are a vile, corrupt, and worthless sack of shit? Are you upset because this reporter sees you as the immoral rapist defender you truly are? I hope you realize that threatening someone who works for a massive newspaper will ensure that you in fact “get yours” but in case it isn’t clear…
Fuck you, Coach Saccoccia. You know. Just because.
Here’s the straw that should break the camel’s fucking back if the poor beast isn’t decimated already: Saccoccia testified as a “character witness” on behalf of Mays and Richmond. That means that this repellant stain of genetic waste masquerading as a man took the stand to claim how proud he was of the boys and attested to the quality of their character.
This points out a moral conundrum that keeps appearing in the media: whenever someone of celebrity or local hero status is accused of something vile, the focus remains on them not the victim. There is an assumption that because someone is a dedicated football player that not only can they do no wrong, but also that they would know how to make a proper ethical decision.
The concept that athletic ability serves to protect people from judgement isn’t a new concept. It’s one that is continuously played out in the press, year after year, rape after rape. People who are accused of sexually violating human beings and treating them like fungible play-things are described as “promising,” as “leaders,” as “standout players,” and as “stars.” The victims are then characterized as “out-to-get” somebody or something. They are blamed for wearing revealing clothing and “asking for it.” If alcohol is involved, their drunkenness is emphasized above all else.
// I have to interrupt myself to make two points:
ONE: To anyone who has ever described a woman as “asking for it,” I intend to verbally flay you. If you are such a weak and pathetic useless sack of meat that when you see exposed skin on the female body you can’t keep your sad little prick in your pants, you need to do the charitable thing and excuse yourself from the Earth. It’s for the benefit of the human race, you see. You are a civilized human being. You must treat others with respect and control your impulses lest you lose your right to decency. Rape alone is completely abhorrent. But making excuses for it is downright damning.
TWO: If you ever see anyone, male or female, who is too drunk to compose themselves, your one and only mandatory responsibility is to do everything you can to ensure they get home safely. That is it.
There’s a startling truth nobody wants to acknowledge: a person can be an absolutely incredible football player and definitively be a rapist.
What I have just described is the result of what has been coined “rape culture.” And it is the prevalence of rape culture that turned part of the town of Steubenville against a 16-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted. It’s one thing to see a champion football team as a beacon of hope for a town that has seen endless struggles and enduring hardship, but that glimmer will not change the fact that people are scared of the future. Protecting that hope at any cost will not make life better, and if it is tarnished life will not change. But putting it before the safety, health, and security of a human being and portraying the innocent as guilty to defend something as illusory as glory will tear a town and any modicum of justice to bits.
But there’s another thing.
Arrogance is why after the girl’s parents first went to the police Mays pretended he had taken care of her that night and texted her, “This is the most pointless thing. I’m going to get in trouble for something I should be getting thanked for taking care of you.” She responded, “It’s on YouTube. I’m not stupid. Stop texting me.”
Arrogance was why it was on YouTube at all and why the night had been carefully chronicled by tweet, by text, by Instagram and shared videos. The people who committed the crime also provided the evidence that found them culpable. Arrogance was found in Mays’s text messages that begged his friend to “Just say she came to you house and passed out.” Arrogance put the cover-up attempt in the bin with the evidence. Well, arrogance and stupidity, maybe.
Arrogance explains why students like Michael Nodianos were laughing about the matter and making videos instead of showing common decency and respect for human life.
The Big Red players on the Steubenville team engaged in “disorganized crime.” There was no attempt to cover what they had done. Instead it was broadcasted to the world. And they did this because they had no shame or guilt or understanding of what they had done. As Coach Saccoccia had said, “they didn’t know what they did was wrong.”
Big. Fucking. Problem.
Mays and Richmond were escorted to the Scito Juvenile Correctional Facility after the verdict was delivered, but not before they were given the chance to speak out to the victim and apologize for what they had done. What they said, I will not reprint, because I don’t fucking care what they had to say for apologies. Some things you don’t get to apologize for. And this apology is not something that should be put in the press as a means to pat their backs as if to say, “Oh it’s not so bad, young rapists. We still remember you’re stars with bright futures who have the audacity to apologize and do the right thing.”
But they didn’t do the right thing. They didn’t do anything right at all. In fact they did everything as wrong as they possibly could. And they were laughing all the way.
In an attempt to get the charges dropped, Mays made one last attempt to text the girl and set things right. But instead of apologies or reconciliation, he had something else on his mind.
“I’m about to get kicked off my football team,” he said in a text.
“The more you bring up football, the more pissed I get,” she responded. “Because that’s like all you care about.”
That’s a problem.
We have to change that.