Moral Compass

The Steubenville, Ohio, rape case that ended Sunday with the conviction of two Steubenville High School football players is a tragedy for everyone concerned. A young girl not only was sexually molested after a night of teenaged drinking but then abused all over again by being humiliated on social media by many of the people who witnessed the illegal event.

Two young men, 16-year-old Ma’Lik Richmond, and 17-year-old Trent Mays, were found guilty of delinquency by reason of raping the drunken 16-year-old girl. Judge Thomas Lipps, who heard the case without a jury, sentenced both teens to a minimum of one year each in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility, or until they are 21 years old. In addition, Mays received an additional year on a second charge, to be served after his rape sentence is complete.

These two cannot be excused for their conduct, and both deserved the sentence handed down by Judge Lipps. However, there is plenty of guilt to go around in this case.

First, in a city where the high school football team is king, both were members of that largely pampered group. The assault happened after an annual preseason football event that normally ended with several members of the football team and other young people in the community drinking and partying while adults – including, according to published reports, members of the team’s coaching staff, were content to look the other way. While this in itself is inexcusable behavior by the adults, it, unfortunately, is not something unique to Steubenville.

A large aspect of this trial was the impact social media had on not only the outcome, but the entire case. The incident became known largely because of revealing videos and photos taken by some teens who witnessed the assault and, later, the use of Twitter by many other teens, mostly for mocking the victim.

The sad fact is everyone there knew what was happening was wrong. And it can’t be blamed on alcohol alone. Alcohol may dull the senses, but it can’t be an excuse for letting something terrible happen. Had one of those young people who witnessed this event playing out had the courage to step in and put a halt to the proceedings, the whole tragedy could have been avoided. Instead, they all contented themselves with playing the part of a disgraceful voyeur.

After the verdict, the victim’s mother read a statement meant for Richmond and Mays. But her words should be a rebuke to anyone – teen or adult – involved in this case.

“Human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us. You displayed not only a lack of this compassion, but a lack of any moral code.”