Tuesday, March 19, 2013
On Sunday a juvenile court judge in Steubenville, OH found two former members of the high school football team delinquent for sexually assaulting (i.e., digitally penetrating) a drunk, naked and unconscious 16-year-old girl at a drinking party. The judge sentenced one boy to two years confinement and the other boy to one year confinement. Both sentences will be served in juvenile institutions and both defendants will have to register as sex offenders upon release.
This is the case in which the hacker group Anonymous obtained and publicized social media, including photos, videos and text messages regarding the assault after local officials declined to prosecute anyone. In one photo the boys were carrying the naked and unconscious victim by her ankles and wrists. Videos showed them laughing and bragging about the incident. Literally overnight, little known Steubenville caught the nation’s attention. The local prosecutor and judge disqualified themselves from further involvement in the case. A state prosecutor and a judge from another county were appointed to replace them.
Steubenville is an economically depressed steel town of approximately 19,000 people located about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh. Known as the “Big Red,” the high school football team led by its legendary coach for the past 35 years has developed an unrivaled winning tradition that has been a major source of community identity and pride. This case, including the offense and the way it was minimized and covered up by authorities, has shattered that identity exposing a small community’s insecurity and reluctance to hold its heroes accountable for their misconduct and a disturbing willingness to blame the victim for the assault.
On a much smaller scale, this case reminds me of the willful blindness of Joe Paterno and various officials at Penn State University regarding Jerry Sandusky’s predatory sexual molestation of awestruck teenage boys. Both cases remind me of the peculiar human need to create and idolize heroes instead of working on becoming heroes. I am also struck by the immense sense of pride and expectation of special privileges and treatment exhibited by many members of successful athletic teams.
Someone needs to teach these people that their unique genetic gifts and special skills are not a license to disrespect and take advantage of others who are less fortunate.
The people who make up the community of Steubenville need to engage in some serious self-reflection regarding their contribution to this offense in order to prevent something like this from happening in the future. Those two boys likely were encouraged to think of themselves as heroes who were better than the other kids and therefore entitled to special treatment. They could not handle becoming objects of worship and forgot who they were.
The two defendants are fortunate to have been prosecuted in juvenile court where conviction of any crime results in a finding of delinquency. That is, their records will reflect that they were found delinquent, rather than guilty of rape. They also will benefit by serving much less time than would have been the case in adult court. Another significant advantage is that they will be serving their time in a juvenile institution rather than an adult prison where they would be more easily victimized.
An adjudication of delinquency means that the Juvenile Court will retain jurisdiction and probationary supervision over the conduct of these two boys until their respective 18th birthdays, unless the court acts to extend its jurisdiction to age 21. This is a substantially more favorable outcome for them than would have been the case, if they had been prosecuted and convicted in adult court.
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