The New York Times has a lengthy piece today on a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, which the paper has deemed particularly notable because it is "a sexual assault accusation in the age of social media, when teenagers are capturing much of their lives on their camera phones ... and then posting it on the Web, like a graphic, public diary." Without the social media angle, it would just be another story about a young woman raped by athletes while she was blacked out from drinking too much alcohol in a hardcore football town. (The only "unique" part of the story, really, is that the two football players were actually charged with rape.)
Last week, we wrote about Savannah Dietrich, the teenager who tweeted about the high school boys who sexually assaulted her while she was drunk and unconscious and then photographed the whole horrific escapade with their phones. You can read all of the details about the Steubenville case over at the Times, but it's basically the same exact story — boys sexually assault and take photos of unconscious girl, people accuse girl of ruining the boys' lives by speaking out and "asking for it" by getting wasted in the first place — set in a football town that seems straight out of Friday Night Lights where young football stars are glorified and rarely challenged.
In this case, accusations spread as quickly as did the photos of the unconscious girl, thanks in part to blogger Alexandria Goddard, who covered the story on Prinniefied.com. She was on the story months ago:
Before many of the partygoers could delete their posts, photographs or videos, she took screen shots of them, posting them on her site, Prinniefied.com. On Aug. 24, just after the arrests, she wrote on her site that it was "a slam dunk case" because, she said, Mays and Richmond videotaped and photographed their crime and then posted those images on the Web. Goddard pressed her case.
"What normal person would even consider that posting the brutal rape of a young girl is something that should be shared with their peers?" she wrote. "Do they think because they are Big Red players that the rules don't apply to them?"
She cited by name several current and former Steubenville athletes, accusing them of having a criminal role in the suspected assault by failing to stop it and then disseminating photographs of it. According to court documents, Goddard responded to a comment that read, "Students by day ...gang rape participants by night" by writing that the football coach should be ashamed of letting players linked to the incident remain on the field. In another post, she added, "Why aren't more kids in jail. They all knew."
Now, she's being sued (along with people who commented on her blog) by a Steubenville football player and his parents for defamation. The Times said she exacerbated the hype surrounding the case by "injecting" herself in the story, "complicating it and igniting ire in the community."
Would the Times have covered the story if she hadn't? Probably not. The city's police chief had a hard time finding witnesses to come forward in the football-crazed town, the police said the case was challenging because the girl took a shower and "washed away evidence" before she reported her assault, and the girl's family has been receiving threats because she came forward. If Goddard hadn't started naming names — just like Dietrich did — this case probably would've stayed within the confines of Steubenville.
The Times couldn't get in touch with Goddard, but I did. We emailed back and forth back in late August, and she told me about some of the tweets and photos the Times references, including tweets by a former football player proclaiming "Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana," and "Some people deserve to be peed on."
But then a male colleague of mine who somehow knew I was looking into the case and had contacts in the town emailed me to say "it's a wildly complex and difficult thing to nail down…I'd be careful because there's a lot of bad info out there on this thing."
I was pretty pissed that he emailed me — obviously I'd be careful, reporting on this type of delicate stuff is my job — but I eventually let the story go in part because he was right, it was complicated, and I got distracted. (This unfortunately happens when things are so busy around here.) I thought that was the end of that, but when I searched for Goddard's email address in my inbox today, I saw that it wasn't. On October 25th, she emailed me, saying:
I wanted to give you an update on the Steubenville case. There have been NO other arrests; in fact three testified under oath that they took photographs and videos of the victims and walked out of court free as a bird. The three were only suspended from extracurricular activities (including sports) on October 15th – MONTHS after this investigation began. That in itself says all there is needed to know about the football culture of Steubenville High School.
I am getting a lot of flack from some diehard fans of Big Red football for my tenacity in not letting go of this total injustice. Any help or suggestions you have to garner national attention on this would be greatly appreciated.
Do I wish I had responded? Of course. I feel absolutely terrible that I don't even remember reading her last email; to be honest, I hear so many stories about rape accusations on a daily basis that sometimes it's hard to keep track of all of them. But I'm so glad she spoke out, even though she risked legal action — according to the Times, her whereabouts are currently unknown so she hasn't been served with a copy of the complaint yet. She told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in September that she did so because she didn't think the authorities would do a good job. "I felt the scab needed to be back to expose the truth," she said. Now it has.
Image via Alexey U/Shutterstock.