Star athletes from a powerhouse high school athletic program. A sexual assault that occurred in the middle of a party full of witnesses who knew exactly what was going on but did nothing. Underage drinking. Online rumors. While the sexual assault of an 18-year-old Georgia high school senior by three of her classmates had many of the elements of a Steubenville-esque embarrassment, this time around, things are different. Local authorities have filed serious charges against the three men who participated in the assault, and have promised that more serious charges are forthcoming.
The alleged assault occurred more than two weeks ago, on Calhoun High School's prom night, when a small post-prom gathering at a cabin in the woods became a raucous event involving 27 students and hours of drinking, according to local authorities. After alcohol had been consumed for several hours, four male party attendees "ended up" in a room with an 18-year-old classmate ("ended up" is the phrasing used by a local news account that flirts with CNN's now-infamous "THESE BOYS' LIVES ARE RUINED NOW!" hand wringing). The victim told authorities that she didn't remember who raped her, just that it was "multiple guys" who inserted a "foreign object" into her vagina, causing tearing and severe trauma that the local sheriff called "substantial" during a press conference last week. Other attendees of the party knew what was happening but did nothing. According to some accounts, the fourth boy in the room was there to barricade the door closed.
Almost immediately after the May 11th incident, rumors began swirling online, specifically on Facebook. Why weren't authorities doing anything to prosecute the attackers? Was the school district protecting them, since they were all top athletes mere weeks from graduation? As rumors picked up steam, some Calhoun students and community members began posting under a #standforHER hashtag in support of the victim.
But authorities were investigating. During the ensuing days after the party, they interviewed more than 50 witnesses, and based on the information they gathered, last week, they announced they'd gathered enough evidence to arrest football quarterback Fields Chapman, wide receiver Andrew Haynes, and star baseball player Avery Johnson, who had committed to playing college ball at Georgia Highlands College next year, on sexual battery charges. All three 18-year-old seniors turned themselves in the next day and were barred from participating in their high school's graduation exercises that Friday. The Gilmer County Sheriff promises that all of the students who were drinking at the party will be charged, and that rape charges may be forthcoming against Chapman, Haynes, and Johnson. Only months before, both Haynes and Chapman had faced underage drinking charges. No word on what the fourth student in the room — the one who watched the brutal assault occur without doing anything — will be charged with anything.
At least one other student who attended the party has lawyered up, and after his classmates and fellow partygoers turned themselves in, his attorney posted a confusingly triumphant statement to Facebook.
Being present at a party where a brutal gang rape occurred and probably knowing it was happening but doing nothing is nothing to brag about, dude. The fuck is wrong with you? This is the legal equivalent of yelling I DIDN'T FART! before anyone even smells anything.
Another frustrating detail in this case is the fact that the three defendants were immediately allowed to bond out after turning themselves in, which means that they didn't spend a single night in jail. And there's no guarantee that one won't sell the others out in exchange for a reduced sentence; depending on the totality of charges when the dust settles, each of the accused could be facing decades behind bars. And the fate of the girl — who, again suffered severe internal injuries from the assault — is still forever altered.
But there are heartening aspects to this awful case. For starters, unlike other recent high-profile cases of male athletes allegedly raping women who lack the football status of their abusers — Steubenville, Ohio and Florida State University, for example — authorities appeared to take the charges seriously from the day after the crime and actually seem to have made an effort to conduct a thorough investigation. Authorities shouldn't be applauded for doing their jobs, but given this country's embarrassing history of prioritizing sports achievement over the right of women to not be raped, when police actually give a damn, I reflexively feel like I should applaud. That's how low the bar is.
Secondly, community response — at least that which is glean-able from the murk of internet comments and social media proclamations — has been overwhelmingly supportive of the female victim and condemning of the entitled, monstrous fuckery of the three accused, athlete status be damned. Yesterday, in response to a flurry of "kids shouldn't drink so much!" commentary from media outlets, local columnist David Cook opined in the Times Free Press:
Know what causes rape?
Rape mentality causes rape.
And while alcohol can be a preferred weapon used by rapists, the foremost question we need to be asking ourselves as a society: What causes rape mentality, especially at a time when one in five college women is sexually assaulted?
"Most often, it's by someone she knows," reads a recent White House study.
This is not about alcohol; it's about something wedged into the male mind, something premeditated that says it's OK to sexually assault women. It is the pornographication of relationships: In 2013, aU.N. international study showed that 70 percent of men who admitted to raping women did so because they felt entitled.
As if they owned her body.
Can you imagine reading that from a male columnist in a small city newspaper pre-Steubenville? I'm from a small town, and I sure as hell can't.