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Editorial: Steubenville case teaches important lessons for all

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 01:10 AM

Much of the broad interest in the recent teen-rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, came because of the unique role of social media in revealing and publicizing the crime.

Last week, two teenage football players were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl on a night last summer. Years ago, such a case might have just revolved around victim or witness testimony, but this incident and its aftermath were documented with countless texts, photos, tweets and online videos.

When Judge Thomas Lipps sentenced the two to juvenile jail terms, he cautioned children and parents to think again about "how you record things on the social media so prevalent today."

In fact, that digital evidence will likely come into play as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine continues to investigate others who failed to speak up about the attacks -- possibly other teens, parents or school officials. DeWine also has raised concerns about the ongoing social media threats to the victim.

"What's sad particularly to me is that the victim has had to go through the rape, the aftermath of the rape, the trial, and she continues to be victimized on the social media," DeWine told The Associated Press.

But whether social media was part of the solution or part of the crime, the attitudes it reveals about rape and sexual consent are the most troubling aspect of this story.

Prosecutors maintained and testimony showed that the 16-year-old victim was too intoxicated to have known what was going on. She testified she woke up naked in a strange house and remembered little of the night before.

Taking advantage of someone in that condition is clearly wrong, and generally, the law is clear on that. A heavily intoxicated person cannot give consent to sex. But victim advocates stress the public can be very confused about that and too often blame the victim.

"Why was she in his room at three in the morning? Why did she get drunk? Did you see what she was wearing?" Those are common reactions, Leah Tolliver, director of the women's center at Marshall University, told The Herald-Dispatch. "You're blaming the victim, but the victim did not rape herself."

Clearly, the Steubenville case shows a great need for education about these issues, not only for young men and women, but for their parents and educators as well.

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