Two high school football players accused of raping a girl will face trial in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday in a case that has become a national example of social media’s powerful influence in modern society. The nation’s eyes will be focused this week on what happens inside a tiny Steubenville, Ohio, courthouse. The juvenile trial set to begin there is every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world.
Quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma’lik Richmond, both 16 at the time of the incident, are charged with raping their classmate, whose name has been withheld by Reuters, at a teammate’s house after a night of drinking on Aug. 11.
Steubenville is a town used to having media attention lavished on a much different building. In the middle of this city of 18,000 nestled on the Eastern border of Ohio stands Harding Stadium, the crown jewel of this former steel town. Nicknamed Death Valley, the 10,000-seat structure is home to the Big Red football team, one of Ohio’s most storied high school programs.
The case has attracted the attention of bloggers and even Anonymous, a loosely organized cooperative of activist hackers, who have questioned everything from the behavior of the football team to the veracity of the investigation.
Every time Big Red scores, a sculpture of a stallion named Man O’ War breathes a 6-foot stream of fire into the night sky over Harding Stadium. But this past season, the team’s second-round playoff defeat was overshadowed by a very different firestorm that engulfed the team and the entire town.
Prosecutors say Richmond and Mays sexually assaulted the girl as she lay naked on the basement floor, too drunk to move or speak. The girl told police she did not remember what happened, but reported the incident the next day once she heard about it from her friends.
Steubenville is a place where football is more than just a past time; it’s a religion. And residents here worship on Friday nights.
“We all want to see justice prevail for the victim and the defendants in this case. All of you are here today because you are doing your job and writing your story,” Susan Hershey, the president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, told reporters on Tuesday.
The case might have never been known outside the local area. But after the party, a photograph began circulating on Twitter of two people carrying a passed-out girl by her arms and legs. Along with the photo, graphic banter on social media among people who had attended the party suggested that a rape had
“There (are), however, always multiple sides to every story. There is the other side of our community, a side that has been overshadowed by this incident. Unfortunately, our community has been painted with one very unflattering, broad brush.”
While community leaders refused to address the allegations directly, they defended the actions of the police department.
“We are a good city. We have good people here. Our police department is outstanding. They have done everything they can in this particular case,” he said.
Dozens of witnesses for both sides are expected to testify at the trial. Their testimony is considered crucial because the girl was severely intoxicated that night and appeared to be passed out at times, according to several witnesses. She is not expected to testify herself.
“Additionally, the witness will testify that she spoke to the alleged victim immediately following the alleged incident, and will provide information about the victim’s words, conduct, and state of mind,” Mays’ attorneys wrote in their motion obtained Monday by The Associated Press.