Seventeen year old Ma'lik Richmond is suiting up for the upcoming football season in Steubenville, Ohio. Reports circulating on Monday show pictures of the football player practicing with his teammates before their season begins. It's a scene that must be playing out in nearly identical fashion on fields across the entire country, with one notable exception. Ma'lik Richmond is back on the team after serving a year in a juvenile detention center because he was convicted of raping an unconscious 16-year-old.
Given the high profile of the infamous "Steubenville rape case," most readers are aware of the chilling details. For those of you who are not, according to court testimony, this is what went down. On August 12, 2012, a young woman had way too much to drink at a high school party. After the woman vomited and passed out, she was relocated to the basement of a football player's house. Over the course of the evening, she was digitally penetrated by both Ma'lik Richmond and another student named Trent Mays (who's still in lockup).
What lifts this otherwise deplorably common event to a new level of disgusting is that the event was tweeted, instagrammed and facebooked hundreds of times throughout the night. There are minutes of footage and dozens of tweets wherein Mays and Richmond both not only admit their guilt but brag about it. According to reports, Mays actually texted the victim at one point, saying, “This is the most pointless thing I’m going to get in trouble for. I should be thanked for taking care of you.”
Once the hammer dropped on their crimes, both Richmond and Mays attempted to put pressure on the victim to keep her parents from pressing charges. Not only that, but there are several indications that the school's faculty worked to keep authorities from properly investigating both this rape and a similar incident that according a few months earlier. To day, six Steubenville school officials have been indicted by a grand jury.
The case is especially terrible because it brought to the nation's attention the seriously lax policies we have in place when it comes to defending our nation's victims. In response to this young woman's rape, not only did officials work to keep her quiet, but several prominent news outlets - in the wake of a tidal wave of evidence - we're especially sympathetic to the criminals themselves. CNN reporter Poppy Harlow got lots of (deserved) flack when the guilty verdict came in and she lamented the perpetrator's lost future:
"It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart."
As it turns out, Harlow's concern wasn't necessary. While Mays is still in a correctional facility for the next year, Richmond was released in January. For the next 20 years, he'll be forced to register as a sex offender every 180 days (but his lawyer is currently working to have that sentence expunged).
While reports indicate that Richmond was extremely apologetic after the fact (he was a sobbing mess, actually), that's still no excuse for his actions. Sorry. To this writer, a cover-up indicates a lack of guilt. Even more, the claims that "he's just a child" count for very little where a 17-year-old is concerned. By the age of seventeen, most normal, functional humans understand that sexually assaulting someone is a bad thing. It's a lesson most of us have little to no trouble learning.
Just take a second to imagine that the moment when you're at your most vulnerable and exposed, there are dozens of drunk idiots around cracking jokes and snapping pictures to share online. Imagine the worst moment of your life plastered across social media for everyone to see, not just in your hometown, but across the country. Now, add to that trauma the news that one of your rapists is not only back on the football team, but back on track to getting that promising future he once thought he'd lost.