"Rape is not a joke," said Ohio NOW President Jackie Hillyer, echoing a chant from a dozen protesters gathered in front of the Rhodes Office Tower in downtown Columbus Monday afternoon.
The rally was organized to urge Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to investigate and file criminal charges against a man shown laughing at a 16-year-old rape victim in a video that has become infamous in social media.
"We believe that Michael Nodianos should be charged with failure to report a crime," Hillyer said. "The 12-minute video clearly shows that he knew what was happening."
The protesters formed a delegation and carried a letter asking DeWine to file charges against Nodianos into the Ohio Attorney General's office. The letter was accompanied by 85,000 signatures from supporters of the National Organization for Women, Justice for Children, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the feminist group UltraViolet. DeWine welcomed the delegation into his office and asked them to voice their concerns.
Jackie Hillyer spoke to DeWine about a pervasive rape culture that encourages sexual assault by failing to treat it as a serious crime. "It’s a culture that needs to be changed," she said. "We need to tell these young men that rape is not something they can be proud of and brag about. We need to get to the place where the culture changes enough so that bystanders feel comfortable intervening.
"The worst thing about this crime in Steubenville is not that it's so awful and horrible and disgusting, but that it's so ordinary," Hillyer said. "It happens all the time, across the state and across the country."
More victims and bystanders would be willing to report rape if they believed something would be done to the perpetrator, she said. "We're asking you to be at the forefront of getting the change to culture right in Ohio."
"This is a crime that I take very, very seriously," said DeWine. I agree with you that we need to continue to try to improve the culture and how we work this crime. This is something that all of us have a responsibility to do.
"We are also continuing to investigate what happened after the rape occurred, to see if there is culpability for anyone else. It would be unfair for me at this point to focus on any one individual. We've had dozens of investigators in Steubenville. We've completed 30 or 40 interviews. Our job is to leave no stone unturned, and find out what else happened.
Failure to report a felony "is unfortunately under Ohio law only a 4th degree misdemeanor, which is quite shocking to me," DeWine said. "I think that's something the legislature needs to look at."
The trial of Ma'Lik Richmond and Trent Mays for the rape of the underage victim is scheduled to begin March 13 in the Jefferson County Juvenile Court. DeWine said he will announce in a press conference after the trial whether there will be any additional prosecutions.
"I think it's very important, not only for the state and the country, but particularly for the Steubenville community, to feel that justice has been done," DeWine said.
"Outside of the prosecution of individuals who may have been involved as bystanders or witnesses of this crime, what would you propose to do to change the perception of rape from a joke and something to brag about to something that's a very serious crime?" Hillyer asked.
"This is something that's not just the Attorney General's area," DeWine said. "I think we all have an obligation to change the culture. We all have a responsibility. Parents, schools, clergy—anyone who has contact with young people has an obligation to make it very clear how serious this is.
"I would hope that what we're doing in Steubenville now, the prosecution of two individuals, will show that this is no laughing matter. This is a question of human dignity. It's a question of personal rights. We believe that the evidence will show that this young woman's privacy, her human rights, were violated.
"Anybody who's seen the video, as I have, thinks it's disgusting," DeWine said. "But we're not just focusing on that individual. We've been looking at anybody else who has any involvement, not only in the actual crime itself, but also anybody who has culpability after the fact."
However, there are limits to what the criminal justice system can do, DeWine said. "We have a moral obligation, as well as an ethical and legal obligation, only to press charges where we think the evidence is actually there."
"I understand that the criminal issue is the focus, and that's your particular role here, said OSU professor Pranav Jani, who was part of the delegation. "But a lot of us are also acknowledging, like you said, that it’s a question of human dignity and human rights. We have to address an entire culture that says it's okay to objectify women in this way, that allegations of date rape are part of a feminist conspiracy. I believe that all of these are things we need to challenge."
"I agree," DeWine said. "One of the disturbing things is that this is not an unusual case. Incidents like this occur every week in this country." DeWine attributed much of the extra attention on the Steubenville rape case to the influence of social media. "One of the problems with this is that the victim continues to be victimized by some things that are written on the social media," he said.