Sex Crimes and Small Town Exaltation of Athletes in an Era of Anonymous by Darrah Le Montre
On August 11/12th of last year, a 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, was allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted by members of Steubenville High School’s almighty Big Red Football team. When the story subsequently broke worldwide, it divided a small town and forced us to question the future of our men.
If you have already read details of this case, you may have also agonized through a video which was shot on the night in question and prominently features Michael Nodianos, an 18-year old Steubenville High School alum who played for the Big Red team. If not, allow me to offer a *trigger-warning* now before I outline some of the most pertinent details:
A self-described member of a group that call themselves the “Rape Crew,” Nodianos, or “Nodi” as his teammates call him, starred in an incriminating, vile smart phone video that was posted to YouTube on the night of the alleged assault, then taken down, then reposted to the web by KnightSec and Commander X, who are both affiliated with the Anonymous hacktivist hive. This video features “Nodi” – who clearly borders on sociopathic – maniacally laughing and apparently providing a play-by-play of the repeated gang rape of the 16-year old female victim. During the course of his commentary, he frequently refers to her as the “dead body.”
Events like this force people out of their copacetic, pacified state of separateness, and push us to admit we are all connected. Transgressions like these beg questions about social responsibility, technology’s role in our lives, who is teaching what to our children, what it means to be a father and mother, and why we are even debating whether unconscious means consensual.
If you are a woman, you may have been advised that if you are attacked and need help to scream “FIRE!” instead of “RAPE!” –– because people run from rape. People are overwhelmed, confused, scared and paralyzed by the idea and consequence of rape. So much so, that they often blame the victim. As a woman, it’s scary to read about a violent rapist that was sentenced to a few years in prison, then released. Or how, in many cases, trespassing, burglary, and hacking carry a longer prison term than a sexual assault. There is, what can be perceived as, sexual terrorism going on in the world, including in India and the United States, and we’re too scared to talk about it. But if we can’t talk about it, how can we prevent it, understand it, heal from it and help others who have suffered at the hands of it?
There was a time when domestic abuse cases were blamed on female victims. They somehow provoked the men into hitting them. That myth has, for the most part, been dispelled. It’s sad to me that “fault” or “blame” is placed upon women in rape cases still. It seems that whenever a battle of the sexes takes place –– especially when sex is involved –– we can expect immaturity at best, insanity at worst.
When small football towns like Steubenville exist for a long period of time inside a protected bubble, exalting a few to the detriment of others, it’s hard to know whom to blame when a crime like this is shown to the world. Given that youth are involved, and given that adults provided said youth with their foundation, ethics, morals and copious amounts of alcohol, many believe the parents are just as culpable as the boys and young men may be.
Staring Down The Demon: What Rape Culture Looks Like in Steubenvile
Two sixteen-year-old Big Red football players: Trent Mays, a sophomore quarterback, and Ma’lik Richmond, are so far the only boys to be charged with rape stemming from that evening of hard partying and barbarism. Mays is also facing a charge involving illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. Previous kidnapping charges against the pair were mysteriously dropped, along with charges against Cody Saltsman. Many suggest this was part of a cover-up that was taking place prior to Anonymous stepping in.
Ex-boyfriend of the victim, Saltsman was present for part of the alleged assault. Furthermore, Anonymous believe he may have even been responsible for orchestrating the attack, which may have involved a date rape drug. Saltsman chivalrously live-tweeted about his ex-girlfriend’s condition, describing her limp body as “sloppy” and calling her a “whore.” He posted a shocking photo to his Instagram account that is now widely circulated of the victim being carried seemingly unconscious by her hands and feet by Richmond and possibly Mays. It is unverified whether the photo captures the teen in this case, or another possible victim of the “Rape Crew.” Web analyst and true crime blogger Alexandria Goddard published Saltsman’s tweets along with the photo to Prinniefied.com before Cody had the chance to delete the evidence. He subsequently filed a defamation suit against her that was later dropped. Richmond and Mays are scheduled to be tried February 13th in a juvenile court in Steubenville, however, a change of venue has been requested by Mays’s attorney, Alan Nemann.
Like his buddies, Mays also took to the internet the night of August 11th. Referring to one of the bashes that evening, Mays tweeted: “Huge party!!! Banger!!!!” His tweet was innocuous when compared to the more colorful ones penned by his friends. One such post leads prosecutors to believe the victim was urinated on after the alleged gang rape. At least one witness gave testimony indicating that this in fact happened. Aside from watching, laughing, tweeting, and snapping photos and video, these boys and men were otherwise action-less witnesses that evening. Nobody helped the girl escape from their teammates’ clutches that night.
The boys and men who attended the parties observed the atrocities and did nothing to stop them. To add insult to injury, they victimized the teen girl, and in the subsequent weeks have forced their families into shock, shame, and denial. According to the New York Times, which broke this story back in December 2012, “Richmond’s grandmother, Mae, said the charges surprised her because Ma’lik had been so focused on sports and school, with hopes of leaving Steubenville for a better life than that of his father, who has served time in prison and had been charged with many crimes including manslaughter. “Me and Coach Reno was talking, and he said Ma’lik was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. But since Nodianos’s damning video surfaced it’s impossible to shrug Ma’lik’s behavior off with such a cliché.
Now that the proverbial shit has hit the very real public fan, Michael “Nodi” Nodianos is sorry about the tape. He’s “ashamed” of his comments. He “regrets” them, his lawyer, Dennis McNamara reported in a statement released Monday. Especially given that Nodi lost his scholarship at Ohio State, where he planned to study engineering. According to Kent Patch, Kent State University has also said it is reviewing the scholarship of an incoming Steubenville High School football player who may have hosted one of the several parties at which the girl was allegedly raped.
Sources at Anonymous also suggest that the “Rape Crew” may be a clan of sexual criminals –– teens and young men who drug, rape and take photos and video of their victims –– that has existed in different incarnations, since 1975. Scarier still, is the adult protection these perpetrators may have received.
After The Agony: Now What?
KnightSec set up a page on LocalLeaks to keep the public up to date on emerging details of the case. This exhaustive resource called “The Steubenville Files” provides a timeline of the alleged events on and surrounding August 11-12th and background on those involved. It catalogs tips they’ve received from Steubenville High School students and others, as well as evidence they’ve ascertained via hacking.
In response to the LocalLeaks site, which has received massive amounts of traffic, the City of Steubenville and its Police Department launched their own website called Steubenville Facts. This sterile site, created to level the emotional intensity surrounding their town and the synonymous rape case, lists Ohio laws and doles out mental health resources. It also questionably links to Fox News’ coverage of its launch.
On Wednesday, Steubenville High School’s website homepage reported news of a security threat –– later found unviable –– that shut the school down for over an hour. It now features a media statement that says they’ve added “education programs to further raise awareness of sexual harassment, bullying, date rape and substance abuse.” It’s obvious that Steubenville, population 18,000, is under nationwide scrutiny, and pleading with itself and the country to repair its damaged reputation.
Speaking of reputations, one of the most stomach churning after effects of a reported rape is the character assassinations slung against the alleged victim. Shortly after the rape was reported, Big Red volunteer coach Nate Hubbard, 27, accused the victim of covering up a night of partying with a fake rape charge. He said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
Walter Madison, Richmond’s lawyer, claimed that before that night in August the victim had posted provocative comments and photographs on her Twitter page over time. He contended that those online posts demonstrated that she was sexually active and showed that she was “clearly engaged in at-risk behavior.”
Yes, because no rape case would be complete without making damn sure everybody knows that that slut was wearing something slutty, tweeting about her sluttiness, and – gasp – engaging in slutty sex. We can all go home folks. She asked for it. By having a vagina and having used it at least once, she tempted those vulnerable boys. Wait, it doesn’t matter if she was near unconscious. It doesn’t matter that virgins are raped. This girl –– like countless others –– should be held accountable for having recreational sex in the past, or at least the XX chromosome, to stay true to the banner double standard for which this fine world remains oxygenated with comments like Madison’s.
Defense attorneys have gone back and forth about whether any sexual activity took place that night. According to the New York Times story, which ran in December, Nemann, Mays’s lawyer, said “The whole question is consent. Was she conscious enough to give consent or not? We think she was. She gave out the pass code to her phone after the sexual assault was said to have occurred.” A month later, according to CNN, “Lawyers for both defendants have said their clients are not guilty. ‘We deny the accusations completely. We deny the lack of consent. We deny that there was sexual activity. We deny that there was a rape. And we steadfastly maintain that,’ Nemann said.” Scrambling to explain away this picture, which shows a limp and seemingly unconscious victim being carried to a party by at least one suspect, one defense attorney claims, “it was staged.” These desperate attempts to show that the alleged female victim was, in fact, coherent enough to give consent, is insulting to all women and a ghastly example to boys and men everywhere.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
There are so many layers and players in this case and everyone appears entangled in this tight-knit community. It has been reported that Prosecuting Attorney for Jefferson County, Jane Hanlin tried to convince the victim and her family not to report the rape. Hanlin is the mother of a Big Red football player not charged with a crime.
A LocaLeaks post states: “When the family of the victim went to file the charges, Jane Hanlin [the prosecutor] was present. She strongly discouraged them from filing. Hanlin frightened not only the victim, but the parents as well. Telling them that her name was going to be dragged through the mud, she will be in and out of court for well over two years, the press wouldn’t leave any of the family alone once the crime was made public. Scared out of their wits, the parents said they didn’t want that and Hanlin then said not to worry just leave it up to her and the detectives on the case.”
Big Red friend and webmaster of a fansite for the team, Jim Parker, may have known about the “Rape Crew” and may have even helped them secure the date rape drug. At the very least he condoned the boy’s abhorrent actions. Indecent photos of underage girls were discovered on his computer by Anonymous, some may even be of the “Rape Crew’s” victims. Big Red Coach Reno Saccoccia, whose alleged motto is “lie till you die,” testified as a character witness for the defense and failed to bench alleged members of the “Rape Crew” even after news of the alleged assault broke and the incriminating pictures went viral online.
The New York Times reports: “Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not ‘do the Internet,’ so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated. ‘You made me mad now,’ he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car. Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: ‘You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.’”
If you aren’t a Friday Night Lights fan and you didn’t grow up in a small town that revolves around athletics, you’ll be surprised to learn that after 30-plus years of coaching, Coach Saccoccia has a status not unlike that of the late-Joe Paterno at Penn State. Coach Reno has so much power, in fact, that Steubenville High School’s principal and superintendent relied upon him to discipline the players.
The New York Times reports, “Shawn Crosier, the principal of Steubenville High, and Michael McVey, the superintendent of Steubenville schools, said they entrusted Saccoccia with determining whether any players should be disciplined for what they might have done or saw the night of Aug. 11. Neither Crosier nor McVey spoke to any students about the events of that summer night, they said, because they were satisfied that Saccoccia would handle it.”
Furthermore, Saccoccia may have even told his team to delete any evidence still remaining on their cell phones such as pictures and video. No longer at the helm of the investigation, Saccoccia’s friend, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, is now receiving death threats as anger rises at the apparent collusion among prosecutors, coaches, teachers, parents and police.
An aside: In case you were wondering, as was I, why the victim was asked for the passcode to her phone, it was later reported by CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “she sent a text to one of the people saying she wasn’t raped or ‘I know you didn’t rape me.’” CNN reports that this text is one that the defense plans to use in court. However, according to “KY”, the leader of KnightSec, he uncovered tweets indicating that the alleged victim lost her phone right after that evening and it is possible that, if that text indeed exists, someone else sent it using her phone. So much cover up, so much conspiracy, it’s hard to keep track.
Let’s return to the infamous video and what “Nodi” said in the twelve minute long tape, filmed at 2 AM after the victim was allegedly dragged, lifeless after one assault to another party, then another.
“She is so raped right now. There won’t be any foreplay for a dead girl. It ain’t wet now, to be honest. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
McNamara, the attorney for “Nodi” said, “He was not raised to act in this manner.”
But, how was he raised? How were any of these boys raised?
Who’s Responsible? Raising Rapists – or Princes, Magicians and Lovers
Rosalind Wiseman, author of the bestselling book Queen Bees and Wannabes appeared on CNN as part of a panel which also included Dr. Drew. They discussed the Steubenville case, underage drinking, and attempted to address WHY none of the witnesses that evening came to the defense of the teenage victim.
Wiseman, who has worked with kids for decades as an educator and author, surmised: “These boys feel that if they said anything about it, that they would not be believed or that the adults in the community would not take care of it…There’s a lot of boys in this community who do not have faith in the adults that they will do the right thing.”
Rosalind continues, “Parents are saying to boys four things. They are saying, be a gentleman, but they’re not really saying what that looks like. Then they’re also saying things like, don’t get her pregnant, don’t get an STD. If you do something, don’t do something stupid, and if you do something stupid, don’t get caught.”
Given that kids spend the majority of their time at school, and the fact that athletes have after school practices and form insurmountable bonds with each other and their coaches, whom they look up to as role models, Wiseman astutely observes, “Coaches are so meaningful to kids… they are so much more than teaching boys on the field. They are teaching boys about what it means to be a man. And so what I’m thinking is, is that the coach failed these children in the most fundamental way possible.”
While we struggle to understand and deconstruct the psychology of gang rape, the effects of media on girls and women, and how in the hell all this shit could have gone down in such a small town, one thing is abundantly clear; What we’re doing now and how we’re doing it, isn’t working. Girls and women are not the only victims of patriarchal thinking. Boys and men are falling asunder too. And, until we cherish every sex equally and begin taking responsibility for the education of our youth, we’ll continue to read about cases like these.
As Wiseman poignantly asked, “Even if this is not rape, let’s just say that that’s not the case. Do you actually want boys to conduct themselves and have relationships with girls and talk about girls in this way?”
Lightning Strikes and Eyes Are Forced Open
Every man is born from the body of a woman. And, if he’s lucky, he’ll die in the arms of one. It’s the time in between that he’s responsible for protecting us. It is every man’s duty to watch over the women in his life from near or far, and to obstruct injustices that are forced upon her. If he does not –– he has failed at his job.
There are times when religion and the tyranny of the majority feels so archaic and repressive in how it trains us to raise children. A friend wrote me with profundity following news of Delhi gang rape victim Jyoti Singh Pandey’s death. He said: “I fully believe that we are entering an age of rational matriarchy, and leaving behind the age of irrational patriarchy. And during the transition there will be many horrors. But ultimately we’ll live in a better age of reason and healing.”
I pray that the gang rape in India and the subsequent protests and international outcry will help the women of India. I pray that the alleged gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio, likewise, results in a reexamination of the exaltation of athletes and the promotion of criminal sexual behavior in our culture. Let lives lost and souls robbed and our tears not be shed in vein.
Whatever happened the night of August 11th, 2012, the remnants indicate at the very least a lapse in humility, decency and empathy, and a chasm between reality and a technology obsessed and fueled unreality. As a race, we must figure out what we stand for, which team we’re playing on, who our “god” is, what motivates us, and what determines us each day, in every action, in every way. Is it money? Peace? Pride? Winning? Ego? Mindlessness? Drugs? Hope? Action? Because it is that blank, once filled in, that will motivate us as individuals, and ultimately save or damn our humanity. We must consistently question and challenge authority, and be judicious about whose lead we follow.
In an effort to challenge failed authority, over 2,000 protesters, including those wearing Anonymous’s trademark Guy Fawkes masks gathered in Ohio to “Occupy Steubenville” and alert the town to that fact that “the world is watching.” This chant provided a staccato rhythm for those carrying signs adorned with adages like “Unconscious is not consent,” and “Rape is not a sport.”
Twelve women spoke of their sexual assaults that had gone without investigation for up to twenty years. The activists rallied in support of the teen victim and girls and women like her. No doubt Occupy Steubenville and actions like it will cause a ripple effect. Why such a drastic turn of events has to take place for the world to open its eyes, I don’t know. But I’m just grateful that, for now, it has.
A version of this article was originally published in SuicideGirls.
Tags: Alan Nemann, Alexandria Goddard, Anderson Cooper, Big Red Coach Reno Saccoccia, Coach Reno, darrah belle, darrah du jour, Darrah Le Montre, Feminism, gang rape, Jane Hanlin, Jefferson County, Jim Parker, Joe Paterno, KnightSec, LocalLeaks, Ma’lik Richmond, Michael McVey, Michael Nodianos, rape, rape crew, rape culture, Shawn Crosier, Sheriff Fred Abdalla, Steubenville High School, Stuebenville, SuicideGirls, The Atlantic, the principal of Steubenville High, Trent Mays