As a trial nears in the Steubenville rape case, defense attorneys are telegraphing their strategy to earn an acquittal. Sure, they say, the victim in the case was allegedly incoherent, possibly drugged, and at times completely unconscious. But she never said no.
Defense attorneys said that the 16-year-old girl, who was allegedly repeatedly raped by Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond in a series of different locations over the course of an evening in August of 2012, essentially made her decision to consent to sex when she went off drunk with Mays and Richmond.
“Defense attorneys believe the girl, who lived across the river in Weirton, W.Va., made a decision to excessively drink and — against her friends’ wishes — to leave with the boys,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They assert that she consented to sex.”
Walter Madison, the defense attorney representing Richmond, has said that there is “an abundance of evidence here that she was making decisions, cognitive choices.” He adds, “She didn’t affirmatively say no.”
To be blunt, this is a paleolithic understanding of consent. Witnesses have said that they “couldn’t make out the words that she was saying,” that she was “not quite passed out but she was not OK,” and that she “wasn’t there to say yes or no.” One student caught on a viral video described the girl as “dead” and “so raped.”
Most decent human beings would see that as clear-cut evidence that the girl was simply not in any condition to consent or not — and Ohio law is very clear that someone has been raped if they are unable to consent due to impairment from controlled substances.
It is easy, with all the internet buzz surrounding the Steubenville case, to look askance on Steubenville itself. That would be unfortunate, because in truth, Steubenville is notable not because it is unique, but because it is so typical. Now another far-too-familiar milestone has been hit in this case: the point at which defense attorneys start claiming that the victim was asking for it, because she dared to get drunk and hang out with boys. What did she think would happen? Clearly, she was okay with being paraded around like a sex toy while football players fondled her in public.
If this latest horror does any good, perhaps it will remind people that “no means no” only goes so far. If your partner has not explicitly said no, that does not mean that they are not objecting, and therefore, that they’re okay with things. Unless your partner has said yes — clearly and with a reasonably clear head — then the no must be assumed.
As for this case, it seems unlikely that this line of defense will lead to much success; a clear reading of Ohio statutes and the overwhelming video evidence makes it all-but-certain that Mays and Richmond will be ultimately convicted. Still, on the way to trial, defense attorneys are managing to shame and malign the victim one last time, to repeat once more the lie that when a woman dares to drink and hang out with men, she has consented to whatever those men wish to do to her. It is a vicious slander, and it is a re-victimization of the victim. I hope she understands that decent people know she isn’t at fault. She is a victim, and she deserves no blame.
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