Ky. Voices: How not to repeat failures in Ohio rape case

March 20, 2013 

Mae Suramek is executive director of Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.

In August of last year, a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia had a crush on a neighboring high school football player, Trent Mays, and attended a post-game party in Steubenville, Ohio. This week, a judge found Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, guilty of raping her. Mays was also found guilty of disseminating a nude photo of a minor.

Countless others witnessed parts of the assault throughout the night but failed to act to protect the victim. Rape culture is defined as an atmosphere where sexual violence against women is normalized, victims blamed, sexual assault trivialized and sexual harassment tolerated.

Sexual violence only exists because we all play a role in reinforcing rape culture. There were ample opportunities for numerous people to intervene that night in Steubenville. Here's how things could have turned out drastically different.

What happened: At the first party, witnesses said the girl became so intoxicated her speech began to slur.

Alternate response: Witnesses see that the girl's speech was beginning to slur and approach her asking if she might need a ride home.

What happened: She left the party with Mays and Richmond. One of her friends tried to stop her, but she insisted on leaving.

Alternate response: When the victim insisted on leaving, her friend solicits help from other football players to appeal to Mays and Richmond. They tell them that it's best that they don't leave with the girl in that state. They accompany the girl to the party, and keep an eye out for her to make sure she's safe.

What happened: Mays, Richmond, and the girl head to a second party where several people witnessed the girl vomiting and stepping outside for fresh air because she felt sick.

Alternate response: Witnesses see the girl vomiting and call for a friend or family to drive her home because she clearly has had too much to drink.

What happened: Cody Saltsman, the girl's ex-boyfriend, tweeted a picture of the passed-out victim being carried at her wrists and ankles by Mays and Richmond with accompanying statements, "Never seen anything this sloppy — LOL. I have no sympathy for whores."

Alternate response: Saltsman sees that his ex-girlfriend might be in danger and intervenes.

What happened: At this point, the girl was incapable of walking on her own and was taken into a car driven by another football player, Mark Cole, during which he stopped to videotape and post on YouTube Mays digitally penetrating the girl in the back seat of his car.

Alternate Response: Cole puts the victim in the front seat and drives her home.

What happened: The group later arrived at Cole's house where another witness said that the girl was the drunkest person in the room.

Alternate response: Witnesses who perceived the girl to be the drunkest person in the room approach her and offer to find her a safe way home.

What happened: Cole saw Mays trying to force the girl to perform oral sex on him, but she was too unresponsive to do so.

Alternate response: Cole tells Mays to back off the girl and takes the girl home safely.

What happened: Mays' best friend, wrestler Anthony Craig, saw the victim naked, Richmond lying beside her, and Mays "smacking his penis off her side."

Alternate response: Craig intervenes and stops the assault.

What happened: Shortly after that night, an 18-year-old Steubenville alum, Michael Nodianos, who did not witness the assaults, posted an online video repeatedly referring to the girl as dead and making these statements: "Why isn't she waking up? She's dead. They peed on her. That's how you know she's dead, because someone pissed on her. She is so raped right now."

Alternate response: Nodianos confronts Mays and Richmond and turns them over to the police.

Still unanswered questions: Where were the parents of these minors at all three houses where the assaults took place? Who purchased all that alcohol for the minors? How were these kids able to stay out all night, drive around town drunk and not be accounted for?

We can all help end rape culture. Let's not put our hometown on the map simply because it's easier to turn the other way.

Mae Suramek is executive director of Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.

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