On Sunday, Judge Thomas Lipps found Steubenville High School students Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt in the rape of a 16-year-old girl. The teens will serve at least one year each in juvenile detention. They will be required upon release to register as juvenile sex offenders.
The case involving the star athletes has roiled Steubenville for months, an Internet campaign and protests keeping the crime and the city in the national spotlight. The controversy is not likely to die down quickly. Mike DeWine, the Ohio attorney general, has promised grand jury investigations of others for related crimes, including allegations of a coverup, failure to report a crime and sexting, transmitting nude pictures by cellphone.
Chastened and apologetic, Mays and Richmond seem now to understand, much too late, the ruinous consequences of their actions and those of their friends on the night of Aug. 11 last year. But somewhere along the line, a long time before things spun way out of hand that summer night, there surely were opportunities for intervention, actions by authority figures that might have prevented the young people involved from acting out their immaturity and stupidity. As Steubenville seeks to move past the controversy, residents need to examine the climate that made for this kind of ugliness: the absence of adult supervision at teen parties, during which access to alcohol seemed not to have been a problem; the environment and attitudes that gave teenage stars the impression that the consequences of their decisions can be waived.
Equally disturbing, many of the young witnesses saw the sexual abuse of a person who was totally incapacitated by alcohol as something of a lark, recording her humiliation to share on social media. The case has put a blight on several lives. The question is whether Steubenville is prepared to change the climate in which it festered.