A Stones Throw 3-21-13

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This week was supposed to be a “feel good” week for ‘A Stones Throw’.

I intended to write about a couple of incredible stories and actions that show the good and the dignity of many of our young people.

I planned to write about winners.

Instead, I am going to write about losers.

Not because writing about losers seems to be more popular in media terms, but because sometimes everyone loses, including – maybe even most importantly – the system that is designed to protect the good from the bad.

A case in point:

Last week a judge in Steubenville, Ohio, found two teenage high school football players guilty of raping a drunken 16 year-old girl.

The rape occurred during one of several pre-“Going Back-to-School” parties held during August of last year. These parties were frequented by dozens of 15- 16- and 17-year old boys and girls. Alcohol flowed faster than the Ohio River at flood stage – and most of it flowed down the throats of these teenage boys and girls.

During, or after, one of these parties a 16-year old girl was so drunk, she passed out – perhaps several times. While she was in this condition, at least two boys decided to have sex with her. One of the boys decided the world should see what she looked like nude so he took pictures of her and posted them on Facebook.

When the girl woke up in the morning she was nude, in a strange place, and was not able to find some of her undergarments. She says she did not know why she was there, or what had happened. Based on text messages, tweets, and other social media, the facts (at least stories – if not facts) began to come to the forefront.

The stories differed from day to day.

Often, the basis of the story on a given day was determined by the degree of support to Steubenville High School football. Sometimes there was a call for justice for the 16 year-old girl. More often there was a call for justice for the boys. After all, they were football players.

What do you expect with teenage boys and a “willing” young girl?

Fortunately, after a judge’s decision last week, the expectations are that teenage boys – even football players from the “football-crazed Rust Belt town of Steubenville” (CNN) do not have the right to “rape” a 16 year old girl – regardless of her level of intoxication.

And, regardless of the level of intoxication of the teenage boys.

That, perhaps, is the only good thing that came out of the trial of these two young men.

I have many problems with the outcome. Problems that reflect not only on this trial, but on our entire justice system.

First, and foremost, these two young men were prosecuted in juvenile court.

I wonder why a charge of “rape” warrants a juvenile charge for a 16- and a 17-year old while time after time I read about 16- and 17-year olds who are being charged for burglary, assault, or any of a multitude of offenses that surely rank as less serious than rape, are moved to adult court.

Second, if more than 60 teenagers were involved with these parties, why were only these two boys the only ones accused of a crime.

Who supplied the alcohol?

What about the under-age kids who drank – and drank to excess? (I also doubt that the only sex – consensual or not – that occurred was that which was involved with the trial.)

Third, if these two young men truly raped this young girl, how can the court justify a jail sentence of one-year? They could have received more time if they stole a box of ‘Twinkies’ from a local convenience store. In fact, they probably would have been in adult court.

Third, one of the boys was sentenced to an additional year for posting a picture of the nude body of the 16-year old girl on facebook. While it is abhorrent to consider an individual would degrade a young girl by placing her nude picture for all to see on a social media, doing so is not the same as raping the same young girl.

I am not saying a one-year sentence for defiling and humiliating a young girl via social media is too much. I actually think it is about right. One-year should send the proper message to teenagers all over the country that “sexting” is dangerous, degrading, and illegal, and that the consequences are severe.

I am saying that a one-year sentence for rape is absurd. While there are many circumstances that allow for questions and arguments on whether a rape actually occurred, the fact is the two boys were found guilty of rape.

And they should have been.

Regardless of the arguments of the circumstances involved – no means no – and if a girl or woman is unable to speak, no is the assumed position – and, when a girl is 16 or younger, even yes means no.

Thus, even if what happened was not rape – even if it was consensual as the boys claimed – it still should have been considered statutory rape.

Regardless, while I think both boys should have been tried in adult court, in juvenile court their sentence should have been the maximum – Jail until they turn 21.

How can a court system that allows a crime of this nature be tried in juvenile court also be excessively lenient in sentencing.

We will never know that answer. What we will know is that the lives and reputation of one teenage girl, two teenage boys, and at least 60 more teenagers who participated in those alcohol fueled back-to-school parties have changed forever.

We also know, at least I think, the respect for the justice system took a big hit.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Also last week, a Cincinnati court set a $250,000 bail for the live-in boyfriend of a woman whose two young children he had beaten so badly they were hospitalized in critical condition. Just to make it complete, he also beat the mother of the two children – his girlfriend – to the point where her eyes were almost bruised shut.

Obviously this man has been charged with several extremely serious crimes – most of them crimes against very young children.

So – what is my problem?

Simple – the mother of these young boys stood in the same court, the bruises from her boyfriend’s beating still very obvious, being charged with neglect for failure to keep her children safe from her boyfriend.

Her bail? $1,000,000.

Yes. $1 million.

Let me understand. The mother is four-times more culpable for letting a child abuser live with her than that abuser is for destroying the lives of those two young children and their mother?

With a court system so flawed, how can we expect our young people to learn respect for the law and for one another?

I don’t know the answer. I only know it is important that we do so.

– Mike Cooney