How One Crime Blogger Helped Expose the Steubenville High School Rape
A new documentary explores the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players and the broader issue of rape culture.
It was a case that put rape culture at the center of the national conversation: the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, during a night of partying.
In a small town where Big Red high school football games drew huge crowds and players were seen as hometown heroes, the case forced people to confront an ugly reality about what some boys might be capable of. Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were charged with rape and kidnapping in the Aug. 11, 2012, incident; both were found guilty of rape the next year. The kidnapping charges were dropped.
What made the attack stand apart were the widely shared photos, videos, social media posts and text messages documenting it and disparaging the victim. The disturbing evidence — which would later become central to the state's case — was thrust into the spotlight by crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, who was integral in finding the posts, taking screenshots of them and making them public, sparking nationwide outrage.
Digging for Clues
For years, Goddard, who grew up in Steubenville, had blogged about true crime cases, searching online for clues and connections. She said she loved to write ever since she was a little girl, devoting nights and weekends to her amateur sleuthing.
"It's not the cases themselves or the facts of the cases, a lot of time, that make me want to write about stuff, it's the people who are involved," Goddard, 51, told InsideEdition.com. "So I've always used social media to kind of get an idea of who the person was or what their circle of friends were like or what their lifestyle was like."
She said she first heard about the 2012 Steubenville assault through a brief local news story. Her personal connection to the city prompted her to start digging.
"It was one of those days when you kind of reach the end of the internet. I was looking for things to do and I just happened to click on the Steubenville website, the news site, to see what was happening because I used to live there. The boys had been arrested for rape and kidnapping at that time," Goddard told InsideEdition.com. "My curiosity got the best of me and I went out to the high school football site, pulled the team roster and started looking up social media for all of the kids, and fanning out into their friend network."
What she found deeply disturbed her: photos, videos and posts mocking the victim and the assault.
"Within a few hours, it was pretty obvious I had a pretty good outline of the things that had gone on that night. ... It got uglier as the night went along, as to how many people knew what was happening and how many people didn't do anything to stop it," Goddard added.
And it wasn't just teens writing disparaging things about the victim, she said.
"I was disheartened — angry — that someone's child was talking about another human being the way they were talking about Jane Doe," Goddard said. "Then as the evening went on, I went on social media and went on the football sites, it wasn't just kids who were talking about this, it was adults in the community saying horrible things."
She published her first post about the Steubenville rape on her website, Prinniefied, on Aug. 23, 2012. The blog soon became a hub for information about the case, including for people in the tight-knit town itself.
'In Your Face'
In January 2013, the hacker group Anonymous leaked a 12-minute video of boys mocking the victim with phrases including "She is so raped right now." The footage went viral and Steubenville became a national buzzword, sparking protests in support of Jane Doe, who has never been identified. During those protests, many other survivors of assault stepped up to the microphone to share their own stories. The case also brought attention to the prevalence of assault and the wider problem of rape culture, Goddard said.
"A lot of people hadn't heard the term [then] and if they did, they somehow thought it was a feminist buzzword and so they didn't really give much credence to what rape culture was," Goddard said.
"I think when the video surfaced of the boys making fun of her, it was so in your face, it caused such a visceral reaction with people at that point, that they realized this right here epitomizes what rape culture is. So people were able to understand through technology this is what it looks like."
Six years later, the case is the subject of a new documentary, "Roll Red Roll," directed by Nancy Schwartzman, which also raises the question of why no one else at the party intervened. Detective J.P. Rigaud, then a Steubenville police officer and the lead investigator on the case, told filmmakers he interviewed many teens who were there but either did nothing to stop the assault or took photos of the incapacitated victim instead.
"There definitely were marked moments during that night where you had hoped for some kind of a hero or someone to step in," Rigaud, now a special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said.
The film also details how text messages and social media posts became central to the state's case, including texts sent by Mays. In one, Mays told the victim's father: "This is all a big misunderstanding. She was really drunk. I never once tried to do anything forcibly with your daughter." In another, Mays sent a text to a male friend that seems to suggest he was trying to set up an alibi: "Just say she came to your house and passed out." But the friend texted back: "I saw the pix, bro, don't lie."
"This was a sexual assault with teenagers and the cellphones told the story," Marianne Hemmeter, lead special prosecutor for the Ohio attorney general's office, told filmmakers. "We had photos, we had 400,000 text messages."
Mays was sentenced to a minimum of one year in a juvenile detention center and an additional year for taking and sending photos of the victim.
"I would truly like to apologize to her family, my family and the community. No pictures should have been sent around, let alone even taken," Mays told the judge in 2013.
Richmond, who was also sentenced to a minimum of one year in a juvenile detention center, broke down in tears as he apologized in the courtroom. "I had not intended to do anything like this. I’m sorry to put you through this," he said.
Goddard said she has never reached out to or spoken to Jane Doe, and sometimes worries about how her blog brought more attention to a victim who has always wished to remain anonymous.
"That's something I continue to struggle with and probably always will, about how my voice may have re-exploited her experience," Goddard said. "So I never felt it was appropriate for me to try to contact her. That's something that if she wants to do that, I would love to meet her, but I am not going to infringe on her privacy or her ability to remain anonymous."
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