Steubenville, Ohio Rape Case Shows Teen Cruelty Unleashed by Social Media


Now that the verdict has been delivered in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, sending two football players to imprisonment in the juvenile justice system for a year or two, it’s become increasingly clear that none of us, neither parents nor teenagers, have any handle on what kind of monstrous beast social media has become in the lives of American teenagers.

The two high school football stars were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl while she was passed out, drunk from alcohol, and then using text messaging and cellphone pictures to broadcast their misdeeds to the entire high school community. Social media made their crime known to many other teens, who sent around the documentation of the assault while doing little or nothing to protect the girl. Social media also helped get justice for the victim after a group of online activists, who called themselves “Anonymous,” started a social media campaign to leak details about people they believe are involved in covering up the full extent of the assault.

This particular case combined the perceived cloak of anonymity that social media provides with the teenage inclination to cruelty—and the result was a molotov cocktail of vicious acts, all perpetrated at the expense of a girl who made the mistake of drinking too much in the presence of young men who had little regard for her safety or her humanity.

As social media continues to creep into most every aspect of a teenager’s life, these sorts of cases are becoming more and more common—kids using technology to bully each other or worse and amplifying their misdeeds by sending them out to their entire school community.

As parents, we’re the first and the last line of defense against these sorts of abuses. In my home, I feel like we’re talking to our teenage daughter on an almost daily basis about the protocols and potential dangers of that powerful tool she carries around in her hand 24/7. With her face hidden in the phone almost every time you look in her direction, the phone is a constant presence in our house. And knowing how much trouble the phone could cause her, sometimes it feels like we’re opening the front door and letting a potential predator freely roam in her room and throughout our home. That damn phone is a scary little monster.

Of course, the presence of the phone makes it even harder to have the frequent meaningful conversations we need to be having about the things that should and should not be happening on the phone—after all, a meaningful conversation would mean somebody having to look up from her phone.

But everytime I hear about yet another case like the one in Steubenville, I know that we have to keep up the talks. We can’t afford to give ground, to let her get comfortable with brushing us off with the scowls and the mumbled responses. No, we have to stay in there and keep putting up that good parental fight.

I wonder what she would do if somebody from her school sent her an inappropriate picture of a classmate—possibly a picture showing someone being violated. Would she come and tell us, or alert the school authorities? I’d like to think she would, but that’s why we need to keep up the talks, to affirm over and over the values she has been taught, the lessons we have been imparting about girls protecting themselves and not putting themselves in positions where others might have access to their bodies.

These two football players in Ohio, Trent Mays, 17, the quarterback, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, the wide receiver, will have plenty of time to think about the despicable nature of their crimes. Hopefully once they go through the criminal justice system they will have learned some powerful lessons.

But I wonder if their classmates learned some lessons too, about the need to protect and care for each other. That’s a lesson that we all need to make sure gets passed on to the teens in our lives. Of course, it would help if the adults involved in the case, some of whom apparently were complicit in the “rape crew” cover-up in their quest to protect the town’s high school football program, would bode well to set the example. (The football coach, some parents and even some law enforcement officials have been implicated in a cover-up.)

After Judge Thomas Lipps read the decision in Juvenile Court, a sobbing Richmond told his lawyer, “My life is over.”

No, he has time to reclaim his life, to make amends with his soul. He took a step in that direction when he walked toward the victim’s family and said: “I had not intended to do anything like this. I’m sorry to put you through this.” He was too broken up to say anything more.

I just hope those words, “I’m sorry,” pierced through the armor teenagers put up to keep out the world and the words were heard not just in Steubenville, Ohio, but across the country—so that our Juvenile Courts won’t have to hear too many more tearful “I’m sorry’s.”


1. Spurred by Rihanna and Chris Brown, One Teenager Tries to Curb Teen Dating Violence
2. Gang Rape in Texas: When Will We Stop Sacrificing Girls In Defense of Black Boys?
3. Gang Rape Of 11-Year-Old Cleveland, Texas Girl Goes To Trial: An Update
4. Herman Cain’s Bizarre World: Where Decency and Respect For Women Doesn’t Matter
5. A Valentine’s Day Dance With A Purpose: Helping To End Violence Against Women


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I had no clue all of this happened behind the situation. Sounds like something ripped from a TV show like Degrassi or (new) 90210. I haven’t followed the case much but I can’t believe that’s how things went down.

    Technology is a gift and a curse.

  2. Jacqueline Lewis

    As a parent to two boys, my husband and I are continually reminding them of their responsibility to the young ladies in their life. How they talk about them, the music they hear that may degrade them. Yesterday my youngest son was part of a purity ceremony and one of the things he said to me when we were studying about it, was “How could someone just stand there and let it happen to her?” Exactly, we keep reminding my sons that girls/women are flowers not play toys. The teacher at the ceremony said something profound, don’t touch if you aren’t going to buy, and the cost is commitment. Keep your hands to yourselves. If those boys had known what the scripture says on how to treat the young ladies as sisters until you want to commit, they wouldn’t be in this place. It’s hard to teach them that because society says take it if you want it.
    We must teach our sons as well as our daughters.

  3. if there was ever a textbook example of #parentfail, this case is it! the “scary little monster” is the lack of parental controls that enabled a herd of entitled teenage boys to run roughshod over this girl. The blame is on them, not the cell phones. phones are just another new technology and the adults are slow to teach proper handling in immature hands. Back in the day it was the car and drinking and driving. When enough teens died in senseless car crashes, parents got MADD and started teaching their kids about responsibility behind the wheel. This played out in the Stuebenville trial when one of the teammates testified that he took away the car keys from another guy he felt was too drunk to drive home, yet when he saw the girl being violated he did nothing to intervene. In the social media age where a sex tape gets some people a TV show or a leaked nude selfie gets you a week’s worth of headlines, the messaging to young people is that sex and sex acts are not serious. Parents have to be LOUDER!

  4. We’re already having to put time restrictions on our 4.5 year old to play her games on the i-pad! The digital world is changing quicker than we can keep up with knowing how to react to it in a proper safe way.
    The company I work for, Liberty Global, works with the European Schoolnet and European Commission every year for Safer Internet day. This year they put together a video of advice and information for parents about raising kids in this day and age of social medias. You article makes some really good and similar points to the articles and videos. There are loads of ways we can protect our kids but it all begins with the parents.
    You can check out the video here:

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