Steubenville rape teen Ma’lik Richmond's statement after release is a wake-up call

Guilty: lawyer Walter Madison holds his client, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond.

Guilty: lawyer Walter Madison holds his client, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond. Photo: AP

Rape is a heinous crime. Rape is second only to murder. Rape is not tolerated in our society.

How is it then, that this very society that so deplores rape manages to not only permit, but actually provide the necessary conditions for sexual violence against women to flourish?

Two things happened yesterday that demonstrate just how much.

Daisy Coleman, at the centre of an alleged rape case. Ms Coleman's family have taken their case public, including posing for media photos.

Daisy Coleman, at the centre of an alleged rape case. Ms Coleman's family have taken their case public, including posing for media photos. Photo: Facebook

First, in Ohio, Ma’lik Richmond, one of two teenage perpetrators in the notorious Steubenville rape case, was released from juvenile detention after serving nine months of a minimum one-year sentence.

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As Katie McDonough writes in Salon, the justice system entitles Richmond, who was 16 at the time, to rehabilitation. 

However, in order to be rehabilitated some sort of remorse has to be expressed. In confirming his release, a statement released by Richmond’s lawyer, not only indicates a lack of repentance but omits any mention of the crime:

“At sixteen years old, Ma'Lik…endured hardness beyond imagination for any adult yet alone child. He has persevered…and made the most of yet another unfortunate set of circumstances in his life. As with each other obstacle, Ma'Lik has met it squarely, lifted his chin, and set his shoulders; he is braced for the balance of his life.  While away, Ma'Lik has reflected, learned, matured, and grown in many ways.  He is a better, stronger person and looks forward to school, life, and spending time with family.  At this point, Ma'Lik wants most to be a high school teenager.“ 

Of all the offensive nonsense in this remorseless screed, none exemplifies our skewed attitude to rape more than the bizarre claim that Richmond’s stint in juvenile detention was the result of an ‘unfortunate set of circumstances’ that was somehow outside of his control.

Even after conviction and serving time, the rapist is positioned as the victim. The consequences of his crime are ‘obstacles’ and ‘hardships’ that he must somehow overcome as he struggles to ‘persevere’ in his quest for a normal life.

Sure, we can try to dismiss the statement as the weasel words of a lawyer attempting to make his client look good. But we’d be more successful if they weren’t so reminiscent of how the media reports on such rape cases and how communities react to them.

Take this notorious New York Times article on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, which does a pretty good job of lamenting the futures of the alleged rapists. ‘How could (the) young men be drawn into such an act?’ the journalist asks, as if there was mysterious entity, and not their own intentions, compelling them.

‘It’s just destroyed our community,’ one resident told the newspaper. ‘These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.’

Likewise, when the guilty verdict was handed down in Steubenville, Twitter lit up with outrage at the ‘whore’ who had ruined the lives of these poor boys.

Even more disturbing was the spectacle of the media agonising over ‘the lasting effect on two young men’ whose ‘lives are destroyed’ by a crime that ‘will haunt them for the rest of their lives.’ 

All of which helps explain the lawyer’s statement. But unlike Ma’lik Richmond’s lawyer, I can imagine a ’hardness’ more difficult to endure than that of his client: the one suffered by his all but forgotten, anonymous 16-year-old victim.

Which brings me to the second thing that happened yesterday for which we can thank our culture of rape apologia.

Daisy Coleman, the teenager from Maryland, Missouri, who at 13 was allegedly raped, also while unconscious and also while being filmed, before being dumped in freezing temperatures on her mother’s front porch, attempted suicide for the third time. 

Despite video evidence linking 17-year-old Matthew Barrett to her rape, the case was dropped before trial. Barrett who came from a prominent local family and whose grandfather is a Missouri state representative, carried on as before.

Coleman, however, was run out of town, bullied, and sent death threats. Eventually she tried to end her life. Three times. 

Let’s recap. Ma’lik Richmond, a convicted rapist, whose crime was deemed severe enough to warrant Ohio’s second toughest qualification, requiring him to register as a sex offender every six months (although his profile will not be visible to the public), is able to resume his life a mere nine months later.

Meanwhile, the victim of a crime almost identical to his own finds herself so crippled by her experiences she believes she is better off dead.

This is what we talk about when we talk about rape culture. Even as we claim to hate rape, we pity the rapist and scorn his victims.

Even as we claim to hate rape, we police the behaviour of young women rather than address the entitlement of young men who think girls owe them access to their bodies. 

Even as we claim to hate rape, we pretend it isn’t happening.

Our society is clearly failing young women. That young men are sufficiently comfortable in their behaviour that they think nothing of taping and distributing their crimes shows just how little society values young women.

But we are also failing young men because we keep permitting this cycle to repeat. Perhaps these boys act like they did nothing wrong because they have absorbed the convoluted messages of a culture that reassures them that they haven’t.

Yes, our society ‘hates’ rape. But only certain kinds of rape and certain kinds of rapists. When a woman is snatched off the street on her way home, or raped in her own bed by an invader, that is the kind of rape we abhor.

But when it comes to popular students and footballers, when the victim has been drinking or wearing the wrong clothes, or even when she has had consensual sex before, then the lines become blurred and suddenly the scramble is on to absolve the perpetrators of responsibility.

She must have wanted it. She must have asked for it. What did she think was going to happen? It is 2014 and still we can’t overcome the biblical view of women as the keepers of moral virtue. The slightest hint a victim isn’t sexually ‘pure’ and suddenly she becomes complicit in her own rape, a temptress, a predator, luring unsuspecting men astray. 

The wellbeing of Ma’lik Richmond’s victim at Steubenville remains unknown to the public, and the life of Daisy Coleman hangs in the balance. But what Richmond’s lawyer thinks you should know is this:

‘Ma'Lik will be taking all the time necessary to focus on his academic and personal goals. We ask for your support and prayers as we move forward.’ 

Moving forward. If only it were that easy for the actual victims.

 

31 comments

  • Brilliant article, well done

    Commenter
    b
    Date and time
    January 09, 2014, 12:17PM
    • I second that. Brilliant article...

      Commenter
      TR
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 2:37PM
    • I agree that this is a great article. I have a real problem with the author using the term "we" to describe the portion of our society who are rape apologists though. I don't know who this "we" is that she's referring to. It certainly isn't "me". I don't identify with a single thing in the article that you're accusing the "we" of.
      As far as I'm concerned, rape is rape, I don't care who the victim or the perpetrator is. The sentence in this case is an absolute outrage and the victim should pursue a civil suit and try and get justice that way.
      I don't know any single person who thinks any type of rape is OK. Just because some members of society think it is OK, I don't think many other people do.
      I don't know if you've ever lived in or visited America (I'm guessing not from this article) but their culture is extremely different to Australian culture. I do not believe that Australians view these crimes in the same way as the American communities do. Furthermore, small town America is extremely different to the highly urbanised parts. The reaction of the Anonymous group to pursue these criminals is a prime example of how plenty of people do view these as heinous crimes.
      All I'm trying to say is that I completely agree with your article in terms of categorising and describing the type of people and communities who perpetuate rape culture, but I completely disagree with your use of the term "we". I, and the other people I know, DO NOT tolerate any type of rape, DO NOT victim blame or shame and DO NOT feel any pity for the perpetrators of these crimes.

      Commenter
      K Dubs
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 3:30PM
    • Hi K Dubs, I just saw your comment and I firstly just wanted to say that Australian culture is not that different from American, the world is turning into quite a small place and media articles like the ones referenced in this article are in fact quite accessible to anyone with a computer. I at no point took the world “we” personally and unless you yourself have gone out and fundraised or pushed for legislation changes for stronger sentences for rapists, contacted your politicians asking what they’re going to do to try to stop rapists you are probably part of the “we”. The “we” in my opinion is an older generation of society which is failing the younger generation in ways such as writing articles like the ones quoted, sitting on their couches for years allowing moderate sentencing, failing to provide effective education programmes to try to curb sexual violence and consistently excusing rapists with light sentences and early parole while ignoring victim’s rights.
      To me this article highlights that Australia needs to start a discussion on rape, the treatment of victims and the sentencing of rapists and actually do something to push for change.
      “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
      I am not in any way calling you a rape apologist so please don’t think that I am, all I’m saying is that there’s a problem that everyone needs to try to curtail.

      Commenter
      b
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 5:18PM
    • nope.

      "Even as we claim to hate rape, we police the behaviour of young women rather than address the entitlement of young men who think girls owe them access to their bodies. "

      so whats positive consent laws then?
      what defines a culture - reporting of it as such or previlence/social acceptance. not sure that I agree - especially the assumption that US 'culture' = Australian 'Culture'

      Commenter
      confused
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 5:39PM
  • an excellent article, well articulating the shameful -and repetitive approach - of rape apologists in the media and the community who bemoan the 'effect' on the perpetrator, so much more strongly and visibly than any thought is given to the victim. This sort of article should be compulsory reading in high schools so that meaningful debate and discussion on the issues can be brought before teenagers 'before' they get anywhere near a situation like this - either as observer, or supporter. it is another example that the patriarchal view still dominates so much of media and community viewpoints - a view that requires women to be compliant, yet blames them for everything not deemed suitable in their activites, yet withholds any realistic forms of support and encouragement or validation for a self directed life.

    Commenter
    Hamelot
    Location
    Victoria
    Date and time
    January 09, 2014, 12:23PM
    • How does the victim feel now? Not only does she not get an apology from this thug, but she is probably now well aware that this person is just going to sweep it all under the carpet, after his almost annus horribilis and get on with his life.
      Poor baby, not his fault, bad examples/parenting/choice of mates. Please! Really? I'm sure there are other young fellas in this guys neighbourhood who didn't decide that they should rape a girl for whatever reason he thinks he was entitled to do.
      I hate this perpetrator as victim rubbish. It just gets my goat.

      Commenter
      Not impressed
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 10:39PM
  • I think its funny to see usually "progressive" writers complain about weak sentences for crimes.

    I agree that our justice system goes weak on rape sentences, just as they do on all violent crimes.

    Unfortunately its usually people who identify with the "left" side of politics who are against harsher sentencing because of myriad mitigating factors.

    Which way do you want it?

    Commenter
    Freddie Frog
    Date and time
    January 09, 2014, 12:52PM
    • I don't know anyone - left or right - who opposes harsh sentences for violent rapists, regardless of their troubled backgrounds. I would, however, oppose any jail sentence for crimes that don't involve violence, simply on the basis that jail never works as a deterrent, makes criminals WORSE than they were before and fails spectacularly at anything other than separating the criminals from the rest of us. The community needs to be protected from violent law breakers - but we are better off if non violent criminals are directed into other sentencing options that actually reduce the chances of them reoffending.

      Commenter
      Deb DeGood
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 1:23PM
    • Deb, I would agree with you that violent crimes should be treated more harshly than other crimes.

      But I'm thoroughly sick of violent offenders getting a light sentence because they had a bad childhood, were poor, or came from some other disadvantaged background.

      You can't just single out rape for harsher sentencing when most violent crimes are treated so lightly.

      Commenter
      Freddie Frog
      Date and time
      January 09, 2014, 2:24PM

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