Drunken "Consent" Key to Teen Rape Trial

By Ben Feuerherd 03/13/13

Two Ohio teens stand accused, as their town reels from the impact of underage drinking and social media.

One of the Instagram photos Photo via

Two Steubenville, OH high school football stars accused of raping a 16-year-old girl while she was too drunk to consent face trial today. Trenton Mays and Ma'lik Richmond allegedly raped her in and around their small town last August, while they moved from one underage drinking party to the next. The girl says she has no memory of what happened after the first party because she blacked out due to binge drinking. The defense attorney plans to argue that she did consent to sex. The case gained national attention when it began spreading virally through social media: Blogger and former Steubenville resident Alexandria Goddard accused students who were at the party of culpability for not stopping the alleged crime. Photos of the alleged victim, in which she appears unresponsive, were posted on Instagram. After the New York Times picked up the story, the hacker group "Anonymous" leaked a video of a drunk student making fun of the victim.

The prevalence of alcohol in college-age sexual assault cases is staggering: Some studies show that drinking—typically both parties—is involved in half of sexual assaults involving students. A study published on collegedrinkingprevention.gov states that both parties had been drinking in no fewer than 81% of cases. But proving the alleged victim in the Steubenville case was too drunk to consent won't be easy: There is no "bright line" to determine if someone is too drunk to commit to sex, as Jennifer Gentile Long, director of AEQuitas, an organization providing assistance to prosecutions of violence against women, tells CBS News. "These cases are very difficult," she says."Defense attorneys can use a victim's decision to drink on her own and extend it all the way up to blaming her for everything that happened." For Steubenville, the damage caused by the toxic mix of binge drinking and social media accusations may be long-lasting. One of the lawyers representing Trenton Mays tells the New York Times: “No one wins on either side. Everybody loses on these types of cases.” At the Steubenville juvenile court, where Mays and Richmond are standing trial, no ipads, laptops, or cellphones will be allowed.

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter

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