Steubenville rape case brings lessons in social media, sexting, and cyber-bullying close to home

CINCINNATI - Steubenville, Ohio is more than 260 miles away from Fort Mitchell, Ky. Still, for officials and teachers in this Northern Kentucky community the rape trial of two Ohio high school students and the related social media issues make it feel close to home.

Beechwood Independent School District superintendent Steve Hutton said issues of sexting, cyber-bullying and social media are important to face head on. 

"It's always a topic of conversation to help kids to stay safe," he explained. "Make sure that you're doing the right things out there because once you hit send it's out there."

Hutton said his district has conducted a number of Internet safety sessions about cyber-bullying and sexting, two of the many issues surrounding the Steubenville case.

In Steubenville, A Verdict
Sunday, a visiting Hamilton County judge convicted two Steubenville teens of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl. The case played out online long before anyone set foot into a courtroom.

Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, both members of their school football team, will each spend at least one year in a juvenile detention center for a sexual assault that was first documented online.

The site Buzzfeed put together what its calls a "definitive timeline" of how the case soared through social media  before the trial or Mays and Richmond even commenced.

Continuing Conversation
Since Sunday's verdict, people have taken to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to sound off on the rape case that gained international attention. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who has been vocal about the case, weighed in.

"I would like to take a moment to talk--not just as Attorney General, but as a parent and grandparent. This has been particularly hard for the victim and her family. As I said already, any rape is a tragedy. But, it is even more of a tragedy when that victim is continually re-victimized in the social media," DeWine said at a news conference.

In sentencing the boys, judge Thomas Lipp called the case a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in "how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today."

A case of cyber-sleuthing

The investigation of Mays and Richmond reads like cyber-crime case study. DeWine said investigators analyzed 13 cell phones, and from those, reviewed:

  • 396,270 text messages
  • 308,586 photos
  • 940 video clips
  • 3,188 phone calls
  • 6,422 contacts

And the cyber-sleuthing isn't over. Just a day after the verdict, the Attorney General's office reported that a 16-year-old was charged with menacing for threatening the Steubenville victim's life on Twitter. A 15-year-old was charged with menacing for threatening harm on Facebook.

"Let me be clear, threatening a teenage rape victim will not be tolerated. If anyone makes a threat verbally or via the Internet, we will take it seriously, we will find you, and we will arrest you," DeWine said on Monday.

Local Lessons
The Beechwood Independent School District surveyed students asking them about what kind of bullying they've experienced, Hutton said, including cyber-bullying, inappropriate texts, emails or social media messages.

Roughly 8 percent of middle and high school students said they'd experienced bullying online.

Hutton said he hopes his district's approach opens students' eyes to the far-reaching consequences of social media sharing before trouble strikes.

"(Students) just don't think about what they are doing," Hutton said. "So I think it's out there and other folks may have a little more an issue. We have a little less of an issue but we're aware of it."


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