It’s Time to Stop Shaming the Steubenville Rapists

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Aug. 11 2014 5:55 PM

It’s Time to Stop Shaming the Steubenville Rapists

86434984-the-town-of-steubenville-sits-near-the-ohio-river-on-may
Steubenville, Ohio

Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images

In March of last year, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays were found delinquent of raping a 16-year-old girl in the town of Steubenville, Ohio. This week, Richmond is back in the news. What did he do now? He served his time at a juvenile detention facility, re-enrolled in high school, and played some football. So local reporters are following him around the field, posting videos of his workout, and rehashing the details of his crime. Jezebel is serving up the news to the dismay of the site’s commenters, who are calling for his expulsion (or better yet, imprisonment!), because allowing him to secure a high school degree is “just going to feed the entitlement that led him to rape in the first place.”

What is he supposed to do? Drop out of school and live under a bridge for the rest of his life? That wouldn’t just be bad for Richmond—it would be bad for Steubenville, because a juvenile’s rehabilitation and reentry into society is integral to preventing rape in the future. As Irin Carmon wrote in Salon last year, the vast majority of juvenile sexual offenders—from 95 to 97 percent of them—who are caught, punished, and treated will never offend again. (And as Slate reported today, recidivism rates for sex offenders of all ages are actually much "lower than commonly believed.") As Mark Chaffin, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and director of research at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect told Carmon, “juvenile sex offenders are not simply younger versions of adult sex offenders,” and treating them the same would only impede our ability to prevent future crimes.

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Continuing to publicly shame juvenile offenders—for example, through sex offender registries—has “little or no value as community protection," Chaffin told Carmon.* In fact, these tactics can impair a juvenile’s chances of getting better. Access to education is particularly important: In 2006, Kim Ambrose, a supervising attorney at the University of Washington’s Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that publicizing a student’s sex offender status “can cause huge problems for keeping young offenders in school. And staying in school is key to rehabilitation.”

Steubenville has rightly become a national flashpoint for discussing the American justice system’s insufficient response to our country’s rape crisis. And there's a lot about the town's own response to the crime—and its high school football culture—that requires further investigation. But that doesn’t mean that everything that happens in Steubenville is backwards, or that Richmond should be turned into a mascot for rape culture. In Richmond’s case, justice was served: His victim came forward, police investigated, and he was convicted and sentenced. We need more cases to turn out that way. And eventually, we need to let the offenders go on with their lives, go to school, and yes, even play football.

*Correction, Aug. 12, 2014: This post originally stated that Ma'lik Richmond is placed on a publicly accessible sex offender registry. While he is required to register, his name won't be published online.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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