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High-Profile Rape Trial Of High School Football Players Begins In Ohio

Mar 14, 2013
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Testimony began today in a rape trial that has thrown a small Ohio town into the international spotlight. Two football players from Steubenville High School are accused of raping a 16-year-old girl during a night of partying last summer. Lawyers for the boys say the sex was consensual. The case has attracted widespread attention in part because of shocking photos, video and texts that circulated over the Internet.

Reporter M.L. Schultze, of member station WKSU, is at the courthouse in Steubenville. And talk a bit more about this case. It's become much more than a rape case tried in juvenile court, there in Steubenville.

M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: Yeah. It is a story of what a difference social media can make, in many different ways. Initially, these images were shot on cellphones, apparently by kids who thought they were a joke or thought they were something that should be shared. They were. They quickly spread around town, including back to the victim, who has said that she does not recall anything that happened.

That was the first wave of social media - that it was recorded. And frankly, that part was shocking to a lot of people; that people would think that's what you do. Then, the images disappeared and outside groups surfaced them again, and used them to back up claims that the case was being handled very cavalierly, that it was being considered a joke and/or it was a cover-up by officials in the town.

BLOCK: Cover-up, meaning that they wanted to protect the football team - right? - which is a huge powerhouse in this town.

SCHULTZE: It is, though both of the boys - I mean, some of this, the media narrative kind of takes over, and the boys have been painted as stars on the teams and things like that. They were freshman football players. I don't mean to say that football is not important to Steubenville; it's crucially important. But those who are defending the town say that the narrative got ahead of itself in several ways.

BLOCK: What else are you hearing from people in Steubenville? It's a small steel town. How are they handling the leaks and these charges of cover-ups, and all of this attention that's focused now on this town?

SCHULTZE: Well, almost across the board, when you talk to folks, the first comment they make is, no one here justifies rape. No one here thinks anybody should be raped. Where the "buts" come in is where opinions start to diverge a little bit. Some people say there is no "but"; that the girl deserves the town's support, and the town should be looking at itself and see ways it may have - if not created this, at least enabled it. Other folks are saying, but this is a different world of teenagers today, and they do things that we would never expect them to do; and to paint the town is unfair.

BLOCK: And briefly, we mentioned this is being handled in juvenile court. There's no jury. What's been happening in the courtroom?

SCHULTZE: In the courtroom, the prosecutor opened today. She said the girl was absolutely so drunk, there's no way she could have consented. The defense attorneys made very - one of them made a very brief opening. He said the rape did not occur. It will come down to a question of consent.

BLOCK: That's M.L. Schultze of member station WKSU, reporting from Steubenville, Ohio. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.