Steubenville Rape Case: Research and Discovery

By Tonya B. Lewis

As part of my Theory of Mass Communication’s class team paper on the Steubenville rape case, we are conducting a content analysis and reviewing print and online articles and broadcast transcripts (if we can find them). In the process of preparing a codebook (see my blog post, Abstracts, Lit. Reviews and Methods…Oh, My!), we have begun to read a sample of articles. This preliminary research has led to some discoveries of my personal, internal conflict with the case.

Conflict (Discovery)
The idea of rape is repulsive. But, what happens when the word “rape” is not used? Does “molestation” incite the same feelings of disgust? Does that euphemism take the sting out of the act? Should there be a clear distinction between rape and molestation? All of these questions have been posed in my mind while reading the accounts of the Steubenville rape case.

Mays and Richmond

Trent Mays (left) and Ma’lik Richmond (right) at their rape trial.

The victim in the case was digitally penetration (I admit I had to look that up to understand it.) by the perpetrators, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. But, there was no sexual intercourse. When I read these accounts, the word I first thought of was “molestation” and not rape. Was my ignorance due to what I was taught or read over the years in media reports of sex crimes? Or, has the definition simply changed and evolved over the years?In a 2005 journal article, researchers Paul Mason and Jane Monckton-Smith write that the public perception of “real rape” is that it “is perpetrated by a stranger and involves aggravating violence.” I think that attitude is changing.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

In Ohio, there is no ambiguity in what constitutes rape. Digital penetration is rape. According to media reports and social media posts, the perpetrators, and many of the other teenagers present during the assault definitely knew it was rape. A YouTube video (ABC News story) showed students laughing saying that the victim was “so raped.” Bottomline: Whether it’s rape or molestation, it’s wrong.

Coding (Research)
Reading these articles trying to detect the use of frames is proving to be a little more difficult than I initially anticipated. A judgement call between facts/statements vs. opinions must be for each article and correlated with other’s assessments of the article (i.e., coding). We still have work to do, but I think that refining our codebook along with our professor’s, Dr. Moody, review of the few articles we have coded, will help us refine our technique.

Additionally, our research team knows there are numerous, if not, hundreds, of articles on the Steubenville rape case but many seem to be lacking from databases. We have to create a formal way for others to find those article in the event that someone wants to replicate the study. In essence, this means there is potentially a great deal of articles that we will not be able to review, code and ultimately, include in our study. It is my hypothesis that framing is prevalent in coverage of the rape, and I am concerned that the articles, or lack thereof, will not exhibit or demonstrate the existence of frames. Or, that the dearth of articles will present inaccurate, incomplete or inadequate findings. I know every research study has limitations, and I don’t want this to be a major one for our research.

A part of me hopes that there are not many frames present in media coverage for the victim or the perpetrators. This would mean that journalists have gotten better at covering rape stories and eliminating some of the bias from their stories that maybe the journalism tenet of objectivity is not only real, but being adhered to. That may sound very idyllic, but keep in mind that I view every glass more than half full, wish unicorns were real and have been known to wish upon a star…

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