Monday, March 18, 2013

5 Reasons Steubenville Occured and 5 Ways to Prevent It

On 3/17/13, two high school football stars (Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays) from Steubenville, OH, were convicted of victimizing a 16-year-old girl when she was too intoxicated to consent in August 2012. The case grew to national prominence because of how the perpetrators and/or their friends photographed the victim, video-taped the incident and the aftermath, and posted some of the images and videos to social media sites, showing no remorse.

As a clinical psychologist who has observed followed this case from afar, below are the five main reasons I believe this incident took place and five ways to prevent it from happening again. While these are not the only reasons the incident took place and not the only prevention methods, they are each critically important and have additive effects when present together.

1. Dehumanization and Objectification of Women: This is a major theme that runs throughout this case as the female victim was objectified and dehumanized (laughingly referred to as “dead” by multiple people there are the time despite her clearly being alive). She was lifted up and photographed as shown above much in the same way hunters lift up, carry away, and photograph a prized deer.

The perpetrators seem to have viewed the victim as their prized catch and much like the prized deer catch, further victimization was to follow. Dehuminization and objectification of women can lead to criminal behavior, symbolic activities to further emphasize the dehumanization and objectification (in this case that included urinating on the victim), and a lack of remorse and compassion for the victim.

2. Poor Parenting:  Proper parenting is important to teaching children the different between right and wrong and forming strong positive emotional attachments. The father of Ma’lik Richmond, Nathaniel Richmond, noted that the day of the sentencing was the first day he told his son that he loved him and that he was not there for him in the early formative years of his life like he should have been.  While it is ok to be friendly with your children at times, a clear boundary needs to be drawn so that the child also sees the parent as a role model to look up, someone who teaches them right from wrong, and someone who provides discipline when significant mistakes are made.

3. The Effects of Alcohol/Drugs: When under the influence of alcohol/drugs, women are more prone to be victimized by men because they are in a more vulnerable physical and emotional state. Men are also more likely to behave in a disinhibited way when intoxicated, which can lead to criminal acts.

4. Peer Pressure and Group Think: When people are surrounded by a negative peer group, they are more likely to engage in criminal ways compared to if they were alone. This is partly because of the effects of peer pressure and partly because of diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is when someone is less likely to take responsibility for his/her actions (or inactions) when others are present because he/she assumes that others in the group are also responsible.

5. Lack of Concern for Consequences:  The perpetrators and their friends appeared to have a lack of concern for the consequences of their actions based on their various social media postings regarding the incident. One of the worst examples of this is the 13-minute long YouTube clip of a former Steubenville H.S. student, Michael Nodianos, who was video-taped soon after the incident took place relentlessly insulting the victim, joking about what occurred, and making statements that showed a callous disregard for human life. As a warning, the video is disturbing to watch.


1. Improved Parenting: Parents and guardians need to take a more responsible role in the lives of their children, forming a close and appropriate bond from an early age. Tell your child that you love them at least once a day. Do fun things with them. Teach them the difference between right and wrong and help them develop a strong moral compass from an early age.  Children should not be allowed to be at late night parties without responsible adult supervision and should not be allowed to any such parties where alcohol is being served to minors.

2. Better Drug and Alcohol Education: The negative effective of underage alcohol and drug consumption should be discussed with children from early elementary school age and reinforced each year, preferably from the parents. Providing some real-world examples of how their lives can be ruined by alcohol and drugs can be helpful. In this case, one of the perpetrators father’s (Nathaniel Richmond) had a reported history of alcoholism, which role models the wrong behavior to the child.

3. Teaching Peer Pressure Resistance: Parents cannot be with their children all of the time and so they need to instill in them from an early age a moral compass that will help them decide for themselves when something is right or wrong, regardless of what their peers say. This will allow children to resist the efforts of peers pressuring them to do things they will later regret. It is important to instill a sense of self-confidence and self-worth to each child based on his/her own self-appraisals. Positive role models help instill this with their comments and actions towards the child. Good self confidence and self-esteem helps deflect what others say about them for not complying with peer pressure.  Teaching children self-assertiveness skills through role playing is also important.

4. Teaching Respect for Others and Respect for Life: It is very important to teach respect for others and respect for life from an early age by (parents and teachers), to prevent the casual attitude of harm and death to others. The simple adage of the Golden Rule can go a very long way here. The media bears responsibility here as well, as there is far too much glorification of violence on television, the movies, and in video games. Video games, for example, have moved from family-fun fictional titles to a virtual obsession with the first-person shooting genre and the development of games that glorify violence against women such as the Grand Theft Auto series.

5. Increasing the Penalties for Crimes Against Children: I have said this before and will say it again but the penalties for victimizing and exploiting children need to be increased significantly. Minimum one and two year sentences as occurred in this case are not nearly enough, especially when one considers the life-long cyber-victimization that the girl will endure as the videos and pictures will always be available on the internet.

Suggested reading: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting

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