Steubenville Justice

Some news from the horrifying Steubenville rape case. Michael Nodianos, who was filmed laughing his head off about a girl who was "so raped right now," has left Ohio State University:

Michael Nodianos hasn't been charged with a crime in connection to the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl by two members of the Steubenville High School football team in August. The case ignited a firestorm of controversy and national attention after hackers affiliated with the group Anonymous began breaking into the websites and email accounts of several football players and locals. The hackers believed these people had gotten off too lightly.

Nodianos' departure from OSU is the result of Anonymous' hacking campaign. Amanda Marcotte takes on the ethics of all of this:

As some initial gleeful Twitter responses from students to the alleged rape demonstrate, one reason rape continues is that communities not only don't hold perpetrators responsible, but close ranks to defend or even celebrate them. By stepping in and holding people accountable, Anonymous stands a very good chance of taking action that actually does something to stop rape. 

But: This type of online vigilante justice is potentially invading the privacy of or defaming innocent Steubenville residents, and even if everything published is true, there are very serious legal limits to the Anonymous strategy. Not all of the leaked allegations are attached to Twitter or YouTube accounts--many of the most serious cover-up claims, which we won't reprint here, are at this point only rumor. The allegations will infuriate you, but they don't rise to the level of real evidence that can be used to truly hold responsible those who participate in sex crimes.

Nodianos and his family have all faced threats and people attempting to find out his class schedule. I think that's wrong. Nodianos should have the right to go about his life, free of violence -- both threatened and actual -- no matter what he said on any tape. 

At the same time, I also think that violent crime is not just an offense against any victims, but an offense against society. If your response to a brutal crime perpetrated against a defenseless victim is to cut a video in which you laugh your head off, you should expect society to take offense and subject you to some amount of inconvenience.

A the core of all of this is the really poor job we do in terms of prosecuting rape. I have little in the way of ideas as to how to get better. But if there is support for Anonymous's tactics -- which I think are as spectacular as they are dangerous -- it comes out of an utter frustration with how we handle (or don't handle) sexual violence.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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