Alleged victim hopes case sheds light on crimes

STEUBENVILLE – The 16-year-old Weirton girl allegedly raped in August by two Steubenville High School student-athletes hopes the national attention her case has received will encourage other victims of sex crimes to come forward, said her attorney, Robert Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons said the girl and her family are “doing the best they can, keeping in mind what they’ve been through.”

“They’re a very strong family but they want to get through with this. They want to move on with their lives, like most families probably would,” he said.

The 16-year-old defendants, Ma’lik Richmond of Steubenville and Trent Mays of Bloomingdale, will go on trial Feb. 13 in Jefferson County Juvenile Court before visiting Judge Tom Lipps. Both will face rape charges, and Mays also will face a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. Attorneys for the defendants have denied the charges in court.

The alleged victim’s mother testified at a preliminary hearing in November, saying she often hears her daughter crying in her bedroom. The girl lost friends and became a social outcast, her mother said, forcing her to seek counseling.

“I think there’s some difficulties there,” Fitzsimmons said of the girl’s social life. “I think on a day-to-day basis, as the case continues to progress, she has tough times every day.”

The girl has continued to attend high school and participated in a team sport in the fall. Fitzsimmons believes that served as a temporary distraction from the frenzy surrounding the case.

Rather than come to her aid, others who encountered the girl at an Aug. 11 party in Steubenville posted disparaging comments on their Twitter accounts. One young man even joked crudely about the alleged rape in a more than 12-minute-long video that was posted to the Internet.

“It’s bad enough to have a horrific crime alleged, but then to demean the victim?” Fitzsimmons said of the video. “Anybody who’s seen that – I don’t care who you are – has to find it totally disgusting. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve heard and seen.”

Fitzsimmons would not say whether his clients have viewed the video, but he acknowledged the media firestorm it attracted to the case when the hacker collective Anonymous released it last month. Some have suggested the girl has been revictimized by the video’s circulation, as well as that of a photo showing the defendants holding the apparently unresponsive girl by her wrists and ankles.

“Every day or every time that she hears about it or sees it probably serves as a reminder,” said Fitzsimmons. “But that’s going to be a part of her life now – you can’t change that day. The more you talk about it, the more she’s reminded of it – the fact that she has to revisit it. You can’t escape that.”

According to Fitzsimmons, the girl and her family hope that if anything positive can come from the alleged crime, it is that the support the girl has received may encourage other victims to speak out. He said an overwhelming number of people have reached out to the girl, offering donations to pay for counseling and legal expenses, although Fitzsimmons noted he is not charging a fee for his services.

The family is directing donations to the Wheeling YWCA Madden House or the Sexual Assault Help Center, which has locations in Wheeling and Steubenville.

“I think the attention … can help other people that have been victimized by this type of crime,” Fitzsimmons said, “and give them some strength and some assurance that people are there to help them when that happens.”

He also expressed regret that the case has cast such a negative light on Steubenville High School, the Big Red football team and Jefferson County law enforcement through what he sees as brazen, uncorroborated allegations.

“Everybody should step back and look at this thing,” he said. “There are allegations and rumors that are wrong, but certainly the victim and her family have no control over that. They don’t want anybody needlessly hurt. They don’t want to tear down any communities.”