STEUBENVILLE - Ohio's chapter of the National Organization for Women handed a petition to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday demanding that at least one more individual be charged in connection with the alleged rape of a Weirton girl.
Jacqueline Hillyer, Ohio NOW president, said a petition with more than 85,000 signatures gathered by the organization and UltraViolet, another women's right organization, demands a college student be charged with failure to report a crime. Two 16-year-old Steubenville High School students have been charged with the rape, which allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12. One of them also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.
Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges. Their trial is scheduled to begin March 13 in juvenile court at the Jefferson County Justice Center.
The college student was recorded on a 12-minute video in which he made comments about the alleged rape. His attorney, Dennis McNamara, in January said his client wasn't at the home where the alleged rape occurred.
But the women's organizations want DeWine to prosecute the college student, who is an adult, for failing to report a crime.
DeWine said his office will announce after the teens' rape trial whether charges will be brought against others in the case. DeWine said he isn't ruling out additional charges in the case. At least three other students witnessed the encounter, and still others apparently knew about it.
Multiple organizations have questioned why people who knew about the rape weren't charged under an Ohio law requiring people to report crimes of which they're aware. DeWine's office told lawyers for three witnesses last fall that their clients would not be charged.
Hillyer said the teen defendants, if found guilty, could be held within the juvenile system until age 21.
"Our position is rape is not a juvenile crime. It is a felony," she said, adding that she understands first-time offenders under state law have the opportunity for rehabilitation in the juvenile system. "We are asking that people who had knowledge (of the alleged rape) and didn't report the crime be prosecuted. He (the college student) made a joke out of it. It was horrible and disgusting."
Hillyer said the women's organizations are "chipping away at the culture" of idolizing athletes who brag about sexual assaults.
"We need to get to the culture of care and a sense of human decency of not taking advantage of others. We need to transfer away from a system that glorifies violence," she said.
Hillyer said the women's groups will be watching for a change in the educational system through state legislation that would promote awareness of sexual assault. She added the groups will be monitoring the upcoming trial.