Shades of Steubenville: 4 Woodstock students charged in sexual assault posted online

Shades of Steubenville: 4 Woodstock students charged in sexual assault posted online

Chicago, Illinois - Recalling the shocking the 2012 Steubenville rape case that made national headlines, 4 Woodstock students have now been charged in the sexual assault of a 15 year-old girl in Illinois.

To date, national media have eschewed mention of the case, which, unlike Steubenville, has some racial overtones, and the question is why.

To illustrate the difference, actor Brad Pitt is turning the Steubenville case into a major motion picture. So why is the Woodfield case different? Is the sexual assault of a 15 year-old girl by four high school students that was videotaped and posted on social media now so common that it isn’t even considered newsworthy?  With the current circus atmosphere surrounding Don Sterling and Cliven Bundy, have the racially tinged aspects of the case given the media pause?

If that is the case, it is sad social commentary on the selective nature of media outrage.

Claudia Castro, general counsel of Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, agrees. “This case should get national attention because things like this are happening more and more often with abuse of social media,” Castro said.

Like the Steubenville case, the sexual assault of the young girl was videotaped, posted, and shared by the perpetrators on social media. In the Woodstock case, one of the students also charged attempted to blackmail the victim, threatening her that he would post the video on Facebook again if she didn’t agree to meet with him.

That is when the victim confided to her father that four high school students had raped her at a party and that the alleged assault was all caught on-camera.

Two of the students, 18 year-old Corion Simpson and James Cornelius have been arrested and are both being held on an $80,000 bond.

Cornelius, Simpson, and a third student, a juvenile, all face sexual assault charges. Simpson, a football player at the school, also faces charges of sexual abuse and intimidation for threatening to repost the video of the assault.

Intimidation is a class 3 felony with a minimum sentence of not less than two years.

Another student, also a juvenile, has been charged with unlawful possession of child pornography after the video in question was found on his camera phone.

Friends and supporters of the students are now contending the sexual assault charges are racially motivated because Simpson and Cornelius, who are being charged as adults, are black and the female victim is white.  Cortez Simpson, brother of the accused, has been defending the students on Facebook and says he wants “justice.”

But police say race was not a motivating factor in the case.

Friends of the students, who attended the party, are also blaming the victim, contending that the 15 year-old girl consented to sex with three of the students.  However, in Illinois, the age of consent is also 17 years old and there is no close-in-age exception.

The accused students say that they thought the girl was 17 years old.  But the victim’s father says he is not “buying” their excuse. 

“They [abusers] are always putting it on the victim,” Castro says.  “These [Woodstock] students knew what they were doing and intentionally posted the video of the assault on Facebook – all of that was done with intent. They all participated and they must now be held accountable. There is too much victim-blaming going on.”

Castro says that media attention on these types cases should act as a deterrent but it often doesn’t. “These are teenagers and teens always think they won’t be caught. 80% of the victims in these types of cases are women and young girls. In addition to dealing with sexual assault, now their attackers can victimize them again and again with posts of pictures and videos taken with or without their consent,” Castro says.

Castro says that juveniles are protected from intimidation under Illinois law and offenders who distribute photos and videos of minors are harshly prosecuted.

Laws are currently pending in 15 states that, if enacted, will also protect women 17 years of age and older from being threatened or blackmailed with sexually explicit photos and videos.

Better late than never.

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