Ma’Lik Richmond covers his eyes and cries as his attorney Walter Madison, standing, asks the court for leniency after Richmond and co-defendant Trent
Ma'Lik Richmond covers his eyes and cries as his attorney Walter Madison, standing, asks the court for leniency after Richmond and co-defendant Trent Mays, lower left, were found delinquent on rape and other charges after their trial in juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio, March 17. Mays and Richmond were accused of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August 2012. (Keith Srakocic, Pool)

CNN put its foot in its mouth when a reporter emerged from the sentencing of two Steubenville, Ohio, juveniles in the sexual assault on a drunken, unconscious 16-year-old girl.

The reporter, caught up in the event, went on at some length about the ruination of the boys' lives.

That looked to many viewers like a continuation of the male-privilege, blame-the-victim mentality that has surrounded this story.

We didn't think it was that simple. Journalists are aware that their reports are often object lessons for readers: Look what this person did, and look at the consequences. That's what we hope the CNN reporter intended.

But there's no ambiguity in that blame-the-victim campaign that preceded the sentencing and has yet to recede.

The social media, Twitter especially, continue to point out that the victim "had it coming' and that she should have known better than to get drunk at a party.

If she hadn't ingested too much alcohol, she probably would not have been digitally penetrated without her consent. In Michigan, that's criminal sexual conduct punishable by maximum sentences of 15 years to life, depending on the degree.

But it doesn't follow that the unconscious girl somehow set up the boys to make her some kind of limp sex toy, with so-called "friends' around to record the event.

Michigan law makes what constitutes sexual assault quite clear: "No' means just that. Being unconscious, drunk out of her mind and too out of it to respond also means "no.'


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The boys will recover. They'll get out of detention and go on with their lives, now altered by the experience and the requirement that they register as sex offenders wherever they live. It's a consequence of their actions.

One of the boys was sentenced to a year in detention, the other to two years, although both could remain in a facility until they're 21.

The investigation into the conduct of the young witnesses is continuing. Their silence will be challenged by a grand jury. It may also answer a lingering question: Did coaches know about the criminal act? If so, why didn't they report it?

But if the two boys are sincerely apologetic, they might show it by calling off their social media supporters. From detention, they might tell their male-privilege idiot supporters that they're wrong, that blaming the victim in a sexual assault is always wrong.

That would make it easier for many of us to support the shorter sentences.