An Ohio teenager who is facing charges for allegedly live-streaming her friend's rape was too "caught up in the likes" to stop filming, or to call the police, prosecutors say.
On February 27, Marina Lonina, 18, and her friend, who was 17 at the time, met and went home with 29-year-old Raymond Boyd Gates, who allegedly began to sexually assault the younger girl. According to police, Lonina started filming the assault on her phone using the Periscope app, which streams video live in real time.
"When she was interviewed by the police, she said originally she thought that by live-streaming or taping it, it would prevent the assailant from doing what he actually was doing before her very eyes, but that she got caught up in it by the number of likes that her live stream was getting, so she continued to do it," the Franklin County prosecutor, Ron O'Brien, told reporters outside the courthouse last week.
Prosecutors say that a friend of Lonina's in another state saw the live stream and called the police.
Both Lonina and Gates, the man accused, have now been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery, and pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.
While Lonina originally told police she started filming to stop the attack, psychologists who study crime and social media aren't buying it.
"You don't film on Periscope to document a sexual attack," says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. "You call 911 and hit the guy over the head with a chair. The fact that she became an accomplice implies that her psychological need for approval and the thrill of the event were greater than her concern or empathy for her friend during a serious sexual assault," she says.
Rutledge suspects there was more going on than Lonina just fishing for likes – either the power the man had over her, or a perverse thrill in watching her friend be victimized.
"The notion of being 'lost in the likes' as a rationale for not stopping rape is ridiculous," says Rutledge.
N.G. Berrill, a forensic psychologist and the executive director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science, says the impulse is equivalent to a "lesion" on a person's "moral conscience."
"She was enjoying the attention she was getting by presenting this for public consumption. The reality of what was going on was seemingly lost on her entirely—it's scary," Berrill adds.
Both psychologists agree that social media has fostered a degree of desensitization and, for some, an increased need for validation.
You don't film on Periscope to document a sexual attack. You call 911 and hit the guy over the head with a chair.
"You can put it online immediately. People don't feel like there are any repercussions," says Berrill. "In some sick way, there's some satisfaction in having your 'work' be consumed by all these people, being told that they like it. Something terrible becomes another form of entertainment, even if it's real and horrible."
O'Brien told reporters that, in the ten-minute video, the victim can be heard saying "no" and "help me," and that Lonina can be heard laughing.
And as for the people who were watching the rape online on Periscope and "liking" it?
"I don't even know if they know if it's real or not real," says Berrill. "No one has any way of knowing what's staged, what isn't staged, and in some ways they don't care."
Prosecutors say the night before the alleged attack, Lonina had taken naked pictures of the victim, which is itself a felony, since the victim was a minor. However, most of the people who watched the live stream will probably not be prosecuted, Berill says. "I do a lot of cases where guys get arrested for Internet child porn and there are obvious consequences, but in this case, the vast majority of the people watching—they're not going to prosecute them," Berrill continues. "You can participate in these crimes by simply reducing the crime to entertainment."
While social media is, of course, public, people who post things online don't fully appreciate exactly what that means, Rutledge says.
"Many perceive social media postings as being aimed at their community, not the world at large," she says. "We see the same social media blinders on people who share too much personal information or who share information about their children that are, in fact, putting the kids at risk."
"The Internet is not anonymous," says Rutledge. "Facebook is not secure; SnapChat is not invisible. Most of the criminals who get caught for posting their crimes are exercising bravado to show their importance a digital 'nah nah nah—you can't catch me.'"
But Rutledge points out that this often is how these criminals end up getting caught.
"The inability to conceptualize how social networks work ultimately helps law enforcement officials catch criminals," she says. "Even when a perpetrator manages to keep his own Twitter-mouth shut, there is no guarantee that bragging to a friend in person won't end up on social media. Information is social capital."
"I think there's some weird sense of satisfaction," Berrill says of people who post horrific things online. "Most people feel totally unfulfilled in their lives, unaccomplished, especially adolescents, young adults. By posting it, it elevates everyone's mundane like to something—I don't know—special? Even if it's pervertedly special. But I guess they don't care because the reinforcement value is very powerful."
Lonina's attorney said in court last week that his client was not complicit in the assault and would fully cooperate with police. If Gates and Lonina are convicted, they each face more than 40 years in prison.