This is a sad, seedy, predictable story about small town protectionism, only in this story, rape protectionism meets Internet warriors for justice. Silencing victims? Not so fast, little town.
Anonymous is in Steubenville, Ohio today, protesting the local authorities handling of the rape scandal. They’re outside the local courthouse wearing Guy Fawkes’ masks and chanting, “Rape is wrong!” Also, in case little town is still confused, “Rape is not a sport.”
— Cassandra #KnightSec (@CassandraRules) December 29, 2012
What’s all the fuss about? Well, on August 11, football heroes in Steubenville, Ohio were accused of raping a 16-year-old high school girl. They also allegedly videotaped and photographed said girl while she was unconscious. Naturally, some of these tapes and photos were shared online, thus further humiliating the victim but also incriminating the alleged perpetrators. The New York Times broke it down:
Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She even might have been urinated on.
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.
Too many in the small town rallied around the boys as if mentioning the word rape were the real sin. How dare you tarnish the heroes…. Being raped and daring to speak about it often turns the victim into the Bad Guy. Some people had the bad judgment to tweet their impotent, indecent rage in an effort to silence and shame the victim by blaming her for the actions of the football players, “Some people deserve to be peed on #whoareyou”
Sad little town clasped its arms around its only heroes because even if they were alleged rapists, at least they were winners. Decency? That is not a “value.” Having a team to cheer, now that’s a value.
The blogger at Prinniefied.com, who captured many of the tweets that night, was sued (unsuccessfully), and even commenters on her blog were sued. After the case was dismissed, she wrote, “We will continue to cover this rape case and others; we will continue to report on corruption, favoritism, and cronyism regardless of where it occurs; and we will continue to rally against victim-blaming and misogyny.”
Eventually two football players were arrested and charged with rape and photographing a nude minor, while the kidnapping charges were dropped. The trial is set for Feb. 13. What about the rest of the people who watched, cheered, tweeted, shared? Nothing. Except that Anonymous and KnightSec have already claimed credit for hacking into a team fan site.
This case reminds me of the Savannah Dietrich case, in which for a while a rape victim lost her first amendment rights in an effort to protect the reputations of the convicted rapists, who had shared photos of her being assaulted. This is the world we live in.
And Anonymous doesn’t like it.
For that matter, neither does the Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty, who told the New York Times, “The thing I found most disturbing about this is that there were other people around when this was going on. Nobody had the morals to say, ‘Hey, stop it, that isn’t right.’ If you could charge people for not being decent human beings, a lot of people could have been charged that night.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I believe aiding and abetting a crime is a crime, even in Steubenville. Since one of the charges involves photographing a minor in the nude, it would seem to follow that anyone who tweeted or shared those pictures could possibly be charged as an accessory for distributing pornography involving a minor. Findlaw describes an accessory to a crime as:
A criminal charge of aiding and abetting or accessory can usually be brought against anyone who helps in the commission of a crime, though legal distinctions vary by state. A person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory is usually not present when the crime itself is committed, but he or she has knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and may assist in its commission through advice, actions, or financial support. Depending on the degree of involvement, the offender’s participation in the crime may rise to the level of conspiracy.
Here’s what is said to be the official oprollredroll petition, which seeks to push the rape case out of Juvenile court and to allow for a jury trial.
Meanwhile, Republicans have still not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, ostensibly because they don’t want to give any rights to Native American women. In service of this offensive prejudice, they punish the rest of American women and leave them without desperately needed services.
Into this void step the Internet Warriors, who have no problem identifying that rape is wrong, silencing victims is wrong, and blaming victims is wrong. Do so at your own risk, little town.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.