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After Steubenville, A Community Under Fire Takes Aim at the Rape Culture

In Torrington, Connecticut, school administrators and residents are planning a community meeting to address cyberbullying after four football players (two of whom were 18-years-old) were charged in the statutory rape case of two 13-year-old girls. The rape and assault allegations resulted in cyberbullying of the victims.

In an online Middletown Press chat on cyberbullying today, reporter Jessica Glenza from the Register Citizen (who deserves big kudos for her coverage of this case) wrote, “The board of education chair has told us that he’s interested in setting up a forum of sorts between the mayor, police chief and local religious leaders to discuss issues of cyber bullying and statutory rape.”

Unlike Steubenville, the adult community in Torrington is not showing support for the football “heroes” by attacking the victims. The community appears to be at least partially working to educate students about rape, statutory rape, cyberbullying, and the important fact that it doesn’t matter if they like the victims or not, or if the victims hung out with the alleged perpetrators or wore the wrong clothes. In other words, they are taking aim at some of the tenets of our rape culture.

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It may be that 13-year-old girls engender more sympathy than a 16-year-old, but it also may be that they learned something from Stuebenville — like how not to be a national embarrassment of rape apologists: Don’t tick off Anonymous by lying and covering things up, don’t blame the victims, and if there is a reporter after your town for being rape apologists, you best straighten things out ASAP (Alexandria Goddard, a blogger at Prinniefied, brought national attention to Stuebenville and reporter Jessica Glenza did the same for the Torrington case).

Naturally, the two 13-year-old victims were bullied in this case (that’s part and parcel of the rape culture – intimidate/shame/harass the victim). The Register reported:

Following news of their arrests, a large number of students (30-plus according to The Register Citizen’s analysis of social media accounts) went on Twitter and posted or sent messages blaming the girls for “ruining the lives” of Gonzalez and Toribio. They called the girls “whore” and “snitch,” blamed them for hanging out with 18-year-olds in the first place, and more.

At first, school officials tried to duck under no comment dodges. But Torrington High School Principal Joanne Creedon called out the online bullying in a message to students, “We must stand up for what is right, and speak up against wrong…. (The) principles of safety, respect, and responsibility must guide your use of social media.” Parents were notified that bullying could result in discipline, including suspension. One female Torrington High School student was already suspended for bullying one of the victims.

And Anonymous kept watch, ready to spring into action as they did in Stuebenville. But after determining that Torrington was being handled differently, Anonymous threw their weight behind a fundraising drive for the Susan B. Anthony Project in order to raise awareness of the rape culture in America. The SBA Project is a sexual and domestic violence advocacy center.

Anonymous made their mission clear in a statement, “We want this case to be noticed because frankly we’re disgusted by the rape culture in America. People need to understand that there are new consequences for committing depraved acts of brutality against our sisters and daughters.”

Speaking of rape advocacy, Kenneth Traub, chairman of the board of education at Torrington Public Schools, told ABC that the community discussion will be led by Torrington Public Schools faculty and trained professionals from the Susan B. Anthony Project.

This case echoes some of the familiar patriarchal strains of Steubenville and Penn State (I’d add the Catholic Church, but then the list of institutions blindly defending patriarchy might never end) — in fact, one of the accused football players was charged with felony robbery and assault a year ago, and the coach not only let him play, but he was named MVP. But there are major differences as well, not the least of which is we are not privy to evidence prior to the trial in this case as we were in Steubenville.

The broader issue is how we as a culture deal with rape victims. Torrington is taking good first steps to educate their community about rape and consent, and they have plans to address cyberbullying (but a not so hot record thus far). The ACLU is keeping an eye on the students’ free speech rights, as these are fine lines to walk.

The community meeting will take place sometime in the first weeks of April.

The truth is, the rape and bullying of victims could and does happen everywhere in America. The only way we’re going to change that is by changing the way we discuss it and deal with it.

Torrington is obviously far from perfect, but they are taking courageous, important steps forward out of the rape culture, thanks in part to the fortitude of one female reporter and the watchful eyes of the mostly-male Anonymous.

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