The hacker collective which turned the national spotlight onto a then little-known football town called Steubenville has now shifted its eyes onto Torrington, Connecticut and the a rape case involving two 18-year-old football players, two 13-year-old girls, and the student body of Torrington who bullied the alleged victims. The announcement came through the creation of the #OpRaider hashtag last night:
Torrington, Connecticut—a city with a population (36,000+) double the size of Steubenville is currently dealing with a rape charges involving 18-year-old student athletes, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, and two 13-year-old girls. Details of the case are sealed, though it appears that both Gonzalez and Toribio have been charged with second-degree sexual assault. One of the suspects, the MVP of the football team, was allowed to play last season despite facing felony robbery charges in a separate case. And there's evidence that the 13-year-old girls have been bullied on social media since they pressed charges last month.
Officials there seem to fall into two categories. The first says there's not a problem. "If you think there's some wild band of athletes that are wandering around then I think you’re mistaken," Torrington's athletic director Mike McKenna told the Register Citizen's Jessica Glenza. The other says says can't solve the problem. "There's nothing we can do; there's no police, no protection whatsoever governing the World Wide Web," Debrah Pollutro, an assistant to the superintendent, told The New York Times.
And that brings us to Anonymous, who want to get involved. This post by an Anonymous member on pastebin, one of the ways the group spreads its message, outlines that they want to bring more attention to the case:
Why #OpRaider? - That is the mascot of the school the alleged rapists attended.
What is #OpRaider's purpose: - Awareness. The alleged perpetrators have already been taken into custody which is a good sign. There are those in the media that have proposed in Steubenville charges may have never filed without the intervention of Anonymous. 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. Anonymous is considering it our business to shed light on the trend of relaxed legal enforcement and sentencing against rapists.
The over-arching question regarding Torrington is how much good can Anonymous do in this case. And whether or not Anonymous did enough good in Steubenville. That will vary on who you ask. On the one hand you have the national attention Steubenville's rape case has gotten, which, in large part was due to the work of Anonymous. While portions of the group are well-known for their hyperbolic threats like blacking out the State of the Union, its involvement in Steubenville is part of the reason why we even know what Steubenville is.
#OpRollRedRoll involved weeks of user KYAnonymous, who was outed prior to the trial, tweeting out information about people involved or with ties to the case—like family names, coaches' phone numbers, Instagram photos from that night numbers for school officials and prosecutors—to the nation.
It was also through Anonymous, that a certain, previously-deleted 12-minute video showing a young man laughing and making fun of an intoxicated Jane Doe or "Dead Girl" was uploaded to YouTube. And it was through these tips and information that eventually spurred the creation of Local Leaks, a Wikileaks-like site which amassed and published tips from those inside Steubenville about its "Rape Crew. Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla opposed their actions, citing threats to families named, to which Anonymous responded:
Why put their names out there? Why put their addresses out there? Because they're guilty. The ones that took pictures, ones that stood around, ones that recorded, even ones that watched. They're all guilty [...] What we are doing is not illegal. Publicizing already public information is legal.
But according to Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter, who represented the state and Doe in the rape trial, Anonymous and the attention it brought did its fair share of harm to the case. "In terms of the victim's identity and the pressure put on the victim, Anonymous's attention to the case put so much more pressure on her ... and other witnesses, we had pretty good working relationships with some of the witnesses that you heard from, but once Anonymous hit there was a chilling effect," Hemmeter said at a press conference following the case's verdict on Sunday. Some of the families linked to Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the two convicted rapists, say they have received death threats and faced cyber attacks in part because of the amount of attention Anonymous shed on the case.
From what investigators are telling us (the investigation remains sealed), the only similarities between the Torrington rape case and Steubenville's are that both involve the football team and both involve students bullying/humiliating the alleged victims on social media. A lot of what made Steubenville unique was the social media that was involved—that there were pictures from the night and what seemed to be multiple witnesses, but that no one was talking.
From what police have said, that element might not exist in Torrington—meaning that it's unclear what Anonymous could do in Torrington. What we do have so far, and perhaps where Anonymous may start, is Torrington's student body and some members who see it fit to humiliate 13-year-old alleged victims with tweets like this:
And bullies like that are finding some defenders. Connecticut's Register Citizen originally published the tweets, and its group editor defended its decision on Thursday. Editor Matt DeRienzo writes:
Some accused us of subjecting these students to bullying themselves, while even those outraged at their actions sympathized over the issue of young people not understanding the ramifications of publicly posting stupid things online and the permanence of those mistakes.
We could have easily told the story, they suggested, by just “summarizing” the extent of the bullying, and quoting some of the awful things that what were said without identifying who said it. Yes, we could have done it that way, and I’ll tell you right now, we wouldn’t be having this big local (and national) conversation about the problem.
As we noted, officials in school system either don't believe in or don't know how to deal with the fallout. Anonymous, we believe, may have some suggestions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.