Even after pleas from their school officials and a week of national shame, the students of Torrington High in Connecticut are still taking to social media to defend one of the rape suspects who was the star of their football team. The continued shaming of the victim is a stunning example of how the conversation about rape — both locally amongst young people and nationally with increasing frustration — has continued in the two weeks since a verdict in in Steubenville, Ohio, where student witnesses didn't understand that "digital" rape was rape, and in the six weeks since the incident in Torrington, where the myth that statutory rape isn't a crime lives on.
According to Tom Caprood of the Register-Citizen, students are still pushing out public messages in support of their classmates, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio—two 18-year-olds who are facing, among other charges, counts of felony sexual assault involving two 13-year-old girls. Most of the Twitter and Instagram defense has centered on Gonzalez, the football team's MVP and the cause of the #FreeEdgar campaign. Some of the students have challenged the legality of statutory rape:
Here's another, via the local paper:
Tweets like those enraged many on Twitter, especially given the many laws around the country that say sexual assault victims of that age are not able to consent to sex — even in Connecticut, where the age of consent is 16, the so-called "close in age" clause of three years does not affect consent in a case of 13-year-olds and 18-year-olds..
Meanwhile, other members of Torrington's student body have been more blunt, according to the tweets collected by the Register-Citizen, with some claiming that Gonzalez should be free to leave the New Haven Correctional Center, where he has been held since his arrest on February 21. The first round of tweets collected by the paper showed a trail of locals blaming the victim between the February 10 incident and the arrests (Toribio was arrested on the 22nd). But now students at the school show no signs of relenting:
Meanwhile, other students at Torrington High took to Instagram to show support for — and the popularity of — Gonzalez in a photo posted Friday night flashing his jersey number, 21:
The principal of Torrington High, meanwhile, has gone further than the mystified school superintendent did last week, insisting in a school-wide message sent on Friday that students not stoop to "hurtful, irresponsible, and grossly insensitive remarks that reflect a total disregard for victim rights" but that have nonetheless continued: "This is a difficult time for THS, but what is clear to me is that now is the time for us to band together and make our school safer and stronger and better than it was. We must stand up for what is right, and speak up against wrong," principal Joanne R. Creedon wrote. But even after the young girls were called "hoes" and "snitches" in the days after a family member came forward with charges, some of the Twitter messages that have now been exposed were posted before, during, and after the day the principal came forward with a message to stop.
If there is any bright side to the social-media fallout in Torrington, it may come from the soft offensive currently being pushed by the do-gooder hacker collective Anonymous. A group associated with the collective got very aggressive with its amateur investigation into the Steubenville case, and the amplification by Anonymous "put enormous pressure" on the victim in that case, according to the state prosecutor, who said during the trial that the good to have come out of that case might have been informing minors that "digital rape is still rape." But with Torrington, the opposite appears to be happening: Even as local students remain "lost" about the definition of rape and create even more Instagram photos and damning tweets after the case has been exposed, Anonymous is indeed doing some good: It appears the hacker collective is going for a far less abrasive approach — for now — after Anonymous started a donation drive to benefit the Susan B. Anthony Project on Sunday. "This center provides counseling, training and support services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, as well as conducting outreach at schools to teach personal safety for kids, healthy relationships, date rape and sexual harassment," an Anonymous member wrote on pastebin, the call-to-action site for the collective.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.