Educators in Denial
A total of four boys at Torrington High — two 17-year-olds, and the 18-year-old Gonzalez and Joan Toribio — are facing felony charges for second-degree sexual assault involving 13-year-old girls, girls not old enough to legally give consent in Connecticut. Gonzalez did not appear at a pre-trial hearing Friday, reports The Register Citizen, but will return to court from jail next month, when his attorney could seek to lower his bond. And according to a warrant obtained by The Republican American of Waterbury, Connecticut one of the boys had multiple encounters with the underage girl.
Meanwhile, at Torrington High, it turns out the controversial Instagram photo (at right) where players flashed Gonzalez's football jersey number — 21 — was taken at a charity event that the school principal thought would "appeal to her students' better natures. This is just one many new nuggets of context that the Times's Vivan Yee attempts to bring to the "helpless" efforts in light of the #FreeEdgar meme, a "defiant Twitter hashtag that has come to stand for everything the teenagers believe is wrong with the arrests — and everything outsiders believe is wrong with the town."
And, yes, the teenagers remain defiant. Even after the Register Citizen collected a series of tweets it said were from Torrington High's students — including "statutory rape is a victimless crime" and "You destroyed two people's life" (sic) — the Times's Yee digs up another epithet to add to the list from Torrington's vicious Twitter trail:
Young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment for that ... young men acting like boys is a sentence.
Yee also spoke to one unnamed sophomore outside Torrington High, who told her that "[t]he chick, she should get in trouble, too.... It's probably a regular thing she does. It wouldn't surprise me."
So where are the adults? Torrington High's principal, Joanne Creedon, has asked students to quit the social media smearing, and it appears the school is re-thinking its bullying policy, reports NBC Connecticut's Tosin Fakile. But those moves have largely been ineffective, particularly because of a lack of understanding of social media, its prevalence and its power, from the top-down.
The Times reports that local school-board chair Kenneth Traub, in response to a community "aghast at the posts" and frustrated that students didn't understand the definition of rape in Connecticut, moved to "convene a community forum on sexual assault, with members of the Police Department and sexual assault counselors." But Traub, in an interview with the Times, doesn't seem to understand the very "ghastly" posts that are so confounding the grown-ups in Torrington:
"I put no weight in any comments made online," he said. "I don't believe in Twitter. I don't believe in Facebook. I don't think that 13-year-olds should spend as much time online as they do."
But they do. And they are. And they are spending their time saying some sickening things. Here's another Torrington adult — the head of the local sexual assault victims crisis center, no less — interviewed by the Times for her take on a "generational divide" she doesn't seem to understand:
"It's not completely uncharted territory, but it's new," Ms. Spiegel said. "A while back it was Myspace, and then it was Facebook, and then it was sexting, and now it's Twitter."
In an interview with the Times's Al Baker last month, school superintendent assistant Debrah Pollutro threw up her arms when it came to solutions for dealing with the online bullying of possible rape victims:
"Parents are asking us, 'What are we going to do about online bullying?' " Ms. Pollutro said. "And I tell them, 'There's nothing we can do; there’s no police, no protection whatsoever governing the World Wide Web.'"
Clearly, the responsible parties in Torrington need some Twitter and Facebook training. But the larger implications aren't that their kids are spending too much time "posting" things. Their kids, in increasing numbers, seem to have an inclination to blame the victims — and that's a culture that's been around a lot longer than Twitter. That's a culture that only gets exacerbated by retweets heard 'round the world. And while adult ignorance as an excuse not to police it is one thing, it's worth looking at the roots of victim shaming in high schools of American past.