The rape case in Steubenville has become something of a circus. What it looks like school and public officials originally wanted to deal with quietly has exploded into a national conversation with the involvement of hackers and street protests. And now, as the trial of two teenagers approaches, authorities are attempting to regain control of the situation.
Two members of the high school football team allegedly raped and kidnapped a passed out 16-year-old in August, but not until last month did it look like there would be any consequences. The boys are beloved athletes, and the town of Steubenville, Ohio rallied around them.
Then the New York Times wrote an in-depth investigation into what was going on, and the hacker group Anonymous stepped in to demand action and justice by hijacking the football team's website and releasing a video of another student joking about the incident. Since then, protests have erupted in the town and people all over the internet have been expressing opinions on the case — including myself.
Local authorities in Steubenville have launched a website called Steubenville Facts to prevent the spread of misinformation and to recentralize the conversation.
The site outlines which government bodies have jurisdiction over the case, including who's investigated so far.
It also alludes to the perpetrator's friends, who, referring to themselves as the "rape crew," documented the attack and tweeted jokes about it during and after it happened. Many people have called for charges to be brought against them as well as the actual rapists, but the site makes it pretty clear that that won't happen.
"Nothing in Ohio's criminal statutes makes it a crime for someone to ridicule a rape victim on a video or otherwise say horrible things about another person," the site reads. "Further, nothing in the law allows someone who says repugnant things on Twitter, Facebook, or other Internet sites to be criminally charged for such statements."
But, with a pleasantly surprising level of openness and compassion, the same post continues: "Steubenville Police investigators are caring humans who recoil and are repulsed by many of the things they observe during an investigation. Like detectives in every part of America and the world, they are often frustrated when they emotionally want to hold people accountable for certain detestable behavior but realize that there is no statute that allows a criminal charge to be made." (Emphasis theirs.)
I applaud the authorities for trying to diffuse the situation ahead of the trial not by condemning people's interest, but by providing them with as much accurate information as they're able. I hope that the spirit of transparency survives the upcoming proceedings, and that the community in general gets over the fantasy of protecting criminals in service of sports and moves on to the pursuit of justice.