Note: See many updates from this past weekend here.
I first covered this highly disturbing story after The New York Times ran a major story last month on the cover-up and controversy in Steubenville, Ohio, involving vicious sexual assaults on a teen girl last August—the silencing at least partly due to the fact that some of the alleged perpetrators are high school football players in a football-mad town.
And this is a town, not far from Pittsburgh, that I have visited dozens of times—and driven right past the “Big Red” stadium. My wife’s family’s home is just a few miles west. Long ago I devoted a chapter in one of my books to a sheriff just across the river in Weirton, West Virginia, who risked his life to probe entrenched local corruption and gambling interests.
The shocking Times story, titled “Rape Case Unfolds Online and Divides Steubenville,” even included a passage revealing that one of the two reporters for the paper had been verbally threatened with harm by the high school football coach, a central figure in the drama. I was surprised the Times did not make more of that subsequently.
Perhaps that’s because the story quickly was forgotten (by most) in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But this week it has resurfaced and drawn much more national attention, from sports blogs to The Atlantic.
After the Times story broke, it was reported that some “Anonymous”-connected activists had promised they would hack sites connected to the case—prosecutors’ files, e-mails of those alleged to have taken part in the sexual assualt or the cover-up, websites run by football boosters. This week some of their findings surfaced, proving they had indeed tapped into buried or missing evidence, including photos (see above) and deleted tweets and videos. Just this morning they sketched out the chain of events on the night of the alleged rapes.
This remains an active case. Only two young men have been charged so far and are awaiting trial next month—in juvenile court before a judge, not a jury. But anger has been directed at the fact that no one else has been charged in either the incident or the coverup. The alleged assaults on the girl, who had passed out, took place at several parties and were witnessed by dozens who did not intervene but mainly took photos or videos—which they later deleted. The Anonymous folks recovered some of them but prosecutors have claimed little success in that.
The ties that bind in smalltown Steubenville have so compromised the prosecution--so many officials are linked to the school, the football program and/or some of the partygoers-- that it was taken from the locals and is now being conducted by the state's attorney general, Mike DeWine. One prosecutor just quit and left the state.
Defense attorneys claim that if any sexual activity took place it was all “consensual.” Today one of the lawyers said on TV that the publishing of the hacked evidence "hijacks" any chance for a fair trial.
Now the hackers, at their Local Leaks site, have posted a disgusting twelve-minute account of what was going on by one of the students present at a party. He has not been charged. I had thought, since it was acquired via hacking, that mainstream media outlets would either ignore this or simply state that it was out there. Instead, many (from local TV stations and their sites to national news outlets) linked to it or even embedded it.
From the start, the “social media angle” has been a key. The rape victim did not even know what had happened to her until seeing the (quickly deleted) tweets the following morning. Then a blogger kept the case alive by doing her own research and retrieving some of the deleted photos and tweets. And outrage and debate in the community flowed via the Internet for weeks even as the story was ignored nationally.
Here’s a full report at CNN, including videos from its programs yesterday, and at the Atlantic site—plus coverage from a local TV station and another CNN video—and below the video itself, featuring that student (and note at one point a rifle with a scope next to this drunken, laughing, uncaring, kid). It’s possible the girl, described as being as good as “dead” by the student, was still being assaulted in a nearby room. Warning: The video contains graphic and disturbing language about rape.