Steubenville Authorities Launch Website to Dispel Controversy Around High School Rape Case

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REUTERS/Drew Singer

Protesters gathered in front of the of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, January 5, 2013. A county sheriff under fire for how he has handled a high school rape investigation faced down a raucous crowd of protesters on Saturday, telling critics no further suspects would be charged in a case that has rattled Ohio football country.

Officials in Steubenville, Ohio, have launched a website entitled “Steubenville Facts” in response to the national attention the town is getting following the alleged rape of a 16 year-old girl by two high school football players last August.

The site launched on Saturday, the same day as a protest rally organized by the internet hacktivist group Anonymous that drew nearly 2,000 people to the Jefferson County Courthouse.

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The controversy stems from incidents that took place at a series of parties in and around Steubenville, a town of 180,000, on the night of August 11-12. Through twitter posts, videos and photographs from the night, it emerged that a 16-year-old-girl, who is alleged to have been unconscious, was apparently dragged around these parties by a group of Steubenville High football team members and allegedly sexually assaulted as others watched.

It is this collection of photos, video and twitter posts which the girl’s parents took to the police station 3 days later. According to the girl’s statement to the police, she was unaware of what had happened to her during that night. The police claim that in the space of those few days, too much time had elapsed to conduct a toxicology test to determine if she had been drugged.

Two 16-year-old sophomores, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond—said to be star players on Steubenville High’s celebrated football team—are both awaiting trial on rape charges in connection to the incident, though charges of kidnapping have been dropped. Both deny the allegations.

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While local media published a report on the incident after the boys were arrested, it began gathering steam after a former Steubenville resident and crime blogger named Alexandria Goddard picked up the story, including claims that the police and local officials had dragged their feet on the investigation, and that the school had not adequately disciplined the players involved. An Anonymous-related group called Knight Sec and a Wikileaks-style offshoot, Local Leaks, have both agitated for greater transparency in the case.

Following an in-depth feature on the Steubenville case in the New York Times in mid-December, Knight Sec “took up the cause” to unravel what they call a “conspiracy of silence designed to protect a group of high school football players who had become well known to their fellow students as ‘The Rape Crew’.”

Knight Sec then hacked a fan website for the Steubenville High School Big Red football team and the email account of the booster who ran it, demanding a public apology to the victim and threatening to release personal information of those who did not comply. Early in January, they released a 12-minute video of a former Steubenville student, drunkenly talking and laughing about a passed out girl, including remarks such as: “She is so raped right now.” (That student matriculated at Ohio State University, which recently said the person in the video no longer attends their school.)

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The move by Steubenville authorities to set up their own website is the latest attempt to counter the claims made by the hacking group. The page includes a timeline of events, notes on the law and clarifications about the perceived lack of transparency in the case, including refutations of the accusations that several involved in the case had conflicts of interest. In an apparent reference to the leaked video, it states:

“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. 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. 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.”

Prosecutor Jane Hanlin recused herself from the case early on because she knew some of the juveniles involved; others have strongly denied the claims made by Knight Sec and the New York Times. Referring to the website, Cathy Davison, the manager of Steubenville City, told the AP: “When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case.”

The attorney for one of the defendants told CNN on Sunday that they might request for the trial to be moved, or closed to the public, given the publicity the case has received. The defendants are set to stand trial before a visiting judge at a Steubenville juvenile court on Feb. 13, as the local judge has also recused himself because of a conflict of interest.