Caroline Bankoff New York Magazine
n response to a growing uproar over their handling of the August Twitter and Instagram-documented gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl by two high school football players, officials in Steubenville, Ohio have launched a website to keep the public updated on developments in the case. On Saturday, City Manager Cathy Davison explained that SteubenvilleFacts.org was created to combat the perception that everyone in town “is like the individuals that are involved in the case. That we are a community that is run by football. That is not the case.” She added that the site will present “only the facts and provide information on the government of the city, as well as the transparency and the timeline of the evidence.”
National interest in the August incident was renewed earlier this week thanks to the efforts of hacktivist group Anonymous, which has accused town leaders of trying to cover up the crime. In addition to a twelve-minute video of some Steubenville High School students joking about the victim, Anonymous released the names of a so-called “Rape Crew” (boys who may have known about, witnessed, or even potentially participated in the rape.) They also charged the sheriff tasked with investigating the matter, Fred Abdalla, with destroying evidence and running an illegal gambling operation. On Friday, Abdalla told a local news station that he intended to “come after” Anonymous, who he accused of “character assassination.” However, he seemed to take a softer stance at a Saturday, when he appeared in front of the 1,300 attendees of Occupy Steubenville, an Anonymous-organized rally in support of the victim.
The crowd was not happy to see Abdalla, who announced that he was there to convince the protesters that “I’m not the bad guy.” As people yelled and booed, hepraisedhis department’s history of arresting people accused of sexually abusing minors, and spoke about the importance of educating children about the danger of being abused by a someone close to them. (That statement was followed by a shout of, “What about football players?”) After his remarks, Abdalla stuck around to answer a few questions, including one about his reaction to the aforementioned video. “Disgusting,” he said, before claiming that “the first time I saw it was three days ago,” though the Steubenville Police Department has been in possession of it for months.
Either way, as Steubenville Facts points out, it might not really matter. “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,” read a post to the new site. “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.” The pair of teenagers charged with the rape are due in court on Feburary 13.