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How Anonymous Hacking Exposed Steubenville High School Rape Case

Social media has leaked horrific details of the case, inspiring a call for increased accountability and a protest this Saturday.
 
 
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Photo Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

 

At an August football party in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly raped by multiple athletes as she lay unconscious. Now, because of social media, horrific details of the case have been leaked to the masses, inspiring a call for increased accountability and a protest planned for this Saturday.

While two boys were arrested and charged in relation to the alleged rape, several others have been accused of playing a role in the crime, either by watching without intervening or disseminating photographs of the attack. Due to the small town’s close-knit nature, accusations of a coverup have emerged.  

According to various reports, an alleged “rape crew” dragged the young girl from party to party before she finally passed out. Testimony from witnesses suggests that she faced multiple sexual assaults while she was unconscious. One tweet suggests she may have been urinated on.

The victim did not realize she had been raped until she heard about the photographs, and then saw the images. One image shows two football players carrying the girl -- who has not been identified because she is a minor -- by her hands and ankles, as she hangs limp above the ground. The New York Times reported that another image shows her lying naked on the floor.

Despite the disturbing nature of the case, for months only Alexandria Goddard of Prinniefied.com reported on the rape, documenting social media evidence with screenshots and suggesting a handful of perpetrators were to blame. Now that the hacktivist collective Anonymous has taken an interest in the case, new details are emerging. Photographs and other evidence on social media have raised questions about local authorities’ investigation. 

After demanding a public apology from the boys they identified by name as the so-called “rape crew” by January 1,  the rape-specific arm of Anonymous, KnightSec, released a disturbing video of a teenage boy who appears to be speaking moments after the rape occured. In it, he laughs at how the unconscious girl is “deader than Trayvon Martin,” was raped “quicker than Mike Tyson” and “more than [by] the Duke lacrosse team.” The same boy tweeted about the night, with disturbing posts like “Song of the night is definitely ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana,” “you don’t sleep through a wang in the butthole,” and “some people deserve to be peed on.”

While Anonymous appears to have uncovered information that mainstream journalists could not, the police released a statement following the video’s release saying that law enforcement was aware of the footage and had interviewed the teen who made it. While police say witnesses have not heeded their calls to come forward, there appears to be an abundance of evidence suggesting other individuals were involved. But according to the New York Times, deleted images were unretrievable:

Eventually, 15 phones and 2 iPads were confiscated and analyzed by a cyber crime expert at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. That expert could not retrieve deleted photographs and videos on most of the phones.

In the end, the expert recovered two naked photographs of the girl. One photograph showed the girl face down on the floor at one party, naked with her arms tucked beneath her, according to testimony given at a hearing in October. The other photograph was not described. Both photographs were found on Mays’s iPhone. No photograph or video showed anyone involved in a sexual act with the girl.

Anonymous complaints and chatter on the Internet about a less than fully aggressive investigation have perhaps not surprisingly proliferated.

Adding to the Anonymous-led conspiracy theory is that Steubenville High head coach Reno Saccoccia did not bench or in any way suspend the players involved. According to the Times:

Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.
....
Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not "do the Internet," so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated.

"You made me mad now," he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car.
Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."

Anonymous also claimed to have uncovered additional information suggesting a coverup. While the county prosecutor and the judge in the case recused themselves because of their ties to the football team, the hackers say there are more attackers, as well as more victims. Moreover, they claim the alleged rape occured at prosecutor Jane Hanlin’s home, and that her son may have been involved. They also point to ties between Steubenville law enforcement and the football team. From the Leaks:

When the family of the victim went to file the charges, Jane Hanlin [the prosecutor] was present. She strongly discouraged them from filing. Hanlin frightened not only the victim, but the parents as well. Telling them that her name was going to be dragged through the mud, she will be in and out of court for well over two years, the press wouldn’t leave any of the family alone once the crime was made public. Scared out of their wits, the parents said they didn’t want that and Hanlin then said not to worry just leave it up to her and the detectives on the case.

The town has been called “divided” on the rape, split between blaming the victim and her attackers. Here, social media also gives a glimpse into the way some in the town seem to trivialize rape. As one student posted on Facebook:

 


A football coach, too, blamed the victim. From the New York Times:

"The rape was just an excuse, I think," said the 27-year-old Hubbard, who is No. 2 on the Big Red’s career rushing list.

"What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” said Hubbard, who is one of the team’s 19 coaches. "She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it."

If one thing is clear from the video it's that the boys who commited, witnessed, or heard about the rape found it funny. Dubbing themselves the “rape crew,” they certainly understood that what happened was, indeed, rape. To the dismay of many, most of them appear to have gotten away with participating, watching, or disseminating pictures of the attack. Some locals have said that the lack of punishment is linked to the boys’ football celebrity in an increasingly poor town.

At the very least, the case is a disturbing reflection of America’s rape culture. But it’s also an interesting glimpse into social media, and how it can not only implicate people in a crime, but also be used to hold them accountable when the justice system has not. Should Anonymous be correct that there was a subpar investigation of the alleged rape, social media has allowed Americans outside of the town to rally for the victim and demand justice. Without that, her case may have been confined to the small town where half of the residents reportedly believe that she is the one to blame. 

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne