Two athletes for Torrington High School's football team in Connecticut have been arrested for allegedly raping two 13-year-old girls. Those girls were then reportedly bullied and harassed online by students at Torrington High suggesting that they "wanted" the attacks by "hanging around" with older students whose lives they say will be "destroyed." Screen shots of tweets compiled by Jessica Glenza of The Register Citizen in northwestern Connecticut reveal a picture of young victims of alleged sexual assault and the social-media reaction they confronted in the weeks since they came forward — a picture that seems familiar to many online as tensions simmer following the Steubenville rape trial and that sent school administrators into tears on Wednesday.
"Lory," who deleted her account, seems to think the two girls should have known better:
Meanwhile, "#FreeEdgar" (one of the alleged rapists is named Edgar) insistes that lives have already been destroyed. He is not talking about the girls:
And "Shelby," well ... Shelby:
The age of consent in Connecticut is 16, and the 18-year-olds arrested in the case, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, do not fall within the state's "Romeo and Juliet" protection of a three-year "close in age" encounter — the case will likely center on statutory rape. Gonazalez and Toribio were arrested on February 21 and 22, respectively: "Officials said that the Torrington cases involved two 13-year-old girls, and that Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Toribio, who have both been suspended from school, each face three felony charges, among other charges," reports The New York Times's Al Baker. The Citizen Register's Glenza reports that one of the felonies Gonzalez and Toribio are facing is second-degree sexual assault, and that the investigation is currently sealed. Baker adds that the Torrington school superintendent, Cheryl Kloczko, held back tears on Wednesday, cited school teachings of proper conduct, saying that "sometimes it seems that just isn't enough."
It's been impossible for many online to already connect the Torrington arrests with the ongoing situation in Steubenville, Ohio, where the 16-year-old victim of rape by two high-school football players has been subject to death threats via Twitter and online taunting has been prevalent since a guilty verdict on Sunday. And the similarities between the two small towns (Torrington is about the double the size of Steubenville with a population around 36,000), the sexual assault claims, and the social-media blaming of the victim have spurred links between the two situations: "In a small Connecticut town, it's Steubenville all over again," reads the headline to the Kevin Morris's article for the Daily Dot, while Yahoo's Dylan Stableford asks, "Is Torrington another Steubenville?"
In some ways, the story of Torrington appears similar to the beginning of the Steubenville case: Students on social media are apparently posting comments that many, like the superintendent, are pained to watch. In Torrington, already, school officials are already struggling with confronting the cyber-bullying: "There's nothing we can do; there's no police, no protection whatsoever governing the World Wide Web," Debrah Pollutro, an assistant to the superintendent, told The Times. In Steubenville, as a 12-minute video of someone mocking an intoxicated rape victim went viral along with an Instagram photo of the victim being dragged at a party, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has now learned to instruct his team to monitor Twitter and social media for threats around the clock.
The girls in Torrington aren't getting that same type of protection yet. What these girls did was bring charges against the football team's top player — a player who has been in trouble with the law before. "Gonzalez, the team's Most Valuable Player, was charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery. He's accused of jumping three juveniles, 14-years-old, in search of money," Glenza reports. But he was still allowed to play:
Former Head Coach Dan Dunaj said when he became aware of the pending robbery charges against Gonzalez, “I reeled the kid in after that, and he walked the line. As a coach I was doing something right.”
Dunaj is not the team's coach anymore. But his response to the pending robbery charges has raised questions about accountability and the importance of football in Torrington. In Steubenville, the suspects were apparently suspended at some point around the felony charges for rape. After the rape charges in Torrington, Cheryl Kloczko, the superintendent, held a press conference to explained how the local school system hands out suspensions based on felony charges:
"When the student does something and is arrested, of course, until they go to court they’re innocent until proven guilt [...] While you’re pending do we say, ‘OK you were involved in this,’ and because you were involved we kick them off the team, and then they’re found innocent,” said Kloczko.
Gonzalez is being held at a correction facility, and Toribio is being electronically monitored for the February 10 incident. But the online harassment was there during and after their arrests more than a week later. And the school still appears to be figuring out what to do about it: "If you think there's some wild band of athletes that are wandering around then I think you’re mistaken," Torrington High athletic director told Mike McKenna told Glenza. "If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we're not any different than any other community." And that, everyone else online seems to be saying, is the problem.