As a controversial rape trial begins in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio, Occupy activists and members of the hacktivist group Anonymous are demanding justice for the alleged victim.
A 16-year-old girl from Weirton, West Virginia says a group of high school athletes from a neighboring town in Ohio raped her last August, but it wasn’t until a social media campaign spearheaded by members of the Anonymous movement elevated the incident into the spotlight months later in December. Now as the case finally goes to trial, the activists who helped draw international attention to a small town in Ohio are once again aligning themselves with the case.
Outside of the Jefferson County Juvenile Court in Steubenville on Wednesday, protesters donned in the Anonymous movement’s trademark Guy Fawkes mask held signs reading slogans such as "Stop blaming the victim. The world is watching," "Stop Sexual Violence" and "This is something you just can't get away with."
When Anonymous brought the story into the spotlight last year, the group led a series of demonstrations throughout Jefferson County in hopes of raising awareness. The Occupy Wall Street offshoot Occupy Steubenville soon helped out, and now both groups are back to show their support.
“I hope and pray she knows we support her,” one Anonymous member, clad in a Fawkes mask, told the Pittsburg Tribune Review. “Many of us are also Jane Does,” she said. “It's time to end the rape culture and stop blaming the victim.”
The plaintiff in the case, who has not been identified by name since she is a minor, says the 16-year-old quarterback of the Steubenville high school football team, Trent Mays, and wide receiver Ma'lik Richmond, also 16, sexually assaulted her last summer. She was attending a party in Steubenville and became unconscious after drinking in excess. The defendants, she then alleges, dragged her from party to party throughout town, abusing her en route to different get-togethers.
In his defense, Richmond says the only crime that occurred that night was underage drinking.
"People had Bud Light Platinum, and different variety of beers and vodka. Everybody was drinking,” he tells ABC.
The girl’s attorneys say much more occurred, though, claiming that both boys penetrated the victim digitally — an act included in the definition of rape in Ohio — although the plaintiff was passed out during the incident and says she doesn’t recall what happened at the parties. Only when tweets, Instagram photos and other social media dispatches were made the following day did she learn of the abuse.
"The state doesn't have to prove that she was flat-lined, but it's clear during both of these digital penetrations she was not in the state to consent," Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said at a probable cause hearing last year after charges were filed.
Defense attorneys have argued that the case has already been tried in social media and that the Anonymous-led initiatives to draw attention to the case have harmed the changes of a fair trial. Hacktivists say their work has only raised awareness to the incident, though, when the mainstream media elected to ignore the incident.
As members of the Anonymous movement rallied late last year to bring the case to the public periphery, a website named LocalLeaks began releasing documents that they say highlighted a history of misconduct and abuse in Steubenville. In one posting on the site, hacktivists with the Anonymous sect Knight Sec leaked a cell phone video of another Steubenville athlete who jokingly mocked the victim after the assault, calling her “dead” and “so raped.”
“The video was shot so soon after the attack, that one person present becomes disgusted and actually leaves to go check on the condition of the victim,” writes LocalLeaks.
LocalLeaks updated their website on the eve of this week’s trial with hacked voicemail messages that they say “shed more light” on a group of Steubenville athletes that have been dubbed the “Rape Crew.” Additionally, LocalLeaks says they have uncovered a history of police corruption in the town, and claim to have linked Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla with a member of the Gambino organized crime family.
The Steubenville rape trial is likely to go into the weekend, with as many as 40 witnesses expected to testify.
“We just want this over with and out of our lives,” the mother of the victim tells the New York Times.