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03/20/2013

Steubenville all over again? Connecticut footballers charged with rape

Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine said this week that the problems of rape and rape culture were not confined to the rust-belt town of Steubenville – but that it was a broader, “nationwide problem” that urgently needs to be addressed.

No sooner did he issue that clarion call – after two high school football players were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl – than new reports emerged of a strikingly similar case in Torrington, Conn.

There, two 18-year-old Torrington High football stars have been charged for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, the local Register Citizen newspaper reports.

Police charged Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio with three identical felonies, including second-degree sexual assault, following an investigation that began Feb. 10.

Both players have pleaded not guilty and the charges have yet to be proven in court.

Torrington High School Athletic Director Mike McKenna was quick to dismiss the charges.

“If you think there’s some wild brand of athletes that are wandering around, then I think you’re mistaken,” he told the paper. “If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community.”

On that count at least – in his estimation of the occurrence of what he called “these things” – it seems the athletic director agrees with the Ohio Attorney General.

But worryingly – just as in Steubenville – the paper uncovered a chorus of critics posting on Twitter who were keen to attack the victim.

The newspaper unearthed dozens of tweets from local high schoolers calling the 13-year-old girl, a “whore,” a “snitch,” and blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the accused.

“Even if it was all his fault,” @LorryRamirez tweeted, “what was a 13 year old girl doing hanging around with 18 year old guys…”

That was retweeted 11 times.                                                       

Another chimed in with, “If it takes two then why is only one in trouble? Ha.”

That was retweeted 21 times.

In an editorial in today’s paper, highlighting the viciousness of social media comments, the Register Citizen said it hoped that local school officials would drop their “posture of denial and defensiveness.”

It said there was clear evidence of a “deeper cultural problem” that exists in the school district and it must be stopped.

RELATED: Bill Schiller on what the Steubenville story tells us about America

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller 

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