Back in December when the New York Times published an in-depth look at a stomach-churning case of alleged gang rape and sexual abuse of an unconscious 16-year old girl involving members of a small town's much-revered high school football team -- and how photos and videos of the assault were disseminated through social media and Twitter -- the matter of the Steubenville, Ohio assault was far from an open-and-shut case despite ample video, visual evidence, and plenty of witnesses.
What's especially upsetting is that adults were present at one of more of the parties at which the assaults occurred, alcohol was being served to minors, none of the dozens of witnesses stepped forward to intervene, and many associated with the football team are defending the players and blaming the underage victim from nearby Weirton, West Virginia, for attending an after-game party and getting drunk.
Months after the August 11 assault, allegedly at the hands of the team's two star football players, the case continues to evolve and rally supporters across the internet, and its latest champions are none other than Anonymous, the international hacktivist collective -- specifically an arm known as KnightSec which targets rapists.
Earlier today Salon reported on Anonymous's leak of a disturbing 12 minute video of a young man describing the 16-year-old victim as "deader than Trayvon Martin," laughing about how she had been repeatedly violated, and telling friends he knows she's dead because "there's a naked picture on her, a wang in the butt and she wasn't moving. There's usually a reaction."
The off-camera giggling over these disgusting details and total disregard for the girl's life is hard to watch.
The Anonymous leak follows on the heels of the group's demand that a public apology to the girl be issued by January 1 or it would go public with names and information of the football players and staff who defended the teen perpetrators accused of the crime. No apology was issued.
The incident reveals the influence social media can have in crimes of rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Groups like Hollaback!, the international movement to document and end street-level sexual harassment of women and girls, are actively using cell phone technology with its video and still-photography capabilities, to identify and publish photos of perpetrators caught in the act.
While these teens thought it was fun and cool to photograph an unconscious teenage girl being handled like a sex doll and dragged from party to party where she was violated and raped repeatedly, they were unwittingly documenting the commission of a crime and spreading these images to their circle of friends without realizing what they were doing. Although many subsequently deleted the photos, as reported by the NY Times a national crime blogger captured screen shots and continues to cover the case extensively on her blog,
Social media is quickly becoming a valuable weapon in the struggle to end violence against women. Police in the small insular town of Steubenville, Ohio, who might have been inclined to minimize the situation since there is little physical evidence to prosecute the alleged rapists, are now being held to a greater degree of accountability thanks to the visual records of the assault and the pressure of the whole world watching. What happened in Steubenville no longer stays in Steubenville. Thanks to social media, it's now all our concern.
Photo of Steubenville, OH © Rick Gershon/Getty Images