Steubenville, Ohio isn't the first place one might think of when they think of a rape scandal. It's a small steel town on the Ohio River where the football team is one of the few glories the town still has left. Now, it isn't steel or football that is making the town famous. It's a rape scandal.
On Saturday, throngs of protesters in Guy Fawkes masks descended on the town, fighting what they say was the unconscionable treatment of an alleged rape victim and her family. The case was made public, first by The New York Times and then by KnightSec, a hacker group that specifically targets rapists and some say harassed officials in Steubenville. They released a (disgusting, disturbing) YouTube video showing a Steubenville baseball player laughing about rape and an assault that allegedly happened last August.
Thanks to social media, the case has now blown up and Steubenville is being accused of aborting justice in the name of football. But is that a fair accusation?
The facts are: High school sophomore football players are accused of molesting a very drunk, nearly unconscious 16-year-old girl and using their cellphones to record it all.
The girl's family claims they have been harassed, intimidated, and threatened by citizens of the town who feel she wasn't sufficiently traumatized to call it "rape." Even from the news pieces, it's clear that many in the town are angry with the girl and not with the players. The Daily Beast quotes one resident saying:
F*ck that protest. F*ck those people with their masks on. And you can quote me on that.
It's easy to understand why he might be angry. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people who never even heard of Steubenville a few weeks ago are furious and calling for blood. A hacker group like KnightSec fuels online vigilantism, which can be a very bad thing when the accused have yet to even face a full trial and jury.
It all makes sense. But the reality of the situation is that these boys could have been unpunished and this girl would have been vilified for life had KnightSec not stepped in. Social media is bringing a whole other level of accountability to people. Remember Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor from last June? Without social media and viral video, no one would have ever known what that poor woman faced at the hands of those kid.
It's a tough dilemma. No one wants to see innocent people go down. But we also live in a society where things like rape can go unpunished given certain circumstances. How is that fair?
If social media encourages more civility in real life, then what is wrong with that? If these boys are found guilty and get locked up, then KnightSec will be the reason.
We'd like to think our justice system is infallible and that guilty people are always punished. But we could all name 100 stories where that isn't true. Steubenville may hate the media spotlight, but the unwillingness to apologize and the continued harassment of a young, scared 16-year-old girl proves they lose their say in what happens a long time ago.
Hacker groups may be ugly. They may go against some of our ideals. But they get the job done. And here, they may make all the difference.
Do you think hacker groups should be exposing things like this?
Image via Ohio Office of Redevelopment/Flickr