Blogger and Activist Become Scapegoats in a Tragic Underage Rape Case

A blogger and the hacktivist group KnightSec combined forces to bring justice to Steudenville, Ohio where, last August a rape case split the community. One was rewarded with a defamation lawsuit; the other with potential jail time.

  1.  There were no superheroes on the night of August 11. 2012 when an over-served, under-aged 16-year-old Jane Doe was sexually assaulted over a period of hours by at least two of the star players on the Steubenville, Ohio’s high school football team. Sixteen cell phones were eventually confiscated by law enforcement, producing evidence of widespread distribution of disturbing and incriminating photos, video, texts, and social media postings that eventually led to the conviction of two of the students involved.

    The superheroes arrived too late to help the victim, but not too late to help bring justice.

  2. Catgirl: Behind the Screen
  3. Alexandria Goddard first broke on the story on her blog.
  4. "Initially, the media did not present a lot of information about this case and that struck me as odd because I knew from having lived in Steubenville that this was going to be a big deal," Goddard writes in the article above. She went to the high school football team's website and began compiling names; she searched fan page forums and then she turned to Twitter and started to compile tweets the students had voluntarily posted about the event.
  5. (The above text messages come from court transcripts and reflect the nature of the tweets Goddard found.)
  6. Goddard reports that she began taking screenshots of the tweets in case the evidence was later deleted. It was. She began to blog about what she found.
  7. Of the response to her blogging activity, she writes, "I have been called a "slut," a "drunk," a "bitch with an agenda," a "liar" and someone who hates Big Red so bad that my desire was to bring down their football program. I was accused in a letter to the editor in the local paper as using my blog as a vehicle which “has lent itself to character assassination and has begun to resemble a lynch mob.”"

    She was also sued by one of the students involved in the event, Cody Saltsman's family for defamation. The case was later dismissed and Saltsman issued a written apology.
  8. Batmen: Behind the Guy Fawkes masks
  9. The "character assassinations" and "lynch mob" accusation not only applies to Goddard. The hacktivist group KnightSec, a group loosely affiliated with the vigilante collaborative "Anonymous," became involved, drawing international attention to the case and the town.
  10. (This picture of two "Anonymous" individuals was taken at the March Against Monsanto rally in Portland, Ore. on May 25, 2013. Photo by Vallerie Sue Edmunson.)
  11. After reading about the  vigilante cyber campaign "#OpAntiBully," Michelle McKee, a friend of Goddard's, contacted the group. McKee read about how the had helped to "takedown a clan of high school Twitter trolls" that had been harassing a 15-year-old girl, and she wanted the Steubenville rape victim and Goddard - with the defamation suit - to have some relief from what felt like a lack of justice to her.
  12. The loosly-affiliated "Anonymous" group is becoming known for its Batman-like cyber-defense of the defenseless. They hacked into the football team's fan page and posted a video encouraging the guilty parties to come forward with confessions and apologize publicly. They also distributed a video via YouTube, alleging that the community was covering up for the football players, none of them had been benched from games.

    The group organized rallies in the town, one of which drew a crowd of over 2,000 and ended in a cathartic public awareness forum where multiple women shared their stories of rape, friend rape, date rape, party rape, and incest. "And it just changed everything," said "MC," the "Anonymous" leader of the rally. "There was nothing anybody could do against us at that point because it was so real and so true."
  13. The Town's Response to International Attention:
  14. To combat the accusations of a coverup circulating in the media, Steubenville created its own website on which is embedded a video of a press conference put on by city officials. Kathy Davison, Steubenville City Manager says, "This case should not be reflective on our town. Steubenville is a good town and we are proud to be from Steubenville."
  15. Knowing that the City Manager is proud to be from Steubenville isn't enough to quell the deep wounds that the national coverage yet another rape case has exposed for the 17.7 million American women who have suffered attempted or completed rapes.
  16. Warning: Disturbingly Graphic Video
  17. Perhaps one of the most disturbing media elements to surface is a 12-minute segment one student captured of now 18-year-old Michael Nodianos who laughs  remorselessly about the "dead girl" he saw getting abused. The video, originally posted on YouTube by the student who filmed it, was later removed it. "Anonymous" hacked into YouTube and posted it. The Ohio State attorney general, DeWhine calls the video "disgusting." The spokesperson adds "disappointing, insensitive, and unfortunate" but points out none of those are crimes.

    Nodianos, who was attending Ohio State University on scholarship is no longer there as a student.
  18. Doug Honig, Communications Director for ACLU of Washington State explains how despicable content is not a crime. "You have a right to say the most highly offensive, hateful, disrespectful speech, but if there is no imminent threat involved, it is not punishable."  He gives the example of a Maple Valley, Wash. skinhead leader who erected a cross on his property in broad daylight after finding out an African American family was considering purchase of a neighboring property.

    As distasteful as this was, Honig remarks, "This is the case where the courts made the distinction that free speech can be anything that does not constitute a direct thread of imminent harm."
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