Is Torrington The Next Steubenville?

by Amy Zimmerman

While Steubenville showed the world the dark undercurrent of social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s not the first recorded case of cyber bullying, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, Internet victim bullying and hateful twitter campaigns seem to be the new normal, as evidenced by the sexual assault case currently unfolding in Torrington, Connecticut. The case surrounds two 18-year-old football players (and one unidentified 17-year-old) accused of an eerily familiar crime: sexually assaulting a minor. Joan Toribio and Edgar Gonzalez are both pleading not guilty to the felony crime of statutory rape. However, their classmates aren’t waiting for a verdict–they’ve already decided that the football stars are innocent, and that the two 13-year-old victims are the real criminals. According to The Register Citizen, a Connecticut newspaper,  “dozens of athletes and Torrington High School students, male and female, have taunted the 13-year-old victim, calling her a “whore,” criticizing her for “snitching” and “ruining the lives” of the 18-year-old football players, and bullying students who defend her,” all on various social media platforms. Students have even coined a new hashtag, #FreeEdgar, that follows all of their incendiary tweets. But it’s not just the teenagers who are acting like children. According to Jezebel, Dan Dunaj, who was the head coach of the Torrington football team when Gonzalez was accused of his first felony (a robbery charge in March 2012), gave Edgar a stern talking to after he was charged, and then allowed him to continue playing on the team. Luckily, The Atlantic reports, the principal of Torrington High doesn’t have such a flippant attitude when it comes to cyber bullying and student felonies. Last Friday, Principal Joanne Creedon sent out a school-wide message urging students to refrain from “hurtful, irresponsible, and grossly insensitive remarks that reflect a total disregard for victim rights.” 

Torrington students holding up Edgar Gonzalez’ jersey number in a sign of solidarity

Another striking similarity between Steubenville and Torrington is the steadily increasing involvement of hacker group Anonymous. According to Buzzfeed, “A Pastebin document posted last week announced that Anonymous would be organizing a charity drive called ‘The Susan B. Anthony Project’ hoping to bring attention to what’s been happening in Torrington.” Ideally, public scrutiny and the vigilance of the Torrington High administration will be enough to silence the #FreeEdgar movement for good. Toribio is currently under electronic monitoring and awaiting his April 23rd court date, while Gonzalez will remain in custody at the New Haven Correctional Center until his hearing on April 2nd.


Images Via Buzzfeed and The Atlantic

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