Just days after two Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players were sentenced to juvenile detention for the rape of a 16-year-old girl, another story of sexual assault involving a 13-year-old female and two football players in Torrington, Conn., is coming to light. And like Steubenville, the incident is gaining traction on social media long before it reaches the inside of a courtroom.
While the exact facts of their cases remain sealed, 18-year-olds Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio have been charged with three identical felonies, including second-degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old. Both cases were initiated on Feb. 10 of this year. Gonzalez is scheduled to appear in court on April 2, and Toribio on April 23. Gonzalez remains at New Haven Correction Center, while Toribio is free on a $50,000 bond.
However, social media does not operate under the same rules of confidentiality and due process as the court system, and as such, classmates of all three students have taken to Twitter to air their opinions on the case. Wednesday, The Register Citizen, a local newspaper, published several relevant tweets from February, including the following:
In a case of the newly circular world of social media, several of those students quoted in that article immediately took to Twitter to try to provide context for their tweets, saying they weren’t "blaming" the victim. (After saying he was simply asking a question about punishment, @asmedick deleted his entire Twitter account sometime around noon on Wednesday.)
The cases have proven problematic for the school system as well. Gonzalez is both the football team's most valuable player and also faces charges in a separate case – an assault involving three felony charges. Gonzalez was permitted to play after those charges, but his then-coach, Dan Dunaj, told the Register Citizen he would not have allowed Gonzalez to play with the current charges against him.
"The swim team doesn't have [players getting into trouble with the law]," Dunaj told the newspaper. "They have kids in the National Honor Society. I don't have those kids. I wish I did." Dunaj, who resigned from his position in January, noted that he reported some of his players for hazing during the fall.
In hiring a new coach, Torrington athletic director Mike McKenna hinted that the culture at the school needed to change: "We were looking for someone who's going to develop young men academically and socially. Football is not the big thing that people are going to learn. What they get out of sports is way beyond what they learn on the field."
It used to be small communities were shielded by sheer isolation. Star football players like those in Steubenville could get preferential treatment because of their exalted status in the town. They were the local celebrities.
But once you take your case to the world, as social media allows, the world doesn't recognize that celebrity and doesn't grant that same status to a high school football player. The world looks at things with a more black and white view. To outsiders, what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong, regardless of who's involved.
Much remains to be revealed about what happened in Torrington, but the scene has the potential to turn ugly and dismaying, if it hasn't already.
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