Government and police officials in Steubenville, Ohio -- under attack by protesters and some national media outlets -- have launched a website designed, they say, to differentiate between the facts and the rumors about what happened one night in August when a 16-year-old girl claims she was kidnapped and raped by two star high-school football players.
School administrators and town officials have been accused of helping to cover up news of the rape, in part because of comments football coaches made to the New York Times dismissing the girl’s rape claims as an excuse for her own supposedly promiscuous behavior.
Publicity about the case exploded after students who had been on hand when the girl was allegedly raped posted pictures of the night in question on their social-media accounts. Alexandria Goddard, a crime blogger who grew up near the small Ohio town, brought attention to the case and decried the “football is king” attitude of the area centering around the high school -- whose football team is nicknamed Big Red.
Now the City of Steubenville and the Steubenville Police Department are co-sponsoring a Steubenville Facts website in an attempt to help clean up the town’s reputation.
“The goal of this site is to disseminate the most accurate information about a recent case involving sexual-assault charges pending against two juveniles in Steubenville,” the site reads. “City officials will update the site as new information becomes available. City leaders know that many people outside Eastern Ohio are interested in this matter and people from other states and countries may not be familiar with some basic facts about the background of the case.”
Most of the information posted on the page so far attempts to clear up some misconceptions around whether the city government runs the school board and how many police officers graduated from Steubenville High School.
One reason for the blog’s launch may be the information leaked by hackers affiliated with the Anonymous collective on Jan. 1. Using a Local Leaks page, hackers identifying themselves as an Anonymous cell called KnightSec have intermittently published files previously unavailable to the public, the most harrowing of which was a 12-minute video of a former Steubenville student joking about the girl’s alleged rape to the riotous laughter of his friends.
That video brought even more publicity to the case, attracting the attention of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and a steady stream of major network shows. In response, galvanized demonstrators congregated on the Ohio town for an Occupy Steubenville protest on Saturday.
The accused students -- identified by Cooper's CNN and others as being 16 at the time of the alleged crime -- will be tried by special prosecutors based in a different area of Ohio. Meanwhile, much of the public’s scorn has focused on Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla. Critics have said Abdalla has unduly protected the Big Red football program and that he has stood in the way of transparency since the beginning of the investigation.
Abdalla’s name does not appear on the Steubenville Facts home page.
The sheriff spoke at the Occupy Steubenville rally and told protesters that no arrests, other than the two already made, would be forthcoming. Abdalla was jeered from the time he took the podium at the rally, and he refused to acknowledge questions about the football team after he cited all the arrests he has overseen in unrelated sexual-assault cases.
“I’m not going to stand here and try to convince you I’m not the bad guy,” Abdalla said. “You already made your minds up.”