Protestors descended on Steubenville, Ohio, on Saturday to demonstrate their opposition to the possible cover-up of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old high school student by members of the Steubenville High School football team.
The alleged cover-up is attributed to school administrators and law enforcement authorities in the small town of Steubenville, where high school football is a mainstay with many residents.
Occupy Steubenville, as the rally came to be called throughout social media, was the second such protest in as many weeks, and it was organized by the hacker collective known as Anonymous and an offshoot group known as KnightSec.
The protest occurred after rumors emerged that Steubenville High football coach Reno Saccoccia may resign as a result of the alleged attack by members of his football squad and a possible cover-up of the incident.
A twitter feed for the KnightSec Anonymous hackers estimated that by Saturday afternoon, roughly 2,000 protesters were demonstrating in Steubenville, representing a large increase from the estimated 300 to 400 demonstrators who were there a week earlier. Speakers throughout the day included past rape victims who had never before spoken about the crimes against them and others who claimed they had been victimized or intimidated by the Steubenville football hierarchy.
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At one point on Saturday, a livestream video of the demonstration charted tens of thousands of viewers.
The outrage began after the New York Times reported allegations from an unnamed girl who claimed that two star Steubenville players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, kidnapped and raped her during a night of partying in August. The two teens were arrested but later released; they are currently awaiting a trial, which is scheduled to begin in February.
Football coaches in the Times report are quoted as blaming the girl for whatever happened and accusing her of crying rape to cover up for her own behavior.
Publicity from the Times articles attracted the attention of Anonymous hackers, who demanded an apology from Mays and Richmond and anyone else involved in any alleged criminal acts. When that didn’t come, KnightSec hackers started publishing information about the people supposedly involved on a Local Leaks page.
That page kicked off a media firestorm in part because of a 12-minute video recorded on the night of the reported rape featuring Michael Nodianos, a friend of Mays and Richmond and a former Steubenville athlete, who joked that the girl was so incapacitated she seemed to be dead. At one point in the video, someone off-camera shouted, “Trent and Ma’lik raped someone.”
Protesters have since set up a new website, OccupySteubenville.com, to provide updates and publish more allegations about what has been going on behind closed doors.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla has criticized the hackers and dismissed the national news coverage of the case as “character assassination.”
“This is all over the world now. It's in the Huffington Post and New York Times but some of these papers are reporting this stuff based on what this Anonymous is telling them,” Abdalla said during an interview with WTRF. “How do you support what they're saying? Where's your proof? I thought newspapers were supposed to be able to back it up with good, solid information. How can you do a story when someone is giving you information that's not even factual?"
Abdalla was on hand at the Occupy Steubenville protest on Saturday and offered a short statement before answering some questions from protesters nearby. His remarks were met with audible skepticism from the crowd due to his lack of specific information about the case.
“I would go after those people that have gone after our children,” Abdalla said. “For the last 28 years we have arrested over 200-plus individuals who are sexually abusing children,” he added, before citing numerous arrests unrelated to the case.
Abdalla did not acknowledge a protester who shouted, “What about football players?” in response to his comment.
Abdalla was jeered as he made his exit.