We turn to Steubenville, Ohio, where members of a high school football team allegedly raped a female classmate and possibly urinated on her unconscious body over the course of an evening of partying in late August. The young men chronicled their actions on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. But after many in the town of Steubenville, including the high school football coach, rallied to the players’ defense, the hacker group "Anonymous" vowed to release the accused players’ personal information unless an apology was made. Anonymous has since released a video showing a male Steubenville high schooler joking about the alleged victim. We’re joined by three guests: Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; Kristen Gwynne, an associate editor at AlterNet; and "X", a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous using a pseudonym. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Following the death of a young rape victim that galvanized tens of thousands of protesters in India, we turn now to a case of sexual violence here in the United States that’s only recently generated national attention, though it happened months ago. That’s the case of Steubenville, Ohio, where members of a high school football team allegedly raped an underage girl, possibly urinated on her unconscious body, over the course of an evening of partying in late August.
The young men chronicled their actions on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, using words such as "drunk girl," "rape" in their posts. One former football player tweeted, quote, "Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana," and, quote, "Some people deserve to be peed on." In one video, an 18-year-old laughs about how unconscious the alleged rape victim was during the incident and refers to her as, quote, "the dead girl."
STEUBENVILLE TEEN 1: Is it really rape? Because you don’t know if she wanted to or not. She might have wanted to. That might have been her final wish.
STEUBENVILLE TEEN 2: No, y’all think she’s dead?
STEUBENVILLE TEEN 1: She’s dead.
AMY GOODMAN: Before many of the partygoers could delete their incriminating posts, local crime blogger Alexandria Goddard made copies and publicized them on her website. She was sued for defamation, but the charges have since been dropped. Many Steubenville locals have criticized Goddard and the victim for bringing negative public attention to the football team. Head football coach Reno Saccoccia has refused to bench his players and reportedly advised them to delete any incriminating messages.
Well, now the cyber-activist group Anonymous has launched a campaign to unmask what they say is the football-crazy town’s attempt to cover up the sexual assault. Last month, the group hijacked the football team’s website and threatened to release the personal data of school officials, coaches and every player on the team if those involved in the suspected rape did not publicly apologize.
In August, after the girl’s parents reported the suspected rape, two football players were arrested and later charged with kidnapping and raping the 16-year-old woman. They are scheduled to stand trial as juveniles in February. However, on Saturday, Sheriff Fred Abdalla told protesters no more suspects would be charged in the rape case. Amidst boos from the crowds, Abdalla defended his department’s commitment to prosecuting sexual offenders.
SHERIFF FRED ABDALLA: When I came into this office, I made a commitment to myself.
UNIDENTIFIED: When did you come in office?
SHERIFF FRED ABDALLA: In 1985—that I would go after those people that have raped or those people who have sexually abused our young children. In the last—in the last 28 years, me and my officers, Captain Bill, have arrested over 200-plus individuals for sexually abusing children. And we taught our children—we taught our children about strangers all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who is under fire for his handling of the Steubenville High School rape investigation.
For more, we’re joined by three guests. From North Carolina, Monika Johnson Hostler is with us. She’s president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Here in New York, we’re joined by Kristen Gwynne, associate editor at AltnerNet. Her recent piece is called "How Anonymous Hacking Exposed Steubenville High School Rape Case." And by Democracy Now! videostream, we’re joined by "X," a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous, using a pseudonym.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I want to begin with our guest here in the studio in New York. Kristen, explain how this case—because the actual attack occurred in August—how we’ve come to learn about it now in January?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: Well, the blogger, Alexandria Goddard, she was on the case from the beginning. She’s from Steubenville, Ohio, and so she had been following the details of it and actually tracing tweets from football players and athletes at the school almost immediately after the charges were filed in August. And she garnered the attention of the community on her blog. And even in the comments section, a lot of people were weighing in, either saying that, "Yes, this is a football-crazed town," or actually blaming the victim for what happened, what allegedly happened to her. And after her blogging, The New York Times wrote an article about it, just a month ago, chronicling again the events of the evening and the possibility that more people were involved, in the end, than—
AMY GOODMAN: And what is believed that took place that night?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: Well, according to both The New York Times and Anonymous, what they’re saying happened was that a 16-year-old girl, who was from a neighboring town in West Virginia, was taken to a series of parties celebrating the end of the summer and the beginning of the football season. She was intoxicated or possibly date-raped, and unconscious even at one point, being carried by football players from party to party and allegedly sexually assaulted and raped both at parties and in between. Anonymous is saying that the sexual assaults may even have happened at the homes of assistant coaches to the football team, as well as the prosecutor.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the picture—the picture that has come out of two men holding this girl, dragging her to—a man holding her arms and a man holding her legs. I wanted to bring into the conversation Monika Johnson Hostler. If you can respond to what you have seen and heard described in this case, the fact that the police chief is saying there will be no more indictments. There have been two young men who have been charged, and they will be tried as juveniles in a few weeks.
MONIKA JOHNSON HOSTLER: Yes, thank you for having me, Amy.
I think my response is like most people’s: It’s a guttural response, that this is a violent, heinous act right here in the United States, where it appears that—for those of us who are not in Ohio, it’s taken a little bit longer for us to get the details that Kristie just described for us. And based on that description, I think most of us know, if this was any other type of case where there were onlookers or other people, that we would be considering and holding those people who also witnessed and also were a part of engaging in sexually assaulting or dragging this young woman from party to party as aiding and abetting or at least responsible, in some capacity, criminally, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t some of this alleged to have happened at the home of the Jefferson County prosecutor?
MONIKA JOHNSON HOSTLER: Yes, that’s what I—
AMY GOODMAN: Kristen, and Monika?
MONIKA JOHNSON HOSTLER: That’s what I understand, that it was held at the home of a prosecutor. And what I can say, for the community and the state of Ohio, is it seemed, early on, the police chief at the time, not the sheriff, but—was readily open and willing for the attorney general to come in and take the case, which I think is more than appropriate, considering here in North Carolina, I’m from a small town where everyone does know everyone and football is paramount to the community, that it’s extremely important that there be someone outside that community engaged in the criminal prosecution of this case.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Hamlin, who is the Jefferson County prosecutor, has recused herself from the case, presumably because of her son?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: Yes, and as has the local judge, who said that he—his granddaughter had been in a relationship with one of the accused.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is the family of the victim saying? Did the young woman say she didn’t even realize what had happened, that she had no memory of that night?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: She said she didn’t remember anything pretty much after leaving her home and that it wasn’t until she heard from friends and saw the pictures herself that she understood or began to understand and, I guess, pieced together what had happened to her that night.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the hacktivist from Anonymous, to "X," a pseudonym for security reasons. Can you tell us what it is that you did, that your group did?
"X": Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me on today. I think, to begin with, it’s important to understand that this action involved three separate entities that are overlapping and coordinated, but separate. The cyber-action, which involved the hacking and the various other cyber-aspects, were conducted by Anonymous in a very specific cell within Anonymous known as KnightSec. And then the ground protests, which were—took place on two Saturdays in a row—this last Saturday and the one before—were handled by Occupy Steubenville, so that was their responsibility. And then the third sort of part of the puzzle was the Local Leaks, which is the disclosure platform that we have, which released a great—just a copious amount of information on this case. And so, it’s important to understand that those three elements were involved.
AMY GOODMAN: I just want to say, especially for radio listeners who cannot see, that you’re wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, and your head is covered. Your voice is masked, as well as your name. Why are you doing this anonymously?
"X": For security purposes. Actually, I’ve been on your show before. The last time I was on the air, I was still anonymous with a small "a," and I was apprehended shortly after I appeared on your show last time by the FBI. And for a number of reasons, because I felt that the prosecution was political against myself, I chose to flee into exile, and I’m in Canada now. And so, my name is actually known to most people. You could research me and easily find out who I am. My appearance is masked because I’ve altered by appearance since I’ve gone into exile. And I’m now a fugitive, so I’ve altered my appearance. But I keep the name "X" because, to be honest with you, I kind of like it.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get a hold—explain the video that your group, that Anonymous, that you got a hold of, that you released, what this 12-minute video showed.
"X": Well, I think it’s apparent to anybody who can stomach watching it for the entire 12 minutes. I, myself, here at our location—we’ve been working night and day on this operation, and I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, and it makes me sick each time we watch it. I think it speaks for itself. These young men were sitting around immediately after the crime took place—that’s clear from what they say in the video. One person even gets up at one point and leaves in disgust and goes to check on the victim to see if the victim is OK. So the victim is still nearby, still—the crime is still in progress, in essence, when this video was shot. And a number of people are implicated in the video, including the subject of the video; Michael Nodianos implicates himself in this crime. So I think the video speaks for itself. And, you know, I can’t—I can’t imagine how the police do not see this as further evidence and do not levy charges against the people in the video.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you, Monika, calling for right now? Right now, two young people have been charged. There is a lot of community support for the football players. Wasn’t there reference in the video to Duke and the lacrosse players?
MONIKA JOHNSON HOSTLER: There was. And very much so, like "X" said, I had to actually watch the 12-minute video in increments, because it was sickening to my stomach to hear men, especially of this age, talk about how dead she was. And one of them, I think, even alluded to, if this was your daughter or your wife in 10 years, you wouldn’t be saying this, and he said, "Yes, I would." So, for me, especially as a parent, not just as an advocate, it is sickening to hear the degree of which they go on and carry on about how much she was raped. And so, the correlation to Duke was, she was raped more than the Duke lacrosse players raped.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what do you—
MONIKA JOHNSON HOSTLER: And so, what we are calling—what we are calling for is not just how this is handled in Steubenville, Ohio, but really asking America to take a hard look at ourselves in how we are—handle sexual violence and rape in our country. I think we’ve been able to point our fingers and turn our heads to rapes that have happened in other countries and not held ourselves accountable as Americans to say that we absolutely still have a culture of rape, where women and girls are still degraded and dehumanized, and rape is in the fabric of this country. And unfortunately, I would think, centuries later, that we would be further along in terms of our response, but yet we still see Americans blaming victims. So, in terms of our overall response, we’re calling for America to take a hard look at itself and really think about the culture that we’re raising our kids in and the things that we are allowing to happen by not acknowledging, as a community, as a society, the importance of supporting the rape victim.
And I do want to go back briefly to something you asked Kristie earlier about the rape victim recalling her story or what happened. And what I’d like to point out to your listeners and viewers is, oftentimes rape victims don’t consider what happened to them rape. Just as Kristie described, in this case, she was intoxicated, inebriated, that she wasn’t able to actually recall what happened, which is often the case that we hear with drug-facilitated or alcohol-facilitated rapes. So I think it’s important for people to understand, before we begin to blame the victim, when a victim recalls their story in pieces, it is often because of cases like this where it’s difficult to recall the incidents that happen, especially when they’re intoxicated or inebriated.
AMY GOODMAN: Kristen, can you talk about the role of social media in exposing the story—first Alexandria, the blogger, then Anonymous?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: Social media has played an interesting role in the story from the beginning, because without it, just prosecuting the case at all would have been difficult because so much of the evidence was tweets and Facebook posts and videos that kids put up on YouTube. And what Alexandria Goddard did was take screen shots of everything before the kids were smart enough, I guess, to realize that they needed to delete them. So she was able to compile evidence that—
AMY GOODMAN: And who is she?
KRISTEN GWYNNE: She was a blogger, a local—for the website Prinniefied.com, and she was also from the town. So she had, I guess, a personal interest in investigating further, because she said, from the minute she heard about the case, she believed that the football players were being treated specially because the town has so much invested in the team. And then, once Anonymous caught hold of it, they took it even further by exposing more—more tweets and then, of course, the video, which was just a stunning, I guess, testament to the rape culture in America and in this town, in particular.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, "X," or Christopher Doyon, your, you know, name that’s online, can you talk about OpPedoChat and talk about—well, I’m looking at Wired magazine. "It could indicate [that] this is the project of one subsection of Anonymous, which would explain the slightly different tone to the information release. This isn’t the first anti-paedophile project from the group, either." And then it goes on to talk about the past ones.
"X": Sure, Amy, I’ll be happy to, but I just want to point out one last thing on the Steubenville subject. There’s more to this than just a rape that’s being covered up because of football and because of legitimate revenue within that community. We have uncovered—Anonymous has uncovered a gigantic gambling ring in Steubenville that, you know, is—probably half of the revenue in that community is underground, and it involves gambling, involves drugs. So, there’s more to this than this. This story is about corruption. It’s about a sick fascination and fixation with football. And so, I encourage people to go to Local Leaks and look at the information that we’ve revealed, because this is—this goes deeper than just rape.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
"X": OpPedoChat is an operation by Anonymous to uncover pedophiles on social media and to out them and to get them removed from social media and, hopefully, arrested and convicted for their crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christopher Doyon, aka "Commander X," I want to thank you for being with us, hacktivist with the hacktivist group Anonymous. Also, thank you to Monika Johnson Hostler with the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, as well as to Kristen Gwynne.