Steubenville officials use website to inform public about teen rape case, deny Big Red football ‘runs the city’

steuben-3-0106By Erik Ortiz

Activists from the online groups KnightSec and Anonymous protest at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Ohio on Saturday. Members of the groups say they are outraged over what they contend is a cover-up in a case involving the alleged rape of a teenage girl by student athletes.

In a highly unusual move, officials in Steubenville, Ohio have launched a city-sponsored website offering the “most accurate information” about a rape case that has gained national attention and left a community reeling.

The site, Steubenville Facts, was announced just an hour before 1,000 people gathered Saturday in a protest organized by the online hacktivist group Anonymous. Members have been demanding a public apology be given to a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by two Steubenville High School football players last August.

Anonymous and other sites reignited interest in the case after leaking a video last Wednesday that purportedly shows students talking about the alleged assault and cruelly joking that the 16-year-old was a “dead girl.”

One aim of the website, Steubenville City Manager Cathy Davison said, is to combat a common perception that the high school — home of the celebrated “Big Red” sports program — controls politics in a small city where special prosecutors and a visiting judge are handling the case because local authorities knew people involved with the football team.

“When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case,” Davison said, according to The Associated Press. “They went by the book. Everything was handled in an aboveboard fashion to make sure that the case can benefit from the fullest extent of the law.”

Intended to sort fact from fiction, the website has the appearance of a legal briefing, with black type on a white background. That is an intentional departure from escalating emotions over the case and how it has been handled. The site provides a timeline of the case, summaries of Ohio laws that affect sex charges, online posts and reaction to them, and a pledge of transparency.

“It looks very generic, but it was meant to be (that way), because it’s just the facts. There’s nothing flowery about it,” Davison said.

Its launch followed the hiring of a consultant who is helping the city handle a barrage of media attention sparked by the case. The site declares it “is not designed to be a forum for how the Juvenile Court ought to rule in this matter.”

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