The hacker group Anonymous has been credited with “helping” a 16-year-old rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio, but The New Yorker has a new story suggesting “vigilantes” may have done more harm than good.
It’s because of Anonymous, and crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, that most of America knows about the rape of a West Virginia girl by two high school football players.
Teens recorded horrifying images from that night and posted them on social media — including an iconic photo of her being carried by her ankles and hands like a rag doll. Goddard and Anonymous preserved and publicized many of these images.
But The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy suggests “online vigilantes” spread misperceptions about what really happened that night and, even worse, immortalised the 16-year-old’s worst nightmare forever online.
That night was awful. There’s evidence that Trent Mays, one of two boys who got convicted, masturbated on the victim when she was drunk. Both Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty of penetrating the girl with their fingers when she was too drunk to consent. Three boys recorded the assault and got immunity in exchange for their testimony.
Because of the swirl of media attention around the case, much of what the public believes is even more horrific and not backed up by evidence, Levy writes. Many people falsely believe dozens of football players watched as the girl was brutally gang raped. The porn star Traci Lords, who’s from Steubenville, echoed the misconception that players urinated on her.
Anonymous and others brought attention to the case to get justice for the 16-year-old victim, but Levy suggests they may have hurt her in the end.
“What the bloggers did was make sure that five hundred million people saw those pictures of her,” Jefferson County, Ohio prosecutor Jane Hanlin told Levy. “I wouldn’t want that picture to be seen by one person.”
Hackers are also indirectly responsible for the media leaking the victim’s name because they brought national press to Steubenville. Now that her name is out there, Levy writes,”her identity is linked to the worst experience of her life.”
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