Torrington High School Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio […]
On Wednesday, a fourth high school football player in Torrington, Conn., was charged in a statutory rape case involving two 13-year-old girls.
Investigations related to the sexual assault charges began on Feb. 10, 2013, but other basic details of the case remain unknown to the public as a state judge has sealed information about the allegations from public view.
Since the boy is 17 years old, his name is being withheld and his case will be handled in a juvenile court. Other than knowing he was charged with second-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor, the details of his arrest are unknown as they are sealed from public view.
The other three men involved in the case include 18-year-olds Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, who were charged with felony second-degree sexual assault, among other charges, and another unnamed 17-year-old, who was charged with second-degree sexual assault.
Toribio was also reportedly charged earlier in March in a different second-degree sexual assault case.
All four have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Associated Press reported that school officials announced that the boy most recently charged has been suspended from school, and have reportedly warned other students specifically that online bullying anyone involved in the case will not be tolerated and could lead to suspension or expulsion.
Taunting victims online
As Mint Press originally reported, after the allegations initially came out, many Torrington High School students, both male and female made derogatory comments and taunted one of the 13-year-old victims on social media sites.
“Even if it was all his fault, what was a 13-year-old girl doing hanging around 18-year-old guys …” said a Twitter user with the handle, “@LoryyRamirez.” Another said, “If it takes two then why is only one in trouble? Ha.”
It was this kind of online bullying that prompted school officials to organize a community meeting on cyberbullying, statutory rape, social media and Internet safety, healthy relationships, and media and gender roles and role models, to be held in the first two weeks of April. School officials, local police, local sexual abuse and rape victim advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Project, medical professionals and religious leaders are among some of the groups organizing the forum.
In the interim, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Kloczko warned students that online taunting won’t be tolerated. In a letter posted on the school system’s website, Kloczko wrote: “Please be advised that use of social media by Torrington students to disparage other Torrington students is entirely unacceptable” and said the social media exchanges were only adding more “fuel to the fire.”
In response to Kloczko’s letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut issued a letter warning to the superintendent, signed by Sandra J. Staub, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut, which raised concerns about the students’ free speech rights being in danger of violation.
“Public school students need to know that the First Amendment is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee of freedom in America that entitles them to express their views,” said Staub recently while discussing a different free speech issue in a public school.
Though the ACLU Connecticut chapter said it doesn’t necessarily agree with the views expressed, but stated that a person’s stance on an issue should not determine whether or not they are allowed to express their views.
Principal steps in
Torrington High School Principal Joanne Creedon has also addressed the situation by sending a letter to students on March 22. Creedon noted in her letter that the allegations of “violent criminal acts” and hurtful, irresponsible cyber remarks are “counter to what this school strives to be: a community of learners, bound by principles of respect, responsibility and safety, and a community which believes in Raider Pride as an everyday way of life.”
She asked the student body to come together as a community to create a safer, stronger school system, and cited an upcoming dodgeball tournament, sponsored by the school’s Interact Club to raise awareness and funding for Rwanda, as an opportunity for students to “show everyone what [Torrington High School] is really all about.”
Students did use the dodgeball tournament to come together, but not exactly how Creedon intended. In a photo posted to Instagram last Friday, 10 students are seen in the high school gymnasium, each making hand gestures that spell out the number “21,” which was Gonzalez’ jersey number in football. The photo was liked 45 times and included the hashtag “#FreeEdgar,” which has been attached to many tweets supporting the defendants and bashing the victims.
As of March 28, Torrington’s local newspaper, the Register Citizen, was reporting that students were still using social media to support the defendants, taunting and criticizing at least one of the victims and police, and were making light of the charges, with some students suggesting that statutory rape is not “real” rape because it’s defined by age difference and not a physical attack.
Many have taken to social media sites to share their view that statutory rape is not a serious crime, with one student comparing statutory rape to not using the crosswalk to cross the street.
“People need to understand that (there are) people that cannot consent to sex,” said Laura Cordes, executive director of the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services. “I think that young people are vulnerable and we need to make sure that there are protections for young people and statutory rape laws are there to do just that.”