School and police officials in Torrington, Conn., are planning a community meeting next month to address cyberbullying among students in the wake of rape charges against high school football players in a case that's mirrored the one in Steubenville, Ohio.
Torrington Board of Education Chairman Kenneth Traub announced on Tuesday plans for the public forum "to discuss the issues at hand ... statutory rape, cyberbullying, Twitter [and] responsibilities." The forum will be held sometime in early April, Traub told the Register Citizen.
“I imagine that the public input section of it would be overwhelming," he said.
Last week, Torrington police confirmed that two 18-year-olds, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, had been arrested in February and charged with second-degree sexual assault of two 13-year-old girls. Toribio was released on $100,000 bail; Gonzalez, who had already been facing felony robbery charges related to a March 2012 incident, is being held at a New Haven correction center. Both pleaded not guilty.
The investigation led to the arrest of a 17-year-old boy for an alleged assault on one of the 13-year-olds last fall, and police said more arrests could be forthcoming.
The victims and their alleged attackers knew one another, police said. "The reason that this is a sexual assault is that there is more than a three-year age difference," Torrington Police Lt. Mike Emanuel said. "That's what we have to keep in mind."
Following the arrests, dozens of Torrington High School students took to Twitter to support their accused classmates and taunt the alleged victims.
"Even if it was all his fault," Mary J. Ramirez, whose Twitter handle is @LoryyRamirez, wrote, "what was a 13 year old girl doing hanging around 18 year old guys[?]"
“I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes,” Twitter user @asmedick wrote, according to the newspaper.
Torrington Schools Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko sent a letter to parents urging them to talk to their children about the serious consequences of social media:
This has been a very difficult situation for the families directly involved, the school district and the community. The difficulty is compounded by the exchange of rapid fire information in the community that is not always supported by factually accurate information. Added to this is the interface of social media exchanges which add more “fuel to the fire” of the incident. Recently, it has come to our attention that some Torrington students have made what appear to be disparaging comments on the Internet, directed at other Torrington students. Please be advised that use of social media by Torrington students to disparage other Torrington students is entirely unacceptable. I want to caution you and your son/daughter that any inappropriate comments made against a student or a staff member, whether made in or out of school may subject a student to discipline (including the possibility of suspension or expulsion). I strongly urge you to speak with your son/daughter about not engaging in this type of inappropriate behavior.
Despite her plea, some students continue to taunt the accusers, rally around the accused and question the seriousness of the charges.
"For everyone’s sake, we need to get that spotlight on the good," Principal Joanne Creedon wrote in a separate letter to students on Friday. "Now is the time for us to band together and make our school safer and stronger and better than it was. We must stand up for what is right, and speak up against wrong."
[Also read: Is Torrington another Steubenville?]
"For the past two years, the Guidance Department and Health teachers have collaborated with community educators from the Susan B. Anthony Project to provide you with a variety of lessons on bullying, cyberbullying, and Internet safety," she continued. "We have provided you with the knowledge and the tools. It is up to you to make the right choices."
Creedon urged students to attend a charity dodge ball tournament at the high school gym on Friday night "to show everyone what THS is really all about."
But in a photo taken at the dodge ball tournament, a group of students are seen flashing the number 21—the one Gonzalez wore for the Torrington Raiders football team. The photo was posted to Instagram and included the hashtag “#FreeEdgar.”
Another student who used the hashtag on Twitter to show her support for Gonzalez responded to a user who questioned her: "A girl like that stay opening there [sic] legs just for the D so yea! #FreeEdgar."