Authorities investigating rape accusations against two high school football players in the US state of Ohio have launched a new website to counter claims by activist hackers that many in the small city are complicit in the case.
As accusations unravel online and split Steubenville between supporters and critics, the town manager said on Saturday that the new site is designed to combat the misperception “that the football team runs the city”.
“When people are saying, that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case,” Cathy Davidson, the city manager, said.
While the alleged rape incident happened in August 2012, an online video released on Friday by the computer hacking group Anonymous has fueled a fresh wave of social media feuding.
During the incident last year, high school football players allegedly carried a 16-year-old girl from house to house at a series of drunken parties and repeatedly raped her.
Ohio’s attorney general, however, says there is no new evidence for state investigators handling the case. The case is already in court, but the hackers allege more people were involved and should be held accountable of the case.
At a protest outside the local courthouse on Saturday, protesters, some wearing masks, gave details of their own rapes or those of relatives.
They lamented what they said was a laissez faire attitude to sexual crimes in the community of Steubenville, which has a history of being investigated by the US justice department for unrelated and alleged police misconduct.
Intended to sort fact from fiction, the website 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,” said Davison.
The site, sponsored by Steubenville city and police officials, explains that only a handful of police officers attended local schools and that the city manager herself is not even from Ohio.
Steubenville, a city of 18,000 people, sits in a region of Ohio that has benefited economically from a recent shale gas drilling boom.
“Steubenville is a fantastic place to live, work and play,” said Davison. “We have warm and loving people here, and this incident could be anywhere in America or the country or the world, and it’s really unfortunate that it’s tarnishing the city’s reputation.”
As the investigation continues, it has spurred heated commentary online.
Some support the defendants and question the character of the teenage girl, while others allege a cover-up or contend more people should be charged.
The latter group includes hacker-activists associating under the Anonymous and KnightSec labels who point to comments they say were posted around the time of the alleged attack on social media by people who are not charged.