Nel's New Day

March 20, 2013

Every School Needs to Teach What Rape Is

“If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” said [Athletic Director Mike McKenna] in reference to the charge of second-degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by two of his 18-year-old football players. Other Torrington High School (CT) officials insist that this and other complaints of hazing at the school are just separate instances and not part of a cultural problem.

Edgar-Gonzalez-and-Joan-Toribio-1 football

Edgar Gonzalez (right) and Joan Toribio have been charged not only with this sexual assault but other crimes involving different 13-year-old girls. Before the sex assault charges against Gonzalez, the team’s Most Valuable Player, was charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery. He is accused of jumping three juveniles, 14-years-old, in search of money. Former Head Coach Dan Dunaj let Gonzalez play after a stern talking to: “I reeled the kid in after that, and he walked the line. As a coach I was doing something right.”

The district’s policies for dismissing student athletes are taken on a case by case basis, according to McKenna, Dunaj and Torrington School Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko. McKenna said a “serious infraction” would cause a student athlete to be suspended from play, but couldn’t say, when asked, if that would be a felony or a misdemeanor. He said he did consider violent felonies a “serious infraction.” He also said that he didn’t know anything about the three felony and two misdemeanor charges pending against Gonzalez from the March 2012 incident and that he was never informed of that incident. Dunaj resigned in January 2013 after five years at the school.

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As in the Steubenville (OH) case that led to prison for the rapists, the 13-year-old girl has been victimized by the community. Both males and females have called her a “whore” and criticized her for “snitching” and “ruining the lives” of the 18-year-old football players. Students trying to defend the victim are in turn bullied. These are some of the offensive tweets, sometimes repeated:

 “I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes.”– @asmedick

Twelve days after the alleged incident.”–@AyooWilliam

“I hope you got what you wanted.”

“Sticking up for a girl who wanted the D and then snitched? have a seat pleaseeee.–@ShelbyyKalinski.

Since July 2011, Connecticut state law mandates that school districts address cyber-bullying that takes place off of school grounds. According to the Connecticut Commission on Children, Public Act 11-232, school districts are required to take “Comprehensive steps to prevent bullying, humiliation or assault.” Districts must take action if there are repeated online incidents that affect the school environment or the student’s ability to attend school.

Social media not only shows the original crime but also the following problem: a victim-blaming rape culture that is inclined to take the side of the assailant instead of the victim.

An editorial in Litchfield County’s newspaper, The Register Citizen, clearly stated opposition to school officials’ attitudes and responses toward the students’ actions:

“We hope and trust that the posture of denial and defensiveness Torrington school officials have taken toward the idea that there is a culture of abuse and harassment emanating from the high school football program will be dropped very quickly this morning.

“The city woke up to detailed revelations in The Register Citizen about a coach who tolerated violent behavior and a school district whose policies were vague and not enforced and gave the benefit of the doubt to students who’d been charged with serious crimes but also happened to be key to scoring a lot of touchdowns.

“Worst of all, and what will cause an ugly statewide, perhaps national, spotlight to shine on Torrington in the coming days, the newspaper uncovered dozens of Torrington High School athletes and students, male and female, bullying the 13-year-old victim of an alleged sexual assault by two 18-year-old football players.

“They called her “whore,” “snitch,” blamed her for “ruining the lives” of the players. They harassed and bullied students who dared defend her. Assuming they were unaware of these social media posts (and no doubt, similar conversations in school classrooms and hallways), we expect the stance and leadership of Athletic Director Mike McKenna and Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko to change dramatically.

“McKenna said, “If you think there’s some wild band of athletes that are wandering around then I think you’re mistaken.”

“Well actually, there was a hazing scandal the school district still hasn’t explained, the MVP of the team was allowed to play all of last season despite pending felony robbery and assault charges which also involved another football player, and then the latest incident of a sexual assault arrest of two players. McKenna says he didn’t even know about the felony robbery and assault charges or that the coach knew about them and still allowed his MVP to play. So maybe the athletic director isn’t even qualified to insist that there’s not a “wild band of athletes” causing trouble all over town.

“In fact, the behavior of athletes does appear to be out of control and unacceptable.

“And the suggestion that it’s a ‘few bad apples’ and not a deeper cultural problem in the school district is obliterated by the Twitter and Facebook messages of dozens of Torrington High School students.

“The first step in recovering from this is admitting you have a problem. And after reading the social media accounts of average, “good” students at Torrington High School, it’s clear that Torrington students need an urgent education about blaming the victim, bullying and harassment, what “consent” means, why statutory rape is rape, period, and where football should stand in relation to their education and the rest of life.

“Let’s hope that starts today.”

One of the two teenage rapists in Steubenville said that he didn’t know what he did was rape. A thorough education described above is vital for every school in the United States. We all need to start lobbying for this in order to change the culture of rape within all our communities.

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