Joan Toribio carries the ball during a game last fall (Torrington High School/Facebook)
On paper, it sounds awfully familiar.
Two high school football players accused of sexual assault. Fellow students who take to social media to defend the pair, taunting and blaming the victims. An athletic director who brushes aside the allegations—along with separate hazing, felony robbery and assault charges against the school's athletes—as "not any different than any other community." Administrators who are reluctant to immediately address the accusations, making it appear like a cover-up. The online hacktivist group Anonymous, which pledges to expose the truth and publicly shame those who engage in cyberbullying and victim-blaming.
Except this isn't Steubenville, Ohio—it's Torrington, Conn., where two 18-year-olds, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, stand accused of second-degree sexual assault of two 13-year-old girls. The investigation has led to the arrest of a 17-year-old male for an alleged assault on one of the 13-year-olds last fall, and police say more arrests could be forthcoming.
Gonzalez and Toribio, who live in the same Torrington apartment complex, were arrested last month on sexual assault charges stemming from separate incidents that occurred around the same time period in February, a Torrington police official said on Wednesday. Both pleaded not guilty.
The investigation is ongoing, Torrington police say.
"It's very involved," Torrington Police Lt. Mike Emanuel told reporters on Wednesday. "It's very difficult to follow, even for us."
Joan Toribio and Edgar Gonzalez (Torrington Police)
The victims and their alleged attackers knew one another, Emanuel said. "The reason that this is a sexual assault is that there is more than a three-year age difference. That's what we have to keep in mind."
When asked if the sexual contact was consensual, Emanuel said, "Statutorily it is not consensual."
Gonzalez, who had already been facing felony robbery charges related to a March 2012 incident, is being held at a New Haven correction center. Toribio, who was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor, was released on $100,000 bond and is being electronically monitored.
Sealed by a Litchfield district court, the case had been kept under wraps by school officials until this week, when the Register Citizen reported that "dozens of athletes and Torrington High School students, male and female," taunted the alleged victims on Twitter:
Students flocked to social media in the days surrounding the arrests of Gonzalez and Toribio, with several students offering support for the two football players and others blaming the victims for causing the incident. References included calling a 13-year-old who hangs around with 18-year-olds a “whore,” and claiming the victims “destroyed” the lives of the players.
"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 paper.
Torrington school officials said they would investigate the apparent cyberbullying.
"We’re doing everything we can to provide the safety [the alleged victims] need in schools,” Kenneth Traub, Torrington's Board of Education chairman, said on Wednesday.
Toribio and Gonzalez on the field last fall (Torrington High School/Facebook)
As was the case in Steubenville, Anonymous has gotten involved, launching "Operation Raider," a reference to the nickname of the Torrington High School football team.
“#OpRaider is the new #OpRollRedRoll," the group tweeted late Wednesday. "Torrington better take note of #Steubenville because they’re about to go on blast. #endrapeculture"
High school football takes on elevated importance in Torrington, a small town in northwest Connecticut about 35 miles north of Newtown. "Like Steubenville," Doug Barry wrote on Jezebel.com, the case in Connecticut "hinges in large part on the seemingly disproportionate influence a school’s football program has on the surrounding community."
Despite the felony robbery charges, Gonzalez was allowed to play football last fall.
“I reeled the kid in after that, and he walked the line," Dan Dunaj, Torrington's former head football coach, told the Register Citizen. "As a coach I was doing something right.”
Dunaj resigned in December amid an ongoing investigation into a hazing incident involving four football players earlier in the season. The players received five-day suspensions, but the status of the investigation remains unknown.
"If you think there's some wild band of athletes that are wandering around, then I think you're mistaken," Torrington High School Athletic Director Mike McKenna told the Register Citizen. "If you look at crime statistics, these things happen everywhere and we're not any different than any other community."
In an editorial published on Thursday, the Register Citizen blasted "the posture of denial and defensiveness" Torrington school officials have taken in response to the case:
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.