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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Justice system could use some policing

    It was the top news story at the time: A sixteen-year-old girl, drunk and incapacitated, was carried from party to party, gang assaulted, and photographed by members of the town football team.

    Evidence began popping up online the next day. There were Instagram photos, Youtube videos and Tweets saying “Song of the night is definitely ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana.”

    But in spite of the overwhelming online evidence, the county prosecutor, whose son plays for the football team, discouraged the victim and her parents from pressing charges, and the coach never suspended the implicated players from a single game.

    In fact, although the incident in Steubenville, Ohio took place in August, it seemed that the responsible parties would suffer no consequences by December. Until, that is, the hacker group Anonymous got involved, posting evidence online that the local investigation seemed to have overlooked. The national uproar that resulted eventually led to two young men being convicted in juvenile court and to a school official being charged with tampering with evidence.

    But it seems fair to ask: Why did Anonymous have to attract national attention before the Steubenville police department acted? And, what happens in the thousands of improperly handled cases each year that don’t receive Anonymous’ time and effort?

    It should be comforting to us that the public is outraged when it learns the details of cases like these, and we internet citizens should feel empowered by the results that hackers collectives like Anonymous or petition sites like Change.org are able to achieve.

    Two men were arrested on child pornography charges because of Anonymous’ work on behalf of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotian teenager who killed herself after evidence of her rape was used to bully her online.

    George Zimmerman was only brought to trial for killing Trayvon Martin because of the successful Change.org petition levied against the Sanford Police Department.

    Crowd-sourced watchdog apparatus like these are obviously successful, and they are going to continue to play an important role in the future. But we should also be deeply disturbed by the revelation that our justice system is perhaps much more prone to scandal and cover-up than we usually assume, particularly on issues of sex or race. And we should realize that not every Change.org petition is going to get 500,000 signatures, and not every miscarriage of justice is even going to get a Change.org petition. Only the most sensational cases get attention.

    Anonymous is now focusing public attention on an alleged rape in Maryville, Missouri, in which a fourteen-year-old girl was left drunk in front of her house in thirty-degree weather after a sexual encounter with a seventeen-year-old. The encounter was recorded on an iPhone, and the sheriff initially assured the girl’s mother that the incident was entirely prosecutable.

    But the accused was the grandson of a prominent member of the Missouri House of Representatives, and a few months later, the girl’s mother was told that favors were being called. The charges were dismissed by the end of the week. The county prosecutor never explained.

    It is the almost cartoonish series of events that makes this case Anonymous-worthy. The girl’s mother was fired from her job at the SouthPaws Veterinary Clinic because, her boss was recorded saying, the charges were “putting stress on everybody in here.” When the family moved towns, their now-unoccupied home was burned to the ground, cause undetermined. The girl has attempted suicide twice since the incident and spent ninety days in the Missouri Girls Town residential facility, which serves struggling teens.

    Given Anonymous’s success rate, it shouldn’t be surprising that a special prosecutor has now been assigned to the case, and that should be assuring. But we shouldn’t allow it to lull us into some sense of false security about the state of our justice system.

    Social media should not have to police our police. And with every new case like Steubenville, faith may grow in the potential of the internet, but confidence will wane in the trustworthiness of our police. I commend Anonymous for their work on behalf of mistreated victims, but I would commend them even more if their work were made unnecessary by a better justice system.

    Jacqui Oesterblad is a junior studying global studies, political science, Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Follow her @joesterblad.

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