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Social media casts spotlight on Steubenville, Ohio rape case

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Occupy Steubenville Protest Dec. 29 (Twitter Photo)


by Michael Pearson

(CNN) -- The videos, pictures and tweets are chilling. A picture of a girl dangling limply from the arms of two young men.

Other boys, laughingly saying the girl had to be dead because she didn't flinch as her body was violated.

An alleged rape, made into a joke.

The images and social media messages are at the heart of criminal charges against two high school football players accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl during a series of back-to-school parties in August.

Both boys are charged with rape. One also is accused of "illegal use of a minor in nudity oriented material."

Their trial before a juvenile court judge is scheduled for February 13.

CNN is not identifying the girl or her alleged attackers, who are juveniles. CNN's policy is also not to release the names of alleged rape victims. The case, first reported nationally by the New York Times, has attracted the attention of bloggers and even Anonymous, a loosely organized cooperative of activist hackers.

Anonymous has released information on some figures associated with the town and the football team, and is threatening to release more unless everyone comes clean about what happened that August night.

"The town of Steubenville has been good at keeping this quiet and their star football team protected," an Anonymous member wearing the group's trademark Guy Fawkes mask says in a video posted to the group's LocalLeaks website.

The organization, he says, will not allow "a group of young men who turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability or small-town luck."

According to Ohio's state attorney general's office, the girl was assaulted the night of Saturday, August 11 and early the next morning.

Involved, according to authorities, were members of the Steubenville High School football team -- demigods in the small, down-on-its-luck town along the banks of the Ohio River. A website dedicated to the team counts down the seconds to their return next fall.

Police got involved on August 14, when the girl's parents came forward to report the alleged assault, according to the Herald-Star newspaper in Steubenville.

On August 27, the same day authorities charged the two defendants, Jefferson County authorities asked for help investigating and prosecuting the case.

"What we want is to be able to show the citizens of Jefferson County that everything that can be done in this case is being done, and if that means eliciting the help of these people from the Attorney General's Office, then that's what we want to do in this case," county prosecutor Jane Hanlin told CNN affiliate WTOV at the time.

By that time, images and messages from that night had made their way around social media.

Crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, a former Steubenville resident, discovered many of the messages, at least some of which are now in the hands of authorities. She first spotted the story in the small town's newspaper and started looking into the situation on a hunch that the highly regarded football team's members were getting special treatment at the expense of the victim.

"When I first came across the article, I just felt like -- because it was involving football players, and there is a culture there that football is very important, that there was probably a little more to this story than what the local media was reporting," she told CNN Thursday. "So I started doing my own research."

One image circulated online and posted on a website maintained by Anonymous showed the girl, dressed in a T-shirt and blue shorts, her body limp, being held hand and foot by two males who appear to be teenagers.

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