Due to some excellent journalism by Register Citizen reporter Jessica Glenza, Torrington, Connecticut, has become notorious across the country over the past 24 hours for a scandal involving its high school football team and widespread bullying of 13-year-old girls two 18-year-old players are accused of raping.
While most of the outrage has been focused on the players, their bullying friends and a school district that has been slow to react to bad behavior by athletes and harassment of victims, the newspaper has been criticized by some for identifying underage students who bullied and subjecting them to national ridicule.
On its website and on the front page of its print edition, The Register Citizen printed screen shots from Twitter on Wednesday morning of Torrington athletes and other students calling a 13-year-old rape victim a “whore” and “snitch” and blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the two players.
We did not blur out the Twitter handles or profile photos of the students doing the bullying, which effectively identified them.
The result, undoubtedly, was intense embarrassment to the teens involved and their families. They said some really disgusting things, and thousands of people from all over the country and world expressed outrage as the story was published prominently in news outlets including the New York Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, Daily Mail of London and on national blogs such as Jezebel, The Daily Dot and Think Progress, among many others.
Every Connecticut TV station and even a camera crew from CNN was in Torrington Wednesday to cover the story as parallels were drawn to the horrible case in Steubenville, Ohio, where a girl was raped by multiple football players at a party, followed by social media taunting of the victim and a significant number of students and townspeople engaging in a “blame the victim” reaction to their arrest.
Faced with a barrage of criticism (and hopefully, embarrassment and regret over what they’d said, although messages calling Register Citizen staff “snitches” and many unprintable names yesterday would indicate otherwise), most of the students responsible for the bullying Tweets disabled their accounts quickly after the story broke Wednesday or had shifted them to “private” status.
Some accused us of subjecting these students to bullying themselves, while even those outraged at their actions sympathized over the issue of young people not understanding the ramifications of publicly posting stupid things online and the permanence of those mistakes.
We could have easily told the story, they suggested, by just “summarizing” the extent of the bullying, and quoting some of the awful things that what were said without identifying who said it.
Yes, we could have done it that way, and I’ll tell you right now, we wouldn’t be having this big local (and national) conversation about the problem.
By publishing the actual messages, we made this real in a way that writing a story about unnamed kids would not.
We gave the city, the state and the country a taste of how horrifying and uncomfortable it has been for two 13-year-old girls over the past month who can’t escape the bullying and the nasty comments whether they’re at school or online.
Vaguely summarizing this kind of bullying, identities protected, would have allowed the school district to continue to ignore the problem and the community to assume that it was “someone else’s kid.”
But the fact is that “good kids,” from “good homes,” honor roll students, athletes, male, female, participated in this stuff, and showed a fundamental and staggeringly dangerous misunderstanding about rape, consent and how to treat other people.
If we hadn’t identified the bullies, this would have been dismissed by the school district and the community as “just a few bad apples.” In fact, that’s exactly how Torrington High School Athletic Director Mike McKenna and School Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko tried to dismiss it right up until the night before Jessica’s story showed everyone that it was more than that.
And in an outrageous failure to understand the need for an urgent community conversation around this problem, Kloczko and Torrington Board of Education Chairman Ken Traub used “student confidentiality” as an excuse to remain silent on the topic yesterday.
We don’t have to be another Steubenville, in part because there are local journalists like Jessica Glenza and her editors at The Register Citizen who are drawing attention to the problem and refusing to be complicit in the school district’s attempts to withhold information as a shield for their own failure to act.