Susan Bigelow
Two Torrington High School football players have been accused of sexual assault. But online, who’s getting the blame? Who’s being bullied? Two 13-year-old girls. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it happens all the time. It has to end.

There aren’t a lot of details about what happened because the cases are sealed, but what we do know is chilling: two Torrington football players stand accused of the second-degree sexual assault of two 13-year-old victims. What’s heartbreaking, and what’s depressingly expected, is that students from the Torrington public schools took to social media to harass, taunt, and bully the victims. Here’s a smattering of what Register Citizen reporter Jessica Glenza was able to uncover:

Kate Hartman / Register Citizen
“I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes,” said one Twitter user. “If it takes two then why is only one in trouble? Ha,” said another. “[S]ticking up for a girl who wanted the D and then snitched? have a seat pleaseeee,” wrote someone else. “You destroyed two people’s life,” someone accused her. It goes on like this. There are almost certainly a lot more that were either deleted, posted elsewhere, or not found.

Let’s get one thing straight here: nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. Nobody! There is no excuse. It doesn’t matter if she was drunk, or hanging around with the wrong crowd, or wearing the wrong clothes. And what makes this sort of bullying even more hideous is that these girls are 13 years old. A 13-year-old cannot meaningfully consent to anything. That’s why statutory rape exists. If these allegations prove to be true, then these boys should have known better. If they’re found guilty, it’s their fault, not the fault of the victim. When the life of a rapist is destroyed, they have only themselves to blame.

The parallels to the high-profile case in Steubenville, Ohio, where two young football stars were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl, are both unsurprising and depressing. There, as well, angry students turned their hate upon the victim instead of the rapists, blaming her for ruining the lives of boys who were prized by the community as football stars. Even the national media got in on this game. CNN reporters expressed sympathy for the boys after sentencing, lamenting the fact that two “promising” young lives were now in shambles. Lost in all of this was any sympathy for the victim, whose life will never, ever be the same.

This is what rape culture is. One definition of “rape culture” is a social environment that makes rape normal, expected, and excusable, and which punishes victims for speaking out. It’s the mindset that causes people to say, “She was asking for it,” or, “She led him on by wearing that,” or, “She was drunk.” Saying things like, “He’s a guy, what do you expect him to do in that situation?” is offensive to men, as well. Rape culture casts men as uncontrollable rapists. This kind of thinking is especially common when the perpetrators are powerful or popular in some way, such as being football or basketball stars, politicians, heads of influential international organizations, etc. This is exactly what we saw at work in Steubenville, and it is now what we’re seeing in Torrington. If you want to know why so few victims of rape come forward, this is why.

But this isn’t just a problem with Torrington, or a problem with Steubenville. “If you look at crime statistics, these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” Athletic Director Mike McKenna said in a very telling statement. McKenna, along with school officials, claim that this and other incidents aren’t a sign of problems with the school district. I would beg to differ. This is what happens when the lionization of athletics combines with rape culture and unchecked bullying. But McKenna is right in that Torrington is not unique. This is happening in cities and towns all across America; what actually gets reported is only the tip of the iceberg.

This must stop. Young men must be taught that sexual assault is wrong, that consent is mandatory, and that statutory rape laws exist for a reason. All children must learn that blaming the victim is wrong, and that bullies shouldn’t be tolerated or sheltered. And lastly, all of us need to stop pretending that football is some kind of a shield, or an excuse. It isn’t. For the sake of victims everywhere, we must change.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This op-ed has been updated to reflect new information revealed today that there were two 13-year-old victims, rather than one.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.