Today, Torrington has the opportunity to lead another revolution on behalf of victims.
This time, it’s sexual violence that is rocking the community. Again, the world is watching. And again, the world can learn from how Torrington responds. Because the attitudes Torrington must confront plague Steubenville, Ohio, Santa Clara, California, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and small towns and big cities everywhere.
It’s been called “rape culture.” Fundamentally, it starts with the notion that girls and women are “less than.” There for the sexual pleasure of men. And that men and boys can’t control themselves.
Rape culture teaches us that girls are “asking for it” based on what they wear, what they drink, who they hang out with, where they walk at night.
Rape culture teaches us that boys “can’t help” but give in to nature and rape a girl who commits one of those sins. Like, you know, walking down the street, or wearing a skirt.
That’s how you get a social media message like this after one of their male football player friends was charged with rape: “Young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment for that men acting like boys is a sentence.” February 21, 2013, Torrington, Connecticut.
We know more now about what allegedly happened to the young girls who were bullied in that Twitter message and many others.
In court documents unsealed Friday, we learned that one of the 13-year-old girls that Torrington High School football players Joan Toribio and Edgar Gonzalez are accused of raping says sherepeatedly said “No,” she didn’t want to have sex, but “it happened” anyway.
We learned that the child was given alcohol, including a shot of alcohol poured into her mouth by one of the men. We learned that she was given drugs. We learned that her memory of how saying “no” over and over again went to having sex was “fuzzy” because she was drunk and high. We learned that her arm was bent behind her back in the process of convincing her to have intercourse.
Up until reporters convinced a judge to reveal these details, here’s what the community, including the classmates who were bullying these girls, had learned from Torrington Police about the case:
This was statutory rape.
This was “just a matter of age difference,” prosecuted because the law says an 18-year-old can’t have sex with a 13-year-old.
This was “consensual,” not “forcible.”
We’ll leave it to police and prosecutors to explain why there are no charges of “forcible” rape in this case despite what the warrant details.
Police should never have used the words “just,” “consensual” and “not forcible” in describing any kind of rape, even if this had been a purely “statutory” case without the troubling aggravating factors that have since come to light.
A child can’t consent. The balance of power between a child and adult builds “force” into the equation of sexual contact. From manipulation, to a child’s desire for approval and acceptance, to the intimidation of physical size, and on and on. And the warrants in the Torrington case show all of those factors and more. It’s never “just a matter of age difference.”
Thirty years ago, it is horrifying to think that Torrington police would see Tracey Thurman as not having the right to protection against her abuser because, fundamentally, they saw women as the property of their husbands.
Today, it is horrifying to think that Torrington police knew every detail outlined in those warrants but went before TV cameras and newspaper reporters and described the Torrington High School football rape case as “consensual” out of a fundamental belief that the girls were asking for it and the young men were just being boys.