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Underage Rape Victims Attacked through Social Media; Were the Steubenville Rapists Treated too Kindly?; Do Adults have a Mean Filter?; Interview with Kathy Redmond

Aired March 22, 2013 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Welcome back to a special edition of the program today. Ahead, people behaving badly and then tweeting about it or uploading pictures or video with an audience as big as the Internet itself.

I'm going to bring you a sex assault case in Connecticut where the alleged victims are just 13 -- 13 years old -- and again, victimized twice by social media.

Later, we're going to look at a culture that idolizes athletes, from peewees to the pros.

We don't like to think that our sports stars, who can do no wrong, sometimes do wrong. Why can't somebody invent something called a mean filter? If we adults so often text first and think later, how can we expect our kids to do any better with so fewer tools than we have?

First up, Torrington, Connecticut:


BANFIELD (voice-over): In the wake of an already infamous rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio, now a trial that arose in large part from texts and tweets that became state's evidence. Three teenagers are charged in Torrington, Connecticut, with having sex with underage girls.


BANFIELD: No force is alleged here. But here's the thing. The victims are so young, at 13 the law says they're too young to legally consent. Doesn't matter if they said yes, they legally cannot.

The two cases are not identical, at all. But, the young girls in both of the cases are certainly feeling something very similar, a backlash that might not have existed when I was a kid, maybe when you were a kid, or at least even a decade ago. CNN's Susan Candiotti has the story.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At least two of the three accused teens are familiar faces for football fans at Connecticut's Torrington High School. Edgar Gonzalez, named most valuable player this season, and teammate Joan Toribio are 18, legally adults. A third young man is 17, a juvenile. All three are charged with sexual assault. The two alleged victims are 13 years old. Police call the alleged sexual encounters consensual. But under Connecticut law, that doesn't matter.

LT. MICHAEL EMANUEL, TORRINGTON, CONN., POLICE: Consensual in the sense that it wasn't a, quote, "attack;" not consensual because, in the eyes of the law, statutorily, a 13-year-old cannot give consent.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Because the girls were more than three years younger than the boys, the young men are charged with sexual assault, sometimes known as statutory rape in other states.

Torrington is a small New England town, where football is part of school, not a local obsession. Different than Steubenville, Ohio, where just days ago, two football players were convicted of raping an unconscious girl.

The evidence included posts that went viral on social media. In Torrington, social media brought backlash from other kids, namely blaming the girls.

One said, quote, "Even if it was all his fault, what was a 13-year-old girl doing hanging around with 18-year-old guys?"

Another viciously attacked the girl's character. Quote, "Young girls acting like whores, there's no punishment for that. Young men acting like boys is a sentence."

But the boys were targets, too. Quote, "Too bad the girls were not protected from a rapist psychopath like you. You should be telling your buddies to lay off her."

BARBARA SPIEGEL, VICTIMS' ADVOCATE: With social media, it's just an opportunity to tell a lot of people a message. Instead of me just speaking to you, I tweet it and it's out there for the whole world.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Barbara Spiegel heads Torrington's Susan B. Anthony Project for victims of sexual and physical abuse. She worries about the impact on accusers.

SPIEGEL: The focus is on the girls, as if whatever went on here was their fault. And I think the focus needs to be on the perpetrators -- alleged perpetrators.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): As for all the social media chatter, area parents just shake their heads.

MARCI SASS: I don't think they've stopped to consider the lives that they're -- that they're hurting.

KEVIN LACILLA: I don't think it's appropriate for kids to be expressing their thoughts on something that either they know very little about or they're just not mature enough to make rational decisions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And Susan Candiotti joins me now live.

Susan, you've had a chance to talk to one of the attorneys for one of these suspects, specifically about the viral attacks since these alleged crimes.

What's the attorney saying about these attacks?

CANDIOTTI: That's right, Ashleigh. Well, first of all, both of the defendants, the 18-year-olds in this case, have pleaded not guilty, and one of them denies every aspect of what's been -- he's been charged with.

Yes, I spoke to the lawyer for Edgar Gonzalez, and he said, look, Susan, I can tell you that I spoke with my client just the other day in jail. These posts have been out there for a month; he's been in jail at least that long. He said that his client knows nothing about all these social comments that are being made out there on Twitter, for example, and he said he played absolutely no role in it and he's only aware of it because I told him about it. Certainly, he doesn't promote that happening right now, his lawyer says.

And then his lawyer added this, Ashleigh. He said, you know, I just want to point out that in these cases, legally, the name of the accuser is protected. And the lawyer said, I understand that. But at the same time, my defendant's name is out there publicly and I obey and respect the law and so does he. He just wants to put all of this behind him.

But the fact of the matter is, Ashleigh, of course the law does always protect the name of the accusers in cases of possible and alleged sexual violence. Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: And let's go one further, Susan Candiotti. We protect 13- year olds, too; even if they were perpetrators, if they were 13, their names would be protected. And there are so many reasons for it, which we cannot get into at this moment.

But Susan Candiotti, great reporting. Thank you very much for that.

You know, that verdict in Steubenville came down less than a week ago: 17-year-old Trent Mays, seen here in the white shirt, and 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond in blue, you might be thinking, why are we seeing and hearing their names, a decision that was made by the judge. They could have been elevated to adult court; they were not. But their images were made public. The judge made that decision.

Both of them guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl who was too drunk to consent. You might think that would have ended the wrenching ordeal that entered our national consciousness back in December. Bloggers and hackers brought to light text messages and photos that not only demeaned all involved, they led to accusations that police were going easy on high school athletes. Authorities strongly deny that. But this ordeal is not over, because just two days after the verdict, two teenage girls were hauled into a courtroom for allegedly tweeting threats on the rape victim's life. And the Ohio attorney general was my guest on the show this week. Have a listen.


MIKE DEWINE, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, we had two individuals who clearly didn't get the message. They went up right after the verdict, or close in time after the verdict, and, you know, as you just reported, one threatened the life of the victim. The other threatened to do bodily harm to the victim.

And you know, we have the First Amendment. People are allowed to be obnoxious and they're allowed to say crazy things. That's fine. But they can't, under Ohio law, threaten to kill someone. And we had to take action.


BANFIELD: Attorney General DeWine has impaneled another grand jury to investigate whether anyone else should be charged in the initial aftermath of the crime or in the aftermath of the entire case.

And here's where I bring in two guests who know a lot about youth and about social media and all of the forces that can be unleashed when those two things combine.

Dr. Drew Pinsky is the host of "Dr. Drew On Call" on our sister network, HLN.

And Donna Rice Hughes is an Internet safety expert and president of the nonprofit organization, Enough Is Enough.

Donna, I want to begin with you, if I may. A lot of people are so astounded and shocked, not only to hear about the crime, but then the tweeting and the bravado about the crime.

And then the outrage at the young victims of the crime in Steubenville, and the alleged crime that we're now following in Connecticut.

But you, in your line of work, surrounded by this on a regular basis, are not so surprised. Explain to me.

DONNA RICE HUGHES, PRESIDENT, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: Yes. I -- there's so much going on here. And as I've read all of these cases, what I've seen is just this impact of the pornification of our culture, which is leading to the objectification of those who are sexually violated, desensitization and all of these things are -- I think are forming kind of a foundation for what we're seeing.

And one thing that's really interesting that I don't think a lot of people may realize, the CDC, the Center for Disease Control found in 2010 that youth who view X-rated material are six times more likely to force someone sexually.

And also there are studies show that those who are viewing pornographic material are much more likely to trivialize rape.

So what does this have to do with what we are talking about? Well, we have a youth, or in fact, youth in general have been brought up on the Internet. Great. But they've also had a steady diet of hard-core pornography --


BANFIELD: And look at the pictures --

HUGHES: -- as their parents have not --

BANFIELD: Donna, we're showing these pictures of children with smartphones and cell phones and access at any given moment, when we can't watch.

In fact, I just want to throw out a quick statistic here, a couple of them from the Pew Research Center.

First of all -- and this blew my mind, lest you should think my child would never send out a naked picture of himself or herself, how about being on the receiving end of it? Because one in six kids say they've received pornographic images of some kind.

And then here's one that's very distressing, 78 percent of kids now have -- of teenagers have cell phones and almost half of kids have smartphones.

Dr. Drew, if the toothpaste is out of the tube in terms of the receiving of these images, one in six kids getting them, what do I have to do now as a parent? What's -- my job is already astoundingly huge. How much bigger can it get?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN ANCHOR: I understand that. It's gotten bigger. We have to stay on top of this. It is our frontal lobe that is functioning, theirs is not. It literally goes on vacation for about 10 years, and that's where people learn to contain impulses, have empathy, make good judgments.

And it's our functioning brain that needs to supervene here to get involved. I want to tell parents this one thing. Remember this: people are so concerned about violent video games, think about your kids acting out violently on real people through social media. They feel entitled to actually act out on a real person.

If you think violent video cartoons are a problem, how about the fact that they're actually doing this in real life, on real people, and feel completely entitled and justified to do so?

BANFIELD: There's so much --

PINSKY: We have to check our kids and we've got to check our young males, especially, for the reasons that donna was just saying. BANFIELD: For all of us who may be over the age of 30, there's a lot that moves ahead so fast of us.

Donna, k, I remember in the '80s, when you were just so encircled by the controversy with then Senator Gary Hart, as he was running for president, and there was that picture that came out in the press of you sitting on his lap. And it was just a massive story on the evening news, but that was the only place.

What if Twitter had existed back when you went through this ordeal?

HUGHES: Oh, it would have -- it -- well, it would have gone even more viral. I have to say that even back then, when we did not have the Internet, it did go viral in media, all around the world.

And it -- and so I can just so empathize with these young people that have already -- they're already suffering. And then to have personal details of their life, and even their abuse, go viral, is just, it's overwhelming. I can't even imagine. You can see why suicide sometimes is the result, you know, because they feel so out of control.

But I want to go back to what Dr. Drew said. Parents have got to get in the game. They have got to become good cyber parents and recognize that their kids' online and offline worlds have merged.

Kids don't see online and offline. This is their life and they are used to using this technology and not thinking before they post, not thinking before they do something. Parents have got to be the first line of defense.

BANFIELD: And we've got a couple of things that are coming up that pertain to that.

Yes. Donna Rice and Dr. Drew, stand by, if you would. I have so many more questions for you as we continue this conversation, not the least of which, social media, teenagers, crime, athletes.

Is it true, do athletes, young athletes in particular, think they're above the law? And are we all a big part of this? Can we be doing something to mitigate the damage that's being done? Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: Almost from the first day, high school and college athletes take to the field that they are treated as special and kings of the hill who can do no wrong. I think many can agree on that. It's especially true for elite sports, like football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and it's just as true in the pro ranks.

Our sports-obsessed culture fuels the hero worship of these young athletes and this attitude may have been a factor in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case that resulted in the conviction of two high school football stars.

According to one study, one in three college sexual assaults are committed by athletes. Another says that a new incident of athlete crime emerges once every two days. That does not include crimes that were unreported in the media.

Critics of our sports culture often blame the leaders, the coaches. The Steubenville football coach, Reno Saccoccia, is known as a tough- as-nails guy who runs the team with an iron fist.

According to "The New York Times" he went, quote, "nose to nose with a 'Times' reporter when that reporter questioned him about the rape case." The "Times" says he threatened the reporter with these words, quote, "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."

These are the kinds of things that have a lot of people wondering, if the coaches are behaving that way, if the grownups are behaving that way, what chance do the kids have? And where do we need to direct our anger? Or where do we need to direct our changes?

In a moment, you will hear from a young woman who says she has gone through this, raped by an athlete and covered up, the whole crime covered up by the college. She didn't stop though. She made it her life's mission to make sure that she makes an effort to change this culture.

Dr. Drew is also going to weigh in on our mean filter. Don't we have one? And my God, can kids even develop one? In just a moment.



BANFIELD: In the Steubenville rape case, that attorney general, among other, has told us that a new grand jury is going to be convening to find out if anybody else, other than the two young men who've now been convicted in the rape, actually need to be going to court right along with them, meaning, did they help cover it up? Did they do something else criminal in this case?

That's all to come in the next few weeks.

But in the meantime, a couple of little gems emerged from the court case we just went through. Actual evidence, tweets that were sent from one of the young men who was convicted to a couple people. I just want to read a few because they really do perhaps inculpate the person at the head of the team, the head coach, and that's Coach Reno Saccoccia.

On August 13th, Trent Mays, who was convicted, sent this text to the victim in the case.

"Reno," meaning football coach Reno Saccoccia, "just called my house and said I raped you."

On August 13th Mays also sent this text to a fellow football player, who actually filmed a 12-minute viral video that played heavily into the case. "Delete that off YouTube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously, delete it."

And on August 14th, Mays sent this text to an unnamed friend.

"I got Reno. He took care of it. And (inaudible) ain't going to happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I'm not worried."

Joining us from Denver is Kathy Redmond. She's the founder of the National Coalition against Violent Athletes and she speaks from experience. She says she was twice raped by a football player while she was a student of University of Nebraska.

And Dr. Drew also remains with us.

Kathy, first to you. Those are serious tweets. They are now evidence. They are not supposition; this is not what someone said, this is stuff the police found.

Are these the kinds of things that you think may actually end up leading to a further prosecution in a case like this?

And is this the kind of thing that maybe up until now we haven't been doing enough of?

KATHY REDMOND, FOUNDER, NATIONAL COALITION AGAINST VIOLENT ATHLETES: Yes, I agree with that. I think that these kind of tweets can actually lead to more prosecutions.

The problem that I have is that you have jurors that you have getting -- actually getting to court, and you have jurors that still believe the rape myths, that still victim blame, that aren't educated when they go into their jury box.

And so they still lean -- especially women, they still lean towards the male perpetrators of the violence.

And so although these tweets certainly help, we also have to educate the people in the jury box. We also have to educate the parents and especially the academic institutions that hired these coaches, that allow these coaches to stay, that allowed this whole culture to permeate.

BANFIELD: Dr. Drew, we have two elements to this. We have many elements, but two specific elements, what happened before the actual incident and during the incident itself, the crime, and then what happened after, everything that everyone posted online, all the blaming of the victim, all the sharing of the videos.

And I want to ask you this.


BANFIELD: We as grown-ups seem to have problems stopping and filtering our meanness between our fingers and our tweets. We are doing a terrible job at that. You can just log onto my Twitter account and see what people say about me and what kind of words they've used. They've never met me.

PINSKY: It's brutal, right?

BANFIELD: What do we expect of kids who have -- (inaudible) far fewer tools than we have?

PINSKY: Yes. You're -- Ashleigh, you bring up two big points. I want to push one up front, which is that adolescents, which are -- who are acting out sexually, meaning these poor young women who are victimized at a time when they are in their most important time of need, mental health difficulties are expressed in adolescence through sexual acting out, truancy and substance use.

They don't come in and say, hey, I'm depressed and anxious, Doctor, they act out sexually. So when these young kids are acting in that fashion, we must as adults recognize that as a mental health issue and educate our young children the same.

As far as the mean filters, Ashleigh, Twitter and social media is an environment of absolute brutality. I remind people your kids are acting out on real people.

And the mean filter, their mean filter, is right here. It's your frontal lobe. And if you don't have a mean filter because you didn't have adequate parenting yourself, which, Ashleigh, I think is the real problem here, is parents are immature, then our kids are lost.

BANFIELD: Let's just -- let's just end this program by saying, parents, do your best, do what you can. And you have rights to your children's social media.

Kathy Redmond, Dr. Drew, thank you both.

And thank you everyone for watching us on this very special edition. Have a wonderful weekend. "AROUND THE WORLD" is next.