STEUBENVILLE - A gathering of between 25 to 35 protesters, some wearing Guy Fawkes masks and claiming to be members of Anonymous, stood in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse Monday while a grand jury was being selected to further investigate the Steubenville rape case.
The special grand jury is expected to hear about 10 days of evidence beginning on April 30 as to whether any laws were violated by persons surrounding the rape case involving two Steubenville High School student-athletes.
The special grand jury was quickly seated Monday morning after questioning by visiting retired Summit County Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville were found delinquent on March 17 by visiting Judge Tom Lipps of rape in connection with an incident involving an intoxicated underage girl on Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.
Three Anonymous protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks stood in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse Monday while a grand jury was selected. Some protesters said they were cautiously optimistic others may be indicted, especially adults they contend were part of a coverup or knew about the rape and didn’t report it to authorities.
Immediately after Lipps' decision, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a special grand jury would be called to investigate whether other laws were broken in the case.
The case made international headlines after Anonymous, an Internet hacktivist group, launched an Internet campaign alleging more than the two student-athletes were involved in the rape. Monday's protest was the latest in a string that brought unprecedented media coverage to the trial. Those attending said while they were hopeful others might be indicted for other crimes related to the rape, they were cautious.
One woman, Rebecca Mikesell of Jefferson County, said while she initially was outraged by the rape and the circumstances surrounding it, she'd come to realize it was going to take more than just protests to educate young people as to what rape really is. She also said she had begun a support group for survivors of unreported sexual assault.
"I am co-founder of a peer support and advocacy group called Sisters of Jane," said Mikesell, adding she also was a victim of an unreported sexual assault. "We are in the process of getting our nonprofit status. Our inception was because of this case.
"We don't wear masks," continued Mikesell, adding she didn't mind people knowing who she was. "My own (sexual assault) case went unreported. My assault happened in 1990, and I remained quiet for years. We feel support for the victim to the utmost. More important, there shouldn't even be a victim."
Mikesell said the events stirred up feelings ranging from anger to eventual empathy for all involved.
"When this case came to light I knew it was time to act," she said. "We couldn't just sit here and be hypocrites any longer."
Mikesell said her program is designed for victims to share their experiences, but "a big part of this is to educate and motivate. Our organization can be contacted on Facebook under Sisters of Jane. We also have an e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org."
Many victims of unreported sexual assault and abuse have come forward to share their stories, particularly on the Facebook home page, said Mikesell.
"It was amazing the number of women that came to us crying and telling us their stories," she continued, adding the group meets at the Schiappa branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.
Mikesell also said she had ambivalent feelings toward the males involved, and while they knew their actions were immoral, they may not have realized what the definition of rape was. She said one of the group's goals will be to educate young people about what constitutes sexual assault. She also said she believed others should be held accountable but refused to cooperate or tell what they may have known.
"I hope there are other indictments handed down," she said. "I think that could be the beginning of the change we need."
An Anonymous member who called himself "Mike" also was willing to discuss his hopes for any grand jury action. Mike, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, said he was from Weirton and involved "behind the scenes" in some of the Anonymous actions related to the case. He said he was unsatisfied with the outcome of the trail.
"It really wasn't enough," he said. "They were very light sentences. Those two should have been tried in an adult court because this was an adult crime. I think it's been proven there's been some covering up and some corruption, and that's why we're here today."
Mike said he was unsure of what the outcome of the grand jury would be, but it was a step in the right direction.
"I guess we'll find out what happens," he said. "At least it's a start. We're hoping the grand jury finds others should be held accountable. Where were the parents? Where were these houses? It hasn't been brought up enough. Why? A lot of brothers and sisters in (Anonymous) feel the same way."
He also said the parents of those involved in the parties the evening of the rape also should be held accountable for not chapperoning the youth and allowing drinking at their houses. Mike also said he wasn't happy about immunity from prosecution given to three witnesses for their testimony about the crime.
"The justice system locally didn't appear to work," he said. "We're not happy with the immunity and the sentences and that this was in a juvenile court. And I don't think it's just Anonymous that feels that way, but also the general public.
"Let's face it," he continued. "These boys knew what they were doing. She didn't give consent. That's rape."
He also said education is the key to preventing juvenile sexual assault and abuse.
"Get to your kids at an early age," he said. "If you teach them early, they will know right from wrong."
He also said Anonymous will hosting another protest against an allegedly abused child at 3 p.m. May 4 at the Weirton Municipal Building.