STEUBENVILLE - Despite frigid temperatures and heavy snow, about 200 people turned out Saturday for the third protest rally related to the alleged rape of a 16-year-old Weirton girl.
Gathered outside the Jefferson County Courthouse, the crowd included some wearing the Guy Fawkes masks which the Anonymous group is known for, and red and black, Steubenville High School's school colors. But most were without masks and in everyday clothes.
The tone of the speakers, most of whom didn't give their full names, was more sympathetic to the citizens of Steubenville while continuing to urge justice for the alleged victim in the rape case in which two Steubenville High School student-athletes have been charged.
Activists from the online groups KnightSec, Anonymous and others protest at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville on Saturday. Police estimated the crowd at 200 people.
Photo by Michael D. McElwain
The suspects are slated to stand trial on March 13. The case is being prosecuted by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and heard by visiting Judge Tom Lipps.
A masked leader of the rally said Anonymous wasn't responsible for a reported bomb threat to Harding Middle School on Jan. 8 that led city school officials to lock down all schools as a precaution. He said the group doesn't condone such actions, nor does it support people donning the Guy Fawkes masks and going door to door to threaten residents.
''We don't do that. We are a peaceful people,'' he said.
As if to prove that, the man encouraged those attending to hug or shake hands as Steubenville native Dean Martin's ''Everybody Loves Somebody'' was played. He said the group didn't bring negative attention to the city and that its involvement was spurred by its belief that local officials failed to act when the rape was reported.
The man called for more people everywhere to act when they see a crime being committed.
''If you know something's going on, say something,'' he said.
The man said he believes Steubenville is a great city. Organizers said attendees were encouraged to wear Steubenville High School colors as a show of support for the community.
On Jan. 12, a Stand Up for Steubenville Rally was held in response to a perceived backlash against students and community members who weren't involved in the incident. Among the many signs carried by protesters was one that read, ''I love Steubenville. I just hate rapists.''
But he said the city's residents must call for a change.
''If that means football players are taken off the team, oh well. If it means a coach or public official resigns, oh well,'' he said, hinting at the group's earlier allegation that some officials are corrupt.
The speaker said though he's not a former Steubenville resident, he could move there and run for mayor or sheriff if needed, which drew cheers. But when a young woman, who was invited to speak as a victim of sexual assault praised Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who stood nearby, for his support of her, that also illicited cheers.
Sympathy was voiced for the Weirton girl and any victim of sexual and domestic assault.
Signs read, ''It's not the victim on trial. Justice for Jane Doe,'' the name given to the Weirton girl and other victims of rape; ''What if she were your daughter?'' and ''Rape is not a joke.''
A woman who described herself as a licensed counselor and advocate for victims of domestic violence said the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported 1 in 6 women in the U.S. has been the victim of attempted or completed rape, and it's likely that many more aren't reported.
She said people must understand rape isn't committed ''only by a creepy neighbor'' and often is done by people the victim knows, regardless of the victim's own sexual history or preference.
Several women said they are part of a peer support group for victims of sexual abuse called Sisters of Jane. Each removed her mask to give their first names and offer encouragement to the Weirton girl and others. One said they can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A demand for justice in the Steubenville rape case also will be the focus of a flash mob event at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse staged by V-Day Akron. The group said the event is part of the One Billion Rising campaign in which V-Day groups around the world are expected to stage flash mobs, sit-ins, marches and other events to bring attention to the problem of sexual abuse of women.