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Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 11:16pm
(CNN) -- Three teenage boys in a Connecticut town -- at least two of them popular high school football players -- stand accused of rape for alleged encounters with two 13-year-old girls. And at least one of the alleged victims has been attacked on social media, with messages from fellow teens calling her a "whore."
The allegations are spiraling through Torrington, a small town of 36,000 people in northwest Connecticut.
The case has come to light just days after two teenage football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl in an incident involving disturbing, boastful text messages and a series of social media attacks against the accuser.
Now Torrington is thrust into the national spotlight, becoming a new focal point for worries over teenage sex, rape and the use of social media to alternately attack both the alleged victim and the accused
The Torrington cases are very different from Steubenville, however.
"What we're dealing with here is an age difference," Lt. Michael Emmanuel, commander of the Torrington Police Department Detective Division, told CNN. "If it was a one-year age difference... there would have been no crime."
Connecticut law makes it illegal for a teenager to have sex with a minor more than three years younger than him or her.
"These victims knew the arrestees, they were friends with them," and they were involved in the encounters "voluntarily, although it was still wrong," Emmanuel said. It was "consensual" in the sense that there was not an attack but was illegal because by law, a 13-year-old is too young to give consent, he said.
Joan Toribio and Edgar Gonzalez, both 18, are charged with sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and illegal contact with a child, prosecutor Terri Sonnemann told CNN. The alleged offenses occurred in early February. Toribio also faces similar charges in an alleged earlier incident in January involving one of the two alleged victims.
Police documents provided to CNN list the alleged offenses by Toribio and Gonzalez as "sex forcible rape."
The young men have not made a public statement. An attorney for Toribio declined to comment.
Gonzalez's attorney, J. Patten Brown III, said his client denies all charges against him. Gonzalez is being held in jail pending trial because his mother cannot afford to post bond, Brown said.
"We pleaded not guilty, and we asked for a jury trial," Brown said. "We deny anything occurred; we deny all allegations."
Torrington High School senior Joe Tessora told CNN affiliate WFSB that Toribio and Gonzalez are "the coolest guys ever. They're not all that bad. All this stuff is getting pulled out of proportion."
A 17-year-old boy has also been charged in an alleged incident last fall, police said. Because he is a minor, authorities have not released information about him.
Authorities have not released many details because the cases remain under seal.
Emmanuel explained how the case began: The family of one of the alleged victims learned of the encounter and reported it to police. That sparked an investigation, which led to police discovering that two 18-year-olds had allegedly sexually assaulted two 13-year-old girls, and that one of those girls had also allegedly been sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old boy last fall.
Attacked on Twitter
After word broke of the case in February, some people, many of them fellow teens, began vicious attacks, particularly against the girl whose parents had gone to the police.
"I wanna know why there's no punishment for young hoes," one person tweeted. "Young girls acting like whores there's no punishment for that young men acting like boys is a sentence," another tweeted.
"I hope you got what you wanted," wrote another. One tweet accused her of having "snitched."
The local newspaper, The Register Citizen, archived images of tweets before many were taken down.
"Even if it was all his fault, what was a 13 year old girl doing hanging around with 18 year old guys," tweeted one girl, whose Twitter handle seemed to no longer be active Thursday. She later tweeted that she was misunderstood.
One boy tweeted that he is the cousin of the girl who wrote that tweet, and that some people on Twitter were "threatening to kill" her for what she wrote.
Brown, Gonzalez's attorney, said his client had no knowledge of the Twitter traffic, has had no access to computers and has had no visitors who could have informed him.
"I find it interesting that the accused's name is published but not the accuser's," Brown said. "But that's the law, and I have every intention of respecting and obeying the law, and my client has every intention of respecting and obeying the law as well.
"He's more concerned with moving forward with the trial, being exonerated and putting this behind him," Brown said.