Over the past week, the Maryville rape case has captured national headlines, as two young victims have come forward to share their story about being sexually assaulted by a member of the high school football team. When Daisy Coleman and Paige Parkhurst first attempted to speak out about what happened them, they encountered significant harassment and shaming from their community. Now, the tide is turning.
An investigative report published in the Kansas City Star last week brought many of the details in the rape case to light, and the two girls have received an outpouring of support since then. The internet hacktivist group Anonymous took up their cause and began pressuring Missouri officials to re-open the case, which was dropped without reaching a conviction. And many members of the community have rallied around them, organizing a candlelight vigil to push for justice.
The rally is being planned for Tuesday night at the county courthouse in Maryville. Initially, organizers planned to pressure state officials to appoint a special investigator to re-open the case. But the national attention over the past week has already successfully accomplished that. A special prosecutor was named on Monday, and has promised to review the case “without fear and without favor.”
Courtney Cole, a women’s rights activist in Missouri and one of the organizers who’s planning the vigil, told ThinkProgress that the special prosecutor appointment represents a big win. But she still thinks it’s important to hold a public event in solidarity with Daisy and Paige. The focus of Tuesday’s event has simply shifted a little bit — now, instead of calling for a new prosecutor, attendees will take a broader focus to promote justice for victims and stand up against rape culture.
“We want to be able to message to any victims who may be present, to reach out and encourage them to get the help they need, and tell them that they are not alone,” Cole told ThinkProgress. “They have a nation of people who are behind them and who will support them in their efforts to seek justice. So many of them are so afraid to speak out, and we want to work against that.”
Particularly after the news broke that Anonymous was getting involved in Maryville, some people worried that the hacktivist group would inspire vigilantism against the town’s residents. Last month, Jezebel reported that Anonymous’ involvement in the Steubenville case ended up painting the entire town with a broad brush, and many residents weren’t happy to be construed as rape apologists just because of their zip code. There have been similar concerns about Maryville. Some people are worried there will be riots on Tuesday night.
But Cole emphasized that her event will be entirely peaceful — and noted that Anonymous isn’t interested in targeting community members or inciting violence.
“I have been working directly with Anonymous throughout this whole process, and they’ve done nothing but advocate for peace. Their overall goal is for justice, and I really appreciated all the help they’ve given,” Cole said. “Anyone who claims that they’re with Anonymous and has incited violence, or has made any Maryville resident a target whatsoever — well, they’re not really Anonymous.”
The women’s rights activist noted that many people in Maryville have been very supportive of her efforts to organize around the rape case. “When the story in the Star came out, I had multiple people who were sending it to me and saying, ‘Courtney, have you seen this? Can you do something about this?’ ” she recalled.
Cole said she’s also received messages of support from people all over the country, and even from other parts of the world. Maryville officials have lent a helping hand, too: the county is providing a podium for her to use for Tuesday’s event.
A previous version of this post misidentified Courtney Cole’s last name as Coleman. It’s Cole, and she has no relation to Daisy Coleman. ThinkProgress regrets the typo.