ATHENS, Ohio (AP) -- Pictures posted on social media in disbelief by witnesses of a sidewalk sexual encounter near Ohio University could hold the key to a rape investigation after a college student told police she was the victim of an assault.
The explicit photos tweeted then quickly reposted across the Internet were being examined by police after the student reported "unconsenting sexual conduct" with a man on Sunday.
Sharing such images may seem despicable, but the photos are helping police in their investigation, Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said.
Pyle told the Athens News for a story Wednesday that the witnesses may not have understood what they were seeing.
"It may have looked consensual to them," he said.
According to a police report, the student said the contact happened between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. that day on a street near the university's campus, about 70 miles southeast of Columbus.
The photos show the couple against a bank window. Pyle told WBNS-TV in Columbus that the images and a video posted that night are essential to the investigation.
"While it certainly to the lay person would appear to be despicable that they're posting this information, it also assisted us in our investigation," Pyle told the station. "So a real double-edged sword."
Pyle declined further comment Wednesday when contacted by The Associated Press. He told the newspaper the woman who made the report and the man seen in the postings are cooperating with police.
Ohio University said in a statement it is assisting the investigation and providing support to the student who made the report.
Police in Steubenville in eastern Ohio used widely circulated photos of a 16-year-old girl raped by two high school football players last year in their investigation. A judge convicted the teens of rape in March.