I didn’t want to write about the rape case unfolding in Steubenville, Ohio, but it needs to be discussed. The details in this case are so wild, the incidences of rape in this country, so frequent, we need to know what happened.
Last August, two high school football players from Steubenville were arrested and charged with raping a 16-year-old girl. They are awaiting a February trial. Videos and pictures of what took place that night were posted on social media sites, as were cruel tweets. Many of the posts have been deleted, but some were captured in screen grabs by a blogger at Prinnified.com. And Anonymous has been tracking them as well and threatened to go public with information about the people involved unless they issued public apologies. Wednesday, the group made good on that threat and posted a video (WARNING: it is very disturbing) of what appears to be a former high school student talking about the incident. If you’ve seen the video you’ve seen a twisted, cruel and frightening scene of a bunch of high school boys joking about the incident and the victim. One or two of the boys present muster a weak, “That’s not cool, bro,” but the rest seem at ease with what was possibly unfolding while the video was shot.
I know the rape statistics; according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, someone is sexually assaulted in this country every two minutes. But watching the video frightened me in a way the statistics do not. As a mother of a young girl, it left me scared for my daughter’s future and safety. As a mother of a young boy it left me scared about my son’s future too, and his psyche.
While the boys in custody are considered innocent until proven guilty, and I am not in a position to confirm whether the tweets, images and video are connected to a crime, the video exposes dark questions no matter what the law determines. How can boys possibly think its okay to talk about a girl that way? How can they think it’s okay not to go to someone’s rescue? How can they think it’s okay to videotape that conversation, let alone have it at all? Why don’t they feel shame?
Perhaps I’ll never make sense of this incident. Certainly, I’m learning to live in a world where I can’t reconcile the worst tragedies. But as a parent, I feel a desperate need to understand something about it–how else can I protect my children from being harmed or harming?
Do we blame alcohol? Witnesses say there was heavy drinking at the parties the night of the incident. And we know alcohol and youth don’t mix. We need to tell our children to watch out for their friends – don’t let them drink and drive, don’t leave them alone or behind when they’re intoxicated. We need to make sure our sons understand that if a girl is impaired, she cannot consent – and that they must have consent. Underage drinking is a problem, but not enough of an explanation. My friends and I got drunk at some parties in high school. That didn’t mean we acted like animals. All that was supposed to guarantee was that we acted stupid on occasion.
Do we blame the parents? So many of the people commenting on the Internet about this situation are blaming the boys’ parents. I’m not far enough along in the parenting process to know if that is fair. I do know I look at my son with his soccer teammates playing, competing, celebrating the season with pizza and soda and I cannot picture how such a sweet kid could ever become such a hardened teen, no matter how many games he might win. I can’t imagine how I could ever go so wrong raising him that he could make that kind of transformation.
Do we blame sports? I hung out with athletes in high school. If they felt entitled, it didn’t show. And they were never cruel. They also didn’t win championships; I’m not even sure they won many games. Would that have made a difference? Perhaps it’s a football thing? (My friends were hoop players.) Certainly, there is something amiss in a football culture that celebrates someone like Ben Roethlisberger and frets over the future of the Penn State franchise before worrying about the future of the victims. We live in a society where athletes are coddled, their coaches worshipped and it’s messed up. But that’s not the whole story either.
I have a hard time blaming social media. Yes, the nature of our relationships are changing. We’ve replaced eye contact with thumb texting. We’ve exchanged face-to-face meetings with online chats. We know that social networks, and our youth’s comfort level with them, have made sharing – anything- more acceptable. When I was a kid, we were careful to destroy any evidence of our partying lest we get caught. Today, kids brag and post the evidence online. But still, social media is just a messenger. It is not the message.
Of course we blame rape culture. Our kids are becoming increasingly desensitized by a barrage of hypersexualized and often violent images. They live in a world where it is normal for a musician to sing a rape anthem during the Grammy Awards and for designers to feature dead models in fashion spreads and music videos.
It is all of those things, all colliding, and as a parent, it’s overwhelming.
And so we like to think that the kids in that video are anomalies, the lowest of the low. But is that true? Out of curiosity, I looked at what the kids in my town were saying on Twitter. Here are a few recent tweets from what appear to be the accounts of some high school athletes. I’m not implying the posters are criminals – or even bad people – just that they exhibit a disturbing lack of respect for their female classmates. (Note: I crossed out Twitter handles, the name of my town, and removed a racial slur from one tweet.):
- @XXX closest Ull get to a contrey boy round here. So u can. Start blowing us. Now #plantation”
- i swear its like dese xxxxx bitches are in heat or somthin. yall like some damn animals during mating season
- (@XXX) i new xxxxx had some ho’s but DAMN! yall ho’s done gon dick crazy!! #Ho’sOnHo’sOnHo’s Yall ho’s lmao
- damn all these sophomore girls gettin dicked down. #DickCrazy lol
- I’m kinda. Horney ill f*ck you
- Dirty hoe slut tramp bitch hoe mothaf*ckin’ bass
- That hoe knows what shes saying
Is this the new normal? Does life imitate MTV? Is this just kids being kids, boys being boys? It can’t be. It can’t be.
How do we course correct? I’ll aim to control what I can. I will challenge the media and its graphic and gratuitous images of violence and sex. I will be a strict parent and will teach my children what respect looks like – towards women, themselves, their peers. I will not value athletic prowess over human decency, and I will expect coaches to act like adults, not gods. And I will pray, as a mother, that it’s enough. What else can I do?