Lessons In Steubenville
The events in Steubenville, Ohio, bring different stories to our minds; stories of young boys and girls who see each other with humanity and compassion. Stories of parents, teachers, and other adults who have guided many teenagers to a place where they know rape is wrong and where, when someone is doing something bad, you do not stand by and let it happen.
So why were the young men and women in Steubenville unable to act in a way that demonstrates even a modicum of compassion and respect for a fellow human being? Two boys are convicted of the crime; numerous adults, young men and women indicted themselves through inaction, tweets and video as complicit in this heinous act.
What happened in Steubenville was the culmination of failure on many levels. The cultural collision of jock and rape culture created the perfect storm for this failure. My perspective is that the offenders are not ‘victims’ to be defended. But that they are, culturally and socially speaking, as much products of a corrupted adult system as members of an inner city gang.
Often, we do not see that offenders from the middle class, suburban environments might have negative impacts from their seemingly privileged existence. Yet, I’ve stood in the classroom, teaching health in middle & high school, and listened to the wide gap of knowledge from middle schoolers who have access to porn to freshmen who don’t know what ‘intercourse’ means. I’ve seen the misinformation, damaging information, and skewed (rape) cultural information that infects our youth.
I see the total failure of adults in Steubenville; from the perpetrators thinking their coach would get them off, to the young women who were vilifying and victimizing this young girl again, and the idiotic defense of ‘mental development’. The youth of Steubenville were failed when the adults’ hubris and buy-in to the sports culture of invincibility were allowed to control the narrative of the community.
They are failed when we allow comprehensive health education, which should include DO NOT RAPE education as well as a healthy view for teens of their developing sexuality, to be demonized and replaced with the failed fantasy world of ‘abstinence only‘ education. They are failed when we allow ourselves to be mesmerized by technology, and begin to think that because they have grown up with it teens will know who to use it. We abdicate our role as guide, because we come to believe the narrative of our own digital illiteracy while our children are drowning in it.
There is no doubt, NO DOUBT, that a young woman was victimized and in the age of social media she has been and will continue to be victimized. As Kim Lonsway (Director of Research at End Violence Against Women International) points out in this interview “…the rape goes on and on and on, as it lives on in the social media world.” As well as the “compounded trauma of the bystanders” who did nothing to stop it. Yet if there is to be any healing for the victims in Steubenville, we will have to admit that failure.
I still remember the day my son came home from fifth grade upset. He sobbed as he told me the reason: how the boys treated the girls…”they don’t even treat them like they are human!” I can think of a solution; let’s begin to teach our children to share their humanity, to stand up for what is right even when no one else in the room will, and to be human.
photo credit: Reuters via http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/03/steubenville-trial-defense/62967/