Many years ago, while in high school, my eldest son was present when a situation similar to what happened in Steubenville took place. Someone’s house, guys hanging out, a drunken girl – and two guys who thought her inability to protest because of her unconscious state meant “yes.” But unlike the kids in Steubenville, who stood by and watched and laughed and giggled and, later, Tweeted and posted pictures about the rape, my son forcibly removed the two offenders, helped the girl dress, and drove her home.
I’m not a perfect parent, by far – but I didn’t raise wimps, and I certainly didn’t raise kids who would stand by in silence while a young woman was being brutalized or, as Eve Vawter of Mommy’ish noted, “. . . while a girl was raped, live-tweeting it, filming it, posting photographs on Instagram, and basically contributing to her rape by not doing a damn thing.”
A parenting expert, Barbara Coloroso, once said that the kid who’s talking back to you today will be talking back to his peers in ten years – and I was criticized by some for allowing my kids that freedom of speech, to challenge authority, including mine, when they thought it was wrong. Apparently, however, none of the parents in Steubenville whose kids were present while two football players raped an unconscious young woman got that memo, or taught their kids about being stand-up human beings. The rape trial may be over for those two young men from Steubenville, but the culture that made that event possible is alive and kicking in that football-crazed town, and in others across the nation.
My first thought, upon hearing about this rape months ago when Anonymous leaked it, was, Did that girl not have one single friend at that party? Was there not one person – male or female – with any integrity, values, or any sort of moral compass? What can possibly be said about teenagers who willingly go along with a brutal sexual assault right before their eyes? And more importantly, the message most strongly conveyed, is that the parents of these young people failed to instill moral values and courage in these young people. Once this story broke, I wondered about the parental punishment for the abettors. What I’ve heard since hasn’t been encouraging.
From the age of 3, most children are taught about good touching and bad touching, about telling an adult when something is wrong, about not keeping secrets when something bad happens – and yet we’re expected to believe that these 16 and 17-year-olds didn’t know that what Mays and Richmond were doing to that unconscious girl was rape? We’re expected to believe that this group of 16 and 17-year-olds couldn’t figure out a way to somehow intervene? When the Facebook posts and Tweets started, did not one of the young people who witnessed this event have a moral pang, or a feeling of shame or guilt? If so, it certainly wasn’t evident; in fact, over a dozen people refused to talk to authorities at all. And why? Because the rapists were football “stars,” because the all-powerful football coach created an aura around these young men that rendered them untouchable. Said anti-sexism activist Jackson Katz, “The failure of adult men’s leadership is a primary factor in this case . . . .”
You bet. According to a series of text messages sent by Mays, and read aloud in court, Reno Saccoccia, the rapists’ football coach, was on board with the cover-up. ”Next time any of us do anything we are suspended from games for a month,” texted Mays, “But I feel like he took care of it for us . . . Yeh he was joking about it so I’m not worried . . . ‘Na IDGAF (I don’t give a f***) I got Reno he took care of it ain’t s*** gonna happen even if xxx did take it to court.” The worst thing Saccoccia could think of to punish these boys, apparently, was make them sit out a few football games.
And Katz made a larger point: “I assume there were people in that room who were uncomfortable with what was going on, but they were silenced by the dominant ethos of their culture. Nobody spoke up. If you are a teammate and you really have someone’s back like you say you do, you would have intervened before they committed a crime.”
The “dominant ethos of their culture,” in this case, was a football high. But we, as parents and adults, need to create a culture of whistleblowers, and fast. That whole evil flourishing when good people do nothing thing – a whole lot of people did a whole lot of nothing, and for that, a young girl will be forever haunted.
Said parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, “Our children need to be able to see us take a stand for a value and against injustices, be those values and injustices in the family room, the boardroom, the classroom, or on the city streets.”
Steubenville. Epic fail.