We are all advocates in some way. We may not view ourselves as such, but in our words and actions we advocate. We strive to advocate for good: caring and loving others, doing the right thing, and speaking out against injustice. Sometimes we forget that a lack of action or words speaks volumes: perhaps in favor of things that we do not willingly support, but are too afraid to confront.
Many of us across the nation have been following the trial of two young men in Steubenville. The two high school football players were tried and convicted of the rape of a 16 year old girl. One of the young men was also found guilty of the transmission of nude photos of a minor.
A quick breakdown of the night’s events tells the story of any mother’s worst nightmare: unsupervised high school students without a solid grasp on right and wrong. A 16 year old girl intoxicated to the point of blacking out and repeated vomiting. She woke up, naked, in the home of one of her attackers unable to recall details of the previous night. Thanks to over 350,000 texts sent between 17 teens that were privy to the details and the photos and posts on various social media sites, the timeline is incredibly and scarily well-documented. The assault included photos and video of the young woman’s naked body as she was penetrated with the fingers of her attackers, and photos of her lying nearly unconscious with semen all over her. Various party-goers witnessed attempts by one of the young men to get her to perform oral sex while she lay on the floor next to her own vomit. Friends of the attackers watched as all of this unfolded, as did other party-goers.
Why did no one speak out and help this young woman? Why did so many teens witness this nightmare and then simply walk away?
Perhaps these teenagers (and maybe the adults involved as well) do not understand the concept of consent. If someone says “no”, “stop”, fights you off or is incapable of giving consent (unconscious, drugged, inebriated, or mentally incapacitated in some way), then consent was not given.
Perhaps the sexual over-saturation of our culture is involved. One of the witnesses in the trial admitted it was not the first time he had witnessed two other people involved in intimate actions like oral sex. The tragic endings in stories such as Amanda Todd’s and Chevonea Kendall-Bryan’s are all too commonplace. Our young women and men are casualties of the cultural shift in how we view sex. We are teaching our daughters that they are princesses and that appearance is everything whilst telling our boys to go get what they want and that life is like a porno: women are here for their pleasure only. We lose our children in this war.
Perhaps the reactions we are seeing from the media and some members of our communities are a key in answering these questions. Media reports have included disturbing perspectives that downplay the seriousness of the actions of these young men: questioning the legitimacy of calling it “gang rape.” Focusing on the fact that the young woman may have had a crush on one of her attackers. CNN grieved the “promising” lives these young men may have had “taken” from them and what it will do to the rest of their lives. From within the community itself, the charges and the sentiment that the other teens that posted photos or took video should be charged, are merely outsiders opinions that are trying to ruin the football team. What about ruining her life? What about her rights?
There is not a single winner in this tragic story. Not the teenagers that witnessed this nightmare and did nothing to intervene, not the attackers, and certainly not this young woman.
What can be learned from this tragedy? As parents and a community, we must remember our inner advocate. We must find the words to talk to our children about rape, consent, right and wrong, and we must hold them accountable for that knowledge. We must teach them how to be a community again. We must teach them about loving and respecting others, and how to stand up for what is right, even if it means standing against the majority. Maybe if one teen had spoken loud enough, another would have joined, and then another and another and this young woman may have made it to someplace safe. We must teach them that every person has value and is worthy of respect and dignity. We must teach them about self-worth and remind ourselves of the same. We must teach them to be advocates for good, and for each other.
Do you remember your middle school or high school reproductive health class? When I think back to my education about periods and “How babies are made” my memories are brief. I can remember short parts of videos or awkward condom demonstrations and disgusting pictures of STDs. Does this sound familiar to you?