You know how sometimes you click on a link because you can tell from the headline that the story is going to piss you off? And you know how sometimes it makes you go, “wait … hold on … no” instead?
That’s me. Today.
It seems there’s a pretty significant amount of outrage at CNN’s handling of the coverage of convictions of two young men found guilty of raping a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio. The objections I’m reading center around the network’s alleged lamenting of the boys’ promising lives being snuffed out by this criminal act.
Intrigued, I’ve been watching the clips and reading the comments. However, they did not inspire outrage in me. This feels significant because most of the folks who are upset are people I’d typically agree with on such matters.
Not this time.
I watched the coverage and I saw some empathy for these young men, yes. But to me, rather than take focus off the victim, what I saw was the complete, refreshing antithesis of ‘boys will be boys’ unfolding in a courtroom. I saw it as a wakeup call to any parent of a teen-aged boy who in any way has been cultivating that mindset in his or her son.
“Son, take a look at this. You think being a varsity football player means you’re untouchable? That you can act like another human being is your play toy? That it’s OK to violate another person just because you’re out-of-control drunk or because she is? Think again. Is it worth living with the crime for the rest of your life? Not just in jail time and being tagged with a ‘sex offender’ label, but on your conscience day after day, year after year? Kiss the scholarships good-bye. Kiss freedom good-bye.”
I don’t see how feeling profoundly sad at watching a young man break down in tears at what he’s done means that we feel any less horribly for the victim and her family. His father, a man with an alcohol problem, took responsibility for not having been there for this boy. How do we not wish to God that had been different?
I’m not making excuses for crime. I think the judge made the right call. I can’t imagine being in the young woman’s shoes and having to repair her life after such a public airing of this assault.
But why can’t we have empathy for both? One human to another? That, to me, is more pro-feminist than only surrounding the victim with much-needed support and forgetting that societally we need to address this big picture. This attitude that some boys have that girls are a sum of sexual parts and it’s OK to help themselves – guess what? It comes from somewhere. They didn’t develop it in the womb.
It is tragic that a girl was raped. It is also tragic that two boys thought it was acceptable to rape. These aren’t mutually exclusive statements.
Like it or not, teen-agers are going to continue to drink too much. Too many adults set the example, think it’s no big deal, glamorize it. So that’s our realistic starting point. When we teach kids, we have to operate from the place that assumes they will be in a position of feeling out of control at some point in their high school and college lives.
By the media not showing the consequences, the impact on those boys’ lives, their own seeming horror at what they’d done, we’d be doing the victim and other victims an injustice. Without nuance, it would be easier to write them off as anomalies, “bad” people not worthy of our time or attention as opposed to “there but for the grace of God goes my kid” or “there but for the grace of God goes me when so-and-so at that party last week took a girl in the alley and wanted me to join in.”
You think that’s not happening all over America right now? Please.
Back in the 1990s when a girl was sexually assaulted by high school boys in Glen Ridge, N.J. and it was found that a mob mentality contributed to it, there were plenty of parents on their knees thanking God their kid, on that night, had the sense to walk away. That is fact.
“I’m afraid people are going to walk away and say this was all about Steubenville,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told CNN. “It’s not. It’s a cultural problem.”
If we are spiritually and morally centered, don’t we ideally want to see those boys emotionally ripped apart by what they’ve done? Don’t we want anyone who contributed to their upbringing having to ask themselves how in the world it came to this?
I say air it. Let’s hear what these boys have lost in their lives. Let’s hear it shouted from the rooftops, loud and clear. Anyone have a megaphone?
That 16-year-old girl and so many others deserve to hear it reverberating over and over again.