Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've read about the horrifying details of the Steubenville rape trial that recently took place, and the guilty verdicts received by Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays. Generally, the response has been what I expected; most people feel that although these boys received a very short sentence, they will have the "sex offender" label follow them for the rest of their lives, and the judge was right to find them guilty. However, if you're brave enough to venture into the comments section of any major news website covering this story (I am very rarely brave enough-as a general rule, the comments make me weep for humanity), you will find everything from "that girl had no business getting wasted and she got what she deserved" to "don't these boys deserve pity as well?" This video on CNN made me feel particularly ragey, although I have to say I appreciated the follow-up by Gawker. I would like to highlight one of the paragraphs from the Gawker article by Mallory Ortberg that I found to be particularly poignant:
For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime. This is because of your decision to commit a sex crime instead of going for a walk, or reading a book by Cormac McCarthy. Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as "Good student and excellent football player Trent Mays" rather than "Convicted sex offender Trent Mays," try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether.
What is so incredibly frustrating to me is that over the past couple of weeks, I've been seeing many comments online suggesting that we need to better educate our daughters on the dangers of intoxication, hanging out with the wrong people, doing things for a camera/video phone that can haunt you in this technological age, etc. To be clear, I'm not disputing this. If Will and I are ever blessed with a daughter-either in the next two weeks or a few years from now-we will absolutely stress the importance of self-respect, confidence, the crowd she chooses to associate with, the decisions she will make as a teenager that could potentially follow her for the rest of her life, and the importance of dating a man who respects her. We want our (hypothetical) daughter to know that if a boy takes her out on a date, she doesn't "owe" him anything. We want her to know that a man who respects her will never pressure her into anything she doesn't want to do, and she should never fall for the BS line of "if you really loved me you would..." Will and I hope to raise a girl who takes pride in her intelligence, good decisions, and self-worth above all, and I hope and pray that one day our (again, hypothetical) daughter will find a man who treats her the way her father has always treated her mother. Again, I don't want anyway to think that teaching our daughters self-respect and common sense isn't important.
But...what about raising our sons? If there's one theme I've seen in this horrible rape trial, it's that lovely, same old "blame the victim" mentality. She shouldn't have gotten so drunk. She should have been aware of her surroundings. She should have blah blah blah. You know what? Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond shouldn't have sexually assaulted her. All of those other boys shouldn't have laughed hysterically and taken pictures with their phones, rather than putting a stop to it and helping this girl. They shouldn't have treated this whole disgusting incident as some kind of "boys will be boys" joke, and sent thousands of text messages to one another over the next few days. They shouldn't have sat around laughing about "that dead girl" who was "so raped." I was absolutely astounded watching the above video, and realizing just how many people felt sympathy for these boys. Against my better judgment, I ventured into the comments section of one of these websites and angrily stated that NO I do not have sympathy for Mays and Richmond. They did something deplorable, they were punished (not harshly enough, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there), and I don't for one second believe that they truly feel remorse. I believe that they're very, VERY upset that their lives are ruined, but I think that has everything to do with the punishment they received and not guilt for the girl they violated. One person responded to my comment with "how would you feel if this was your son?" My answer? "I DO have a son. And I would be heartbroken. Yes, it would devastate me if I learned that my child was going to spend a year in juvenile detention and be on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life, but I would be so ashamed that I had raised a boy with such little respect for women. I would feel like a failure as a mother that I hadn't done enough to teach my son to help, rather than debase, someone in such an intoxicated condition. I would be wracking my brain wondering what his father and I had done wrong over the years, that we didn't provide him with a good example of a healthy relationship, that we didn't stress the importance of doing the right thing even in an uncomfortable situation, that we didn't teach him under NO circumstances is it acceptable to take advantage of anyone. As much as it would hurt me to see this happen to my child, I would not feel sympathy for him. I would apologize to the victim and her parents for not doing MY job as a parent and raising my son better than that." I didn't stick around to see the responses to my comment, because frankly I didn't want to.
I'm not saying Will and I won't make mistakes as parents, and I'm not saying Tony won't make stupid mistakes as a teenager. Trust me, I'm dreading the phone calls I might get from the high school principal one day, informing me that Tony thought it would be a great idea to pull the fire alarm at the school to get out of a test. Or a call from a police officer, telling me that Tony and a couple of his friends were caught smoking pot. Kids make stupid decisions all the time, and I can only hope that the stupid things Tony will do as a teenager will only affect him, and not others. When he is old enough, Will and I have every intention of sitting him down and having that awkward conversation that every parents dreads. Sex is a wonderful thing when it's between two people who love and respect each other, but it should never, EVER be used as a manipulation tool, a threat, or a game. There is nothing funny or "manly" about taking advantage of someone when they're not conscious, and for the love of God if you see anyone doing something so horrible you had better do everything in your power to put a stop to it, and call the authorities. A real man never pressures a woman into doing something she doesn't want to do. And last but certainly not least, if you're surrounded by a group of people encouraging you to take advantage of a drunken teenage girl, then you need to seriously re-evaluate your friendships. That victim is someone's sister, someone's daughter, someone's friend. No one, no matter how much they drank or how many people they may have slept with in the past, deserves to be sexually assaulted.
I hope that everyone in the town of Steubenville; the parents, the coaches, and yes even the authorities-will look at the outcome of this trial as a huge wake up call. Athletes are not exempt from the law, no matter how great they perform on the field. Good students are not immune to the power of a judge in a courtroom, no matter how high their score was on the last chemistry test. Parents of boys, please, please think about the example you are setting for your sons. Let's teach our sons to be good men who respect women, men who wouldn't think twice about putting a stop to the abhorrent behavior shown by Mays and Richmond and their friends.
We, as a society, can do so much better than this.