Thursday, March 21, 2013

Steubenville, Football, and Rape

"The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures?"

When I was in college, a rape crisis center worker came to my dorm to talk about rape. She told us that the rapist is usually someone the victim knows. He is most often like her, similar in age, race, and socio-economic status. Rape occurs equally during the day as at night. One in three women will be raped in her lifetime. A young woman I knew was gang raped on the OSU campus while I was there, around 9:00 p.m. The best way to avoid being raped? Be aware of your surroundings. Don't look down. Walk with good posture, look confident. The rapist is a coward and wants an easy victim. If you look like you would fight, he won't choose you. If you are attacked, scream and run, and yell "Fire!", because people are more likely to help if there is a fire than if you are being raped. Hold a key between your pointer and middle knuckles in such a way that you can jab the eyes or the jugular of your attacker. Also carry a whistle on your key chain.

I was almost raped my senior year of high school. I went to the party of a classmate whose parents weren't home. A boy I had been friends with since the 7th grade, Louie, suddenly said, "You're looking pretty sexy tonight", grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me to the basement. I thought he was being funny. He was my friend. Our lockers had always been right next to each other due to the proximity of our last names in the alphabet. I don't know how much he had been drinking. I nursed the same beer the whole evening, so I wasn't drunk at all. Thank God. He pulled me into a bedroom, pushed me onto the bed, shut the door, and turned off the light. I got up and turned it back on, still thinking Louie was being funny. But he did this repeatedly, and suddenly I knew I was in terrible danger. He was a big guy. The last time I turned on the light and tried to open the door, by best friend saw me. "What are you doing?" she asked, smiling and laughing, and then the look on her face changed as she registered the look on mine. She got our party host, and the two of them forced the door open on Louie. Later upstairs, he asked me, "Why didn't you let me rape you?"

At school on Monday, Louie looked down at the floor while at his locker. He avoided eye contact with me. He never apologized. I didn't tell my parents or any school authorities. I don't know why. Maybe because I wasn't hurt, maybe because I thought my dad would kill him. Maybe because I didn't hear about rape until college. I was never told what to do...

What would have happened to that girl recently in the news in Steubenville, Ohio, if it was still the '80s? She woke up practically naked, not really knowing what had happened, but fearing she had been molested. The two boys who digitally raped her were sentenced to at least one year in juvenile prison, and possibly until they are 21. It was a blogger who first exposed the damning twitter and Facebook messages and pictures. This is one case in which technology has served the good. Yet the blogger received no shortage of hate messages. Why? Evidently the high school football team is the pride of Steubenville. According to the blogger, even the middle aged dudes sitting in the stands are fanatic, reliving their own football glory days. The two rapists were on the team.

Football doesn't cause rape. But excessively glorifying sports, and the star players, can lead to a certain entitlement mentality, a certain arrogance and exaggerated sense of power. An exemption from the rules of decency, evidently. I was a freshman cheerleader. On the bus traveling to away games, a player would shout out, "What makes the grass grow?!" The rest of the team would shout in reply, "Blood! Blood!"  If we won the game, much celebration happened on the way home. If we lost, there was silence. There is too much emphasis on competition, on winning, over the benefits of learning teamwork, good sportsmanship, and doing one's personal best. Having played the game together should be reason enough to celebrate. Are players even aware of such phenomena as character building? At least when I was in high school, and I was a manager for the football team, the whole team went to church and prayed before school on the day of a game. Prayers were also said in the huddle on the football field. God having been kicked out of public schools, this no doubt would be forbidden today.

In the last couple of years I remember reading in a magazine about a high school cheerleader who was raped by a basketball player. I don't know the outcome of that story, but while the events were being investigated, the boy was allowed to continue playing on the basketball team. Not only that, the girl was expected to continue to cheer for him at games; otherwise, she would be kicked off the squad! She was ostracized by school administrators, teachers, and coaches. The accused boy was, after all, a star athlete.  This is the risk a girl takes if she reports the crime of rape, which is not sex, but violence. We must empower our girls to tell someone any time they are violated in any way, or threatened or verbally abused, and they need to be supported by parents, school officials, and the community. And these teenage boys need to be tried as adults. The age of reason is seven. By 16 a young man clearly should know the difference between right and wrong. A crime is a crime is a crime.

Louie was a football player, which did not cause his behavior but may represent a contributing factor to what happened in Steubenville and other places. Louie always seemed like a really nice guy. He wasn't. He was a potential rapist, and I was a virgin. Parents, talk to your kids, both girls and boys, about rape as soon as they are old enough to understand. Don't be in denial about what really happens in schools, at school related events, and among school peers outside of school activities. The rape avoidance techniques I mentioned above would not have helped Jane Doe of Steubenville, because she was too drunk. Women get drunk faster than men, and it takes less alcohol. Girls need to be aware of the dangers of drinking beyond car accidents. My grandpa told me when I was very young that if I was ever at a party and put my drink down, to never pick it back up and drink it. Why? Someone might have put a drug in it. He didn't say "date rape drug", but that's what he was talking about. Jane Doe suspected she had been drugged.

College fraternity parties are also notorious for very dangerous, bad behavior. I had a boyfriend who belonged to a fraternity, and the young men in this group had conflicting attitudes toward women. They wanted the prestige of attractive females at their parties, but a woman was "just a girl", and a relationship with a girl should never take precedence over "the Brotherhood." Women were props, not people. It was just creepy, and misogyny was rampant--tell your daughters to stay away from frat parties at all costs.

I don't know what is happening in the youth culture to dehumanize these kids, but pure evil is at work. Parents, teach your children well, and protect them. It is your solemn duty. The stakes are too high to leave it to chance.

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