Like the rest of America, I've watched the story that's come to be known as the Steubenville Rape Case play out. As a woman, a mother, and as a human being, I have been shocked and saddened and infuriated as the details of this crime slowly trickled out. At the end, I waited anxiously for a verdict to be announced, hoping that some kind of justice would be done.
When the verdict finally did come down, I happened to be watching CNN and, like many other people, my initial reaction at Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow's sympathizing with the defendants as they broke down upon hearing themselves found guilty, was one of shock and indignation. I mean, of course it was. How could it not be? From start to finish, everything about this case is just so horrific. The rape itself -- the complete and total minimization of this young woman as a human being. The cover-up -- the initial denial and the subsequent "blame the victim" tricks and tactics. The aftermath -- the sympathy for the perpetrators and the death threats the victim (THE VICTIM!!) has received. Every bit of it just makes me sick to my stomach. If there were ever two people less deserving of sympathy, it would seem to be these rapists. "Their lives are ruined," you say? What about the girl they raped? What about her life? They do not deserve your words of sympathy -- your distress over the loss of their "promising futures."
And yet . . . As a bit of time has passed, somewhere, deep down, I realize that I do feel a measure of compassion for these boys. Now, not much, to be sure. Not nearly to the degree that Crowley and Harlow seem to have felt. I certainly don't mourn for them. You will not hear me crying for the loss of their "promising futures." But, when I watch the coverage again and I see their tears and hear their sobs, I do feel a certain sense of sadness. Because, while what they did was reprehensible and ugly and worthy of our disdain and disgust, it wasn't done in a bubble. These boys, most likely, didn't spring, fully-formed, from their mother's wombs as rapists and sex offenders. They seem (to me at least) to be, very much, a product of their environment.
You see, not only did these young men grow up in a culture that minimizes women every single day -- in ways large and small -- they also grew up in a community that elevates athletes to god-like status and sends them the tacit message that they -- as men and as sports heroes -- are "better than." In theory and in actuality they seem to have been taught that not only would they not be held to the same standards as everyone else, but if they did screw up, the adults in their lives would, quickly and seemingly without compunction, close ranks to protect them. Even if it meant further destroying the life of a young woman in the process. Furthermore, these young men were, apparently, brought up and protected by adults who did not feel it necessary to teach them any modicum of respect for the decency and rights of a woman to not be raped and used and defiled. The village that raised these children didn't seem to care enough about those bright futures to teach them that those futures are, in fact, not available to boys who drag an unconscious girl around, raping and photographing and humiliating her for their own, sickening amusement. If that's not pitiable, I don't know what is.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not offering any of this an excuse -- by any means. To recognize that the adults in their lives appear to have completely and totally failed these boys does not diminish the depravity that they exhibited. Not in the slightest. But maybe it explains the sense of sadness expressed by Crowley and Harlow, and that I feel, deep down. Because, when you get right down to it, it is pretty heartbreaking to think that we have to teach our sons not to rape and that we have to explain to them that women are their equal and are worthy of their respect -- regardless of whether those women are drunk, sober, or something in between. It's scary to realize that we live in a culture that subtly and insidiously teaches them otherwise. But it's our reality. And, because of that, it's our responsibility as parents to teach all of our children that actions have consequences and that even the brightest future isn't worth more than the dignity of a fellow human being to remain whole and unharmed.
Yes, the fact that this terrible thing happened at all, and that the subsequent reaction of this town -- and of the adults whose job it was to shape and mold these young men into something other than the criminals that they became -- was to lie and cover up and excuse and blame the victim is a sad, sad state of affairs indeed.
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