"Her hair was wet and frozen and she didn't have any socks or shoes or anything on her hands... it was about 22 degrees," said Daisy Coleman's mother, Melinda. Why, of all the things said about the teen rape case involving her daughter, did these words chill me the most? She was talking on CNN about the frigid night in 2012 when Daisy, then 14, says she was taken from her house to the basement rec room of a 17-year-old star football player, who gave her alcohol, raped her, then dumped her back on her family's lawn and drove away. According to Melinda, she scratched at the door because she was still so drunk she couldn't stand up to ring the bell. Her mother thought it was a dog outside, then checked and found that it was her child.
I'm a mother of two daughters, ages 13 and 11. A teen and a tween, but I still find myself pestering them to bring gloves and switch to a heavier coat as this breezy, mild fall tips into the truly cold days of winter. Force of habit, I guess, after 13 years of keeping them warm, dry, clean, healthy, nurtured, hugged. As a mother, you can't stop worrying as you send them out into the world, can you? And yet you must send them out, and know that they will sometimes slip away without your knowing, as Daisy did that night.
When I first heard of the Maryville case, so similar to the appalling Steubenville gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in 2012, I thought, "My God, another one." But it was the missing gloves, shoes, and jacket that made me feel a twist of real pain for Melinda, for Daisy, and all those who love them. We worried mothers are sometimes guilty of treating our children like they are made of glass. But maybe that's because the world has begun to seem like a very harsh place to grow up. At Redbook, we've published stories about cyberbullying and slut-shaming. We've noted how cell phones, in so many cases, are wielded like weapons, child against child (Daisy Coleman says her sexual assault was recorded by another boy on his phone, for distribution afterwards). Whatever the whole truth of the Maryville case turns out to be -- and now that it has been reopened, we may finally know -- those boys appear to lack even the most basic human kindness. And they aren't the only ones: After Daisy took her charges to the police she was harassed constantly at school, Melinda lost her job, and the family was ultimately driven out of their town. Adults and children alike turned into attackers.
My thought, as I adjust to my girls' increasing independence, is this: It's not enough to care for your own children. We need to care about everyone's kids. We need to work harder at the project of treating each other with decency and respect, and raising the next generation to do the same. We must model empathy for our neighbors and friends, supporting them rather than flaming them on Twitter and Facebook and at our dinner tables.Every household should have a zero tolerance policy on meanness. Cruelty should be called out not just in other people's children, but in our own. Because at this point, Maryville or Steubenville could be Anyville. My child, or yours, could be the next victim. If empathy or morality or faith can't motivate us to raise our kids right, try this: fear.