Because Amber Cole is Just a Kid and Boys Learn to Be Boys

10/28/2011 01:50 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

It ain't no fun/if the homies can't have none. - Snoop Dogg

You know, there are a lot of people weighing in on this Amber Cole thing. But most of the conversation is about her, as is par for the course in our culture. The boys involved are still anonymous in the eyes of the world. For me, I always wonder why there aren't open letters to these kids? There are tons to Amber Cole -- people saying they could be her father, people saying STFU with all that victim-blaming and feminist-scapegoating madness -- but no one seems interested in writing letters to the boys involved.

But hey, maybe it's just me. I guess when one of your friends -- along with a person who sexually assaulted you - ends up in jail for gang rape, you start thinking about things a bit differently.

After I wrote the Not Rape Epidemic, right after I submitted the essay, but before it was actually published, I ran into an old friend at my local library. I hadn't seen this friend in a decade -- indeed, I didn't remember her name until I left the library. Yet somehow, we both happened to be in the same library, at the same time, on the same day, after not seeing each other for ten years. We say hey, make small talk.

And then she asks me: "Did you know T got out?"

We both were silent for a second. We hadn't talked since before the incident. She didn't know that I had been to that trial. She didn't know I had seen the girl. And I had forgotten she was far closer to him than I was. When T and the other kids were sentenced, we calculated they would get out when we were in our 30s or 40s. We didn't realize how the system works, and how a lot of people end up released early. T had been incarcerated from age 14 to about age 24.

"His sister called me," my friend continued. "She asked me if I wanted to come to his his welcome home party." She looked at me, stared hard so I could feel the weight of her pain.

"How am I supposed to look at him after he did something like that?"

Folks have been largely silent on the role of boys and men in all this. Who, exactly, taught this young kid that the right way to treat a girl who likes him is to ask her to perform a sex act in public? (If the rumors are to be believed, she was attempting to win his affection.) Who taught the boy with the camera that they could video record sex acts and upload them to the internet without consent of the principals? Who the hell is the third kid who is just watching? Why is he hanging around while this is happening? Is anyone concerned that the things these boys learned, either explicitly from their peers or implicitly from society? That these actions got two of them arrested? Started them down the pipeline for incarceration? May have them branded as a sexual offenders for the rest of their days?

Oh, but that's cool right?

When Jimi Izrael writes:

I am Amber Cole's father and this should go with saying: I am angry with those boys. But I knew those boys. Those boys were my friends. I grew up with those boys, hung out with those boys.

He writes that he is the other guy. But there are no other guys. My friend didn't have problems with gathering female attention. He didn't seem like the type to do something like a brutal gang rape ending in sodomy. And, if what I knew about his personality wasn't completely wrong, he probably did not participate. But he was there. He watched. He did not help this girl, being beaten bloody by one of his friends. He didn't stop the act. Maybe he tried to intervene, maybe he didn't -- I don't know, he had already been tried and sentenced. But he was there. And he left with the other perpetrators. That's why they have accessory charges.

And that's why I don't want to think about him, and that's why my friend didn't want to look him in the face. Because he was there and said nothing.

Our culture teaches boys that this is okay. That it is okay to use people. That you are expected to disregard a woman's feelings, to do what you want with her, to find women who are pliable who you can mold, who will seek your favor and happily trade a few moments on her knees for her affection. Our society teaches boys that this is ok, that this is what you do with women. The onus is on women not to be used. Men do not hear "don't be an abuser" in the same way men don't hear "don't be a rapist." The onus is always on women keeping themselves safe, on women not putting themselves in positions to be attacked or exploited. And when something does happen, when teenagers being teenagers suddenly becomes a nation newsstory, everyone wants to talk about what the girl should have done to prevent herself from being in the situation.

Once again, we aren't talking to the boys.

So if the boys don't know what is wrong, or why what they did was wrong, they will never know. Because we don't talk to boys in that way. We want them to muddle through on their own, we allow them to consume messages that say the path to proving your masculinity lies in dominance, in the subjugation of women for sexual means. Because that's all this really is. A boy, thinking he could be seen as cool, if he could get this girl to do this thing while his friends watched. A girl, thinking she could win this boy, by doing this thing, not realizing this wasn't a game she could ever win.

We talk about the school to prison pipeline. We don't talk about this.

We don't tell boys what they learned is wrong. So we shouldn't be surprised if they repeat the behavior, if that behavior becomes habit. We tell them, in our actions and words, that this was okay. Because there's little outrage directed at these boys. So if they draw the conclusion that "she shouldn't have let me do it" instead of "that whole situation that I orchestrated was wrong, and I hurt someone else very badly, and I hurt myself," we shouldn't be surprised.

And if these boys then repeat that behavior, then we shouldn't be surprised.

Because we are too busy lecturing Amber Cole. We don't know what's going on with these boys. And so, it is only a matter of time before the women who know them cannot bear to look at them either.