I have been thinking about the Steubenville rape case as the never ending publicity and commentary circulates through social media, magazines I read at the drug store without buying them, and on the National Public Radio shows I listen to as a pause from working and writing. Something about the story pinched a nerve in my heart, but I couldn't place my finger on what it was. And then I read something in People magazine which triggered a very faint (and probably suppressed on purpose) memory.
What I had not heard was that the victim had been raped by fingers entering her vagina while she was passed out drunk. In Ohio, this is considered rape. I do not argue with this at all, but I did not understand that that act could be considered rape.
What threw me upon learning this was that, by Ohio law, I, too, have been raped, and it was upon the realization that I would be considered a rape victim that I knew what deeply bothered me about this case: Where were the victim's friends?
I know the importance of friends from experience.
During the summer of 1995 I had just turned 21-years-old and was lifeguarding at a pool in Chapel Hill called the Hargraves Center with my friend Anita and a bunch of other local students (both high school and college). Anita had a party one night at the townhouse she shared with her brother and everyone from the pool was going. I had a stupid silly crush on a boy who lifeguarded with me, and I was far from a smooth operator with my skills of flirtation so I did what many college girls do when they need to summon the courage to potentially make out with someone: I got drunk.
I am not talking a little drunk here -- ever the pragmatist, I got drunk through a methodical plan. First, I lifeguarded all day in the heat. Next, I went for a five mile run and sweat like a beast after working all day in the heat. Fully dehydrated, I started drinking in the shower after my run to get my swerve on before the party started. I got a ride to Anita's house where then, of course, I drank more. I don't remember much of the party before what happened next. That probably doesn't surprise you.
What happened next was this:
Anita's voice, screaming and yelling at a pitch I didn't really recognize although I knew it to be her, pulled me out of a blacked out stupor. I was unconscious on a small hill in her small backward, surrounded by three boys whom none of us knew (the way parties work... friends of someone?), one of whom had his hand IN me. As my brain stumbled to semi-consciousness, I felt this hand leave my body and my panties as I jolted awake and sat up, trying to get my bearings though a fuzzy brain. "What are you doing to her?" Anita screamed. "Get out!" She raged on as the boys, laughing, left her yard and then she came over to me, helped me up, took me into the kitchen, and gave me some of her triathlete brother's Gatorade. I stayed in that kitchen the rest of the night, under the watchful guard of her brother, eating prunes and talking about running. She put me to bed on her couch after everyone had left, covered me with a blanket, and I woke up there safe and hungover the next morning.
I haven't thought of that night much since.
In some ways, mine was the same situation as the Steubenville partying. In other ways, my situation was drastically different.
Which leads me to ask, where were the victim's friends? I have wrestled with this idea for days now after recalling my own drunk and violated memory. My husband says maybe she didn't have friends. I can't imagine that. Every high school girl has some friends, and I doubt she went to a party alone. Why weren't they looking out for her? I have had many an experience being very drunk and, when the drinking got extreme I always had friends -- male or female -- who helped me be safe when my brain could no longer distinguish safety. I have also been the friend who shepherded another who was too drunk. I like to believe that we, as humans who have relationships with one other, belong to and take care of each other. That's how it has worked for centuries, yes?
Teenagers, young adults, and adults are going to drink. Yes, we need to talk to them about it. Teenagers, young adults, and adults are going to commit inappropriate acts that range from stupid to violent when drunk. Yes, we need to talk about those, too. We can all talk to our children, students, friends, and family until we have no air left about drinking, drugs, sex, and their strange correlations, but if we don't talk about our responsibility to keep our friends safe, I doubt much will change. We need to talk about friendship, what it means to be a friend, and how friends belong to each other. We need to talk about how we are responsible for our friends and how we are all connected. We need to model friendships for our kids and students. We need to show what it means to belong to each other.
If we don't, who are we?
Thank you, Anita, for that night. I don't know where you are now, but I am thinking of you. Who knows what could have happened if you hadn't been there.
(Note: I originally intended to write this piece about the importance of girlfriends until I recalled another time I got very drunk with my friend Brian. He took me home, put my pajamas on, and I woke up next to him in my single bed the next morning. Confused, I asked, "Um... what happened?" to which he laughed and lightly replied, "You got drunk and I put you to bed. " That is when I changed the essay to be about friends -- regardless of gender. Thanks to you, too, Brian, for being an upstanding young man when I was 19 and you were 18. Twenty years ago. God, we were young.)
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