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Stuart Muszynski Headshot

Rape Is Rape, Wrong Is Wrong, Where Is Decency?

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"Do not be a follower of the majority to do evil."
-Exodus 23:2

From the public outrage over the oxymoronic statements of this past election cycle about "legitimate rape" and "violent rape," we learned, thankfully, that most Americans agree that rape of any kind is wrong. However, if you're following the sordid story of the Steubenville High School "Big Red" football players who were charged with raping a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia, you see how the cruelty, immorality and true violent nature of rape is defended, diminished and deflected.

The allegations are that last August, two high school football players raped the girl, then dragged her unconscious from party to party while many people looked on and did nothing. Multiple cell phones recorded the events, and later onlookers posted the videos on the Internet. The video footage showed a naked girl, out cold, along with other football players laughingly boasting that "She's dead" and "I'm going to join the rape crew."

Clearly they knew what was happening, but they were caught up in the moment with their buddies. Some team members and their friends stood by and did nothing while others encouraged the rape or actively took part in it.

That's bad enough, but what occurred next, after the girl's parents reported the rape to the police, is just as shocking.

Big Red Football Coach Reno Saccoccia suspended the two players who allegedly raped the victim, but didn't suspend any of the players who live-tweeted the attack while it was happening or joked about it afterward. The coach's reason was that the boys said that that they didn't think they had done anything wrong. Bear in mind that high school English teachers have suspended students who have plagiarized and given the same excuse that they didn't know it was wrong. But when it comes to football and winning, especially in a "Friday Night Lights" town where football is king, moral standards are obviously skewed.

Coach Sac threatened a reporter covering the story, saying: "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will." A football parent blamed the victim, saying, "She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it." Sources reported that one of the assistant coaches even found the incident to be funny.

According to media reports, some of the football players boasted that the victim was "deader than Trayvon Martin," raped "quicker than Mike Tyson," and by more than "the Duke Lacrosse Team."

Ohio's Attorney General didn't press charges against those who recorded the attack because all the pictures on their cell phones had been removed. A spokesperson for the Attorney General commented that, if it were against the law to not be a decent person, lots of people in the high school would be prosecuted. But if law enforcement doesn't get involved, who does ensure decent behavior?

Schools say -- this is the parents' responsibility. But in any community these days, some parents are responsible in raising their children; others are not. Especially in high schools, teachers and administrators who are under pressure to teach to the test and conform to state standards say they can't take responsibility for ensuring that kids become decent people. When non-profits offer to do the job, schools say that they can't justify paying for moral development -- that's not hard education.

Although the Steubenville High School rape case might be an extreme example, most high schools look the other way on a variety of issues when kids' behavior goes awry at a community event or private party.

As a society, we continue to kick the can down the road while no one takes responsibility for morality.

Consider the following statistics: Between 65 and 85 percent of high school students cheat. More than 60 percent of high school students binge drink on the weekends. One third of high school girls will be involved in dating violence. Twenty percent of teens will be sexually assaulted.

While schools are trying to address bullying, they are not addressing decency, goodness, kindness or respect. Ultimately, not doing so has a cultural impact on both community and country.

Almost fifty years ago, in March, 1964, 38 people watched from their New York City apartments as Kitty Genovese was raped and then killed. Thirty years later, dozens of motorists on a Detroit bridge watched as a woman who, beaten during a road rage incident, jumped off the bridge to her death to avoid her assailant. Bystanders just sat in their cars.

When addressing rape, gun violence, bullying and other types of violent behavior, our country must depend on good people who recognize evil and do the right thing by standing up to help. To ensure decency, we have no choice but to rely on our schools because some parents just are not doing their jobs.

Anna Sewell, a British novelist who wrote Black Beauty, said, "If we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop and do nothing, we make ourselves share in the guilt."

Standing by and not standing up to stop violence against women has been rampant in Steubenville. This syndrome also is part of an American culture that values power, authority and winning over respect and doing the right thing. It's time to stand up for decency.

Muszynski is the President & CEO of Project Love® Remember the Children Foundation, a character-development organization that empowers teens and adults to build cultures of kindness, caring and respect. To see America's shared values, go to www.purpleamerica.us.