Much has been written and posted about the alleged rape of a teen girl in Steubenville OH by multiple assailants (see Holly Kearl at the AAUW, Jezebel, Alex Goddard, New York Times ) and the assailants’ talk about the rape in a video leaked by Anonymous (TRIGGER WARNING).
I wish I could say I was shocked by the crime, the alleged perpetrators, the video, or the resulting vociferous protesting on both sides, but I’m not. Go to the emergency room with rape victims often enough and very little will shock you anymore.
The gross and disgusting video had tiny glimmers of hope within it. That actually did surprise me; more than the vile, inhumane garbage being spewed by the main character in the video.
If you can stomach listening to the video, you will hear a couple voices in the background saying things along the line of “That’s rape; you raped her” and “What if that was your sister?”.
Bystander intervention is the most promising approach to sexual violence prevention at the moment, and the owners of these voices were certainly modeling some of what is taught in bystander intervention programs.
The problem is, they were actual bystanders: standing by while a child was raped. Verbal intervention is appropriate for racist/homophobic/sexist jokes or street harassment. When someone is being or has been physically assaulted, bystanders have to do more than stand by. I applaud the courage of the boys who spoke up, but there were at least three more action steps they needed to take. One, call 911. Two, check the girl to make sure she was breathing and in a place protected from further assault. Three, call the girl’s parents and their own.
I know I am asking this of children, but we are all familiar with the cases of children having the wherewithal to call 911 when a parent was unconscious.The alleged perpetrators and victim in this case are children. Adults need to held accountable for their role in this. We can’t only wring our hands and decry our culture without looking in the mirror and asking what we as parents have failed to provide: supervision, boundaries, ethical guidance, empathic behavior models, healthy sexuality education, accountability. It’s easy and popular to blame parents (see how Newtown, CT does not count Adam Lanza’s mother among the dead), and as a parent I am sensitive to knee-jerk labeling of people as bad parents. Parents alone cannot control all of their children’s choices. But the behavior of our children does come back to us. There’s a reason we cringe when our children misbehave in public. We know everyone watching blames us. And in the case of this notorious video, maybe they should. And we should cringe, and we should do something about it. We teach our children what to do in case of fire, injury, even active shooters. We can teach them how to intervene even in the most difficult of social situations, an active rape.