While Eastern Michigan University was on break, national attention turned to a horrifying story unfolding in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio.
Steubenville is a football-crazed town where everybody knows everybody—for “Friday Night Lights” fans, Dillon, Texas may come to mind.
One night last fall, multiple high school parties were thrown to cap off summer activities. But the night’s seemingly typical high school festivities took a dark turn and rumors quickly spread about a 15-year-old girl from a neighboring town who attended the Steubenville bashes.
Though she was drunk to the point of unconsciousness, the victim was carried around by Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, two Steubenville High School football standouts.
Not only did they transport her from party to party while she was unconscious, they also allegedly repeatedly raped and urinated on the young woman while others stood by laughing and taking photos.
The events of that night are horrifying and require deep reflection about whether our brothers or sons would be capable of such heinous acts.
Reactions to the situation have been divisive, with some claiming the young woman was drunk and dressed provocatively and was therefore inviting such behavior.
Others have rallied around her, castigating the young men (and those defending them) for their malevolence.
Naturally, I’m inclined to believe this is a situation where multiple factors are at play: An unquestioned football culture, minors with easy access to alcohol and a rape culture that asks victims to avoid being raped, instead of teaching would-be perpetrators not to rape.
It is my contention that Steubenville is a microcosm, if a slightly exaggerated one, of America. It’s not as if these teenagers are simply “bad” individuals for what they did—or what they failed to protest against. They learned this behavior somewhere.
The issues facing us here are enormous. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 5 women in the U.S. report being raped. Unofficial “codes” of silence among men prominent in sports teams, fraternities and the like keep sexual assault and abuse quiet.
Most disturbingly, as Steubenville conspicuously demonstrates, we as a society facilitate a culture that blames the victim while defending possible perpetrators of sexual crimes.
Difficult questions are prompted by the Steubenville atrocity. How should we teach our young men to treat women? What role, if any, do women play in rape prevention? I do not claim to have the answers, but we better start trying to come up with them soon. Otherwise, I fear the town of Steubenville will simply give way to another crisis.
The two 16-year-olds allegedly responsible for raping the young woman are being prosecuted on kidnapping and rape charges. And rightfully so.
However, the conversation about how our young men treat women should not begin in the courthouse. It should start in our homes, our schools and our churches.
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