Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Steubenville and where we go from here...

Warning: This might be triggering. I apologize in advance.

So most of you know that I was a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs in Chicago for almost 10 years. The job of an advocate is to be present for a rape victim to help empower them in what can arguably be a very confusing and re-traumatizing experience in the ER. Sometimes that was just holding their hands and explaining to them what's involved in a rape kit, sometimes it was providing information, sometimes it was helping mediate with loved ones, sometimes it was getting them a drink of water, sometimes it was reminding them that every choice that they made in the ER was "their" choice, and sometimes it was just saying, "I'm sorry this happened." Most people don't know how to be a rape victim so advocates can be really invaluable.

About ten years ago, I saw a rape victim in the ER who was from out of town. She had just moved to Chicago and didn't even have a permanent place to live yet. She didn't know anyone. I stayed with her through everything...including an incredibly painful physical examination where the OB doctor found four D batteries left inside of her.

Months later, I was speaking about this experience and one of the guys in the audience came up to me afterwards and said he was a high school teacher and he was quite certain that if I told that story to his classroom, most of the guys would just laugh and call the girl stupid. I was appalled when he told me this. How could this be true? What guy would hear about batteries being left in a girl after she was raped and laugh about it?

Now, ten years later, I am faced with the twelve-minute Steubenville video. If you don't know the story of the football players who raped the underage girl in Ohio, you should read this. It's important in understanding the culture we live in and in starting a dialogue about where we go from here. Because frankly, that guy in the audience was right. This unconscious girl was dragged from party to party with an ongoing video commentary that included sentences like, "she is so raped her pussy is as dry as the sun right now". This commentary was not from the rapists, but from another guy at the party. And there were quite a few people at the party.

So yeah...that's where we are. And now it is time for all of us to decide where we stand. Because if you don't see this as a gender-based hate crime, I'm not sure you understand our world and the culture of high schools. In the same way that the Penn State cover-up horrified us and set up a system of accountability for colleges, we are now at a place where we must hold each other accountable for shit that is happening around us. You've read my "don't be that guy" blog. I know that most of you don't want to be those guys. So don't be. Tell everyone you know not to be that guy. Pick the side of not being an asshole who has so little respect for another human being that you would treat her like a blow-up doll. Pick the side where you stand up and say something better than, "I guess Rape Me by Nirvana is the theme of the night."

I believe there is compassion in all of us. Even when we're at our most selfish and think the world revolves around us, there are moments when we are given the chance not to be d-bags. Take as many of those moments as possible. Dudes, you will get way farther with a girl as a person of compassion than you will as a d-bag. Remember this. It doesn't take that much energy not to be a dick. It doesn't take that much energy to call 911 when a girl is being dragged around unconscious. If you can't do it, set up a system where you text someone who will do it.

And for those of you who are older, have a conversation with the teenagers in your life. Tell them that you like them and you want them to be compassionate people of the world. Be the example in their life of not letting stuff slide. Make people uncomfortable if it makes them open their eyes and understand more. Listen to teens and figure out a way for them to use you as a resource. I tell my kids all the time, "If you don't want to be the bummer friend with the people you're hanging out with, feel free to throw me under the bus. I am happy to be the sucky mom who doesn't let you do stuff. I don't need to be cool."

Where do we go from Steubenville? Up...please...all of you, there is nowhere to go but up. Keep fighting, keep talking, keep setting an example, and take a hard look at the things that you do that perpetuate this sort of culture. Pick the side of not being an asshole. You could very well save a life.


L.G. Keltner said...

It's horrifying that some young men think this kind of act is funny. I know we as human beings can be better than this. We need to make it a priority to be better. I have two sons and I want them to grow up knowing that this kind of violence is absolutely unacceptable.

Unknown said...

I've been following this and one of the most horrifying statements (for me) came from Steubenville locals who called the victim a "train whore." You can't deny that the girl made some bad decisions, but when in the world do bad decisions mark a person as "rapeable?"

If I want to go every weekend and be appetizer for a bunch of drunk guys, that's my (bad) choice, but at least it's a choice. She was unconscious and therefore had no choice in how she was treated that night. Having no choice or being denied a choice is part of the definition of rape, is it not?

If I think you are an idiot, does that mean I have the right to maim or injure you to keep your idiot genes from passing on to an unfortunate child? Hell no. If anything, someone should have stepped up to PROTECT her and then should have went to law enforcement or her parents later. Better she get in trouble legally or at home than to be a personal toy for a bunch of privileged teen athletes.

This whole thing sickens and angers me.

Jolene Perry said...

I am so saddened by the lack of people sticking up for other people, or trying to help those around them.
I hate that someone is laughing when another person's world is being shattered.
There are just no words.

Richard Levangie said...


I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat and tears rolling down my cheeks, and I don't know what to say.

When I was a very young man, in university, I saw a man dragging a woman to his car. He was powerful, twice my size, and deep with rage. She was crying. I ran into the street, looking for a way to help, looking for a police car to flag, but we were alone, and cell phones were still 20 years away. I didn't try to grab him because I was 150 pounds soaking wet, and he would have beat the shit out of me, so nothing would have changed.

I still feel the shame. I will never outlive it.

That night eventually brought me to martial arts, and I now hold an advanced black belt. I remember two or three situations in the last 15 years where I have stepped in to protect a woman in danger (and one time, a gay man).

I've never had to fight. Just the poise and confidence have been enough to make someone back down, or give the woman time to make a decision. One time, I don't think she chose wisely, but I gave her the opportunity.

So I like who I am now, but I still carry that weight. Thirty years ago, I might have been beaten senseless, or I might have averted a tragedy.

I want to go back. To do it right this time.

Someone I love dearly was raped, and her torment is like a knife through my ribs. That men can do such deeds kills me. That men like my younger self let it happen kills me.

And so I sit here, wiping away tears. I cannot change the world but, every once in awhile, I can change a mind.

I honor what you do, Christa. Never give up. Never lose faith.

Suzi said...

I'm completely stunned. This is the firt time I'm seeing this story. One of the scary things is it comes down to we can't always protect our kids. Just like your post about Sandy Hook. We can talk to them, remind them of being responsible. But even if they are, even if they act responsibly, someone can still slip something into their pop.

It's sad that this has become more prolific. That so many people would look the other way.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Nice post.
Thank you.

Rebecca Green Gasper said...

Up...I agree, we need to go up. Thank you for advocating and giving a voice to those who need it. I am sickened by what some humans can do...the compassion they seem to lack and the selfishness that seems to drive them forward. We need more people like you- who are not afraid to speak up and out. Thank you!

The Busy Author said...

There is nothing to add to the sentiment of sorrow for this young woman. Nothing to add, really to that sentiment for all rape survivors. There is no victim blaming that is acceptable (although I do think a separate conversation about binge drinking needs to take place)but that doesn't mean there is nothing that the victim side (mostly women, but some men)of this can do.

As much as I like the "Don't be that guy" campaigns, I don't like the premise that the only people who can stop rape are rapists or the ones (men usually) who stand by and watch. All of us have to do something about the culture that creates young men like the Steubenville teens. It's not that I feel sorry for them exactly, it's not that I don't think they deserve the punishment they get, it's only that these are ruined men, ruined. It was their ruination that allowed them to behave like this. Their behavior further ruined them. Their conviction will permanently ruin them. What happened to them that their moral compass sent them so terribly of course? Yes, in the end it is only the perpetrator who makes the decision whether to rape or not, but clearly the "just don't do it" it not enough. Logically it seems like it should be, because who could imagine any young man behaving this way, saying those things? But they do, and we have video evidence. So where are we all going wrong? And how can we save these boys from themselves?

Kelley Lynn said...

Rape occurring in Middle Eastern cultures is prominent in the news now too. It's all just so sad. I can't even fathom why people do it...

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I have been following this case (and the case of the gang rape victim in India) and it makes me sick and sad for the world we live in.
I watched about 45 seconds of the video before I had to turn it off. It just made me ill.
I think about how far feminists have brought us-- that I can have a FT job and be a mom, or that my husband is expected to help with child-rearing, or that I can expect some level of respect from my male students... and I feel like we've come a long way. But then I hear about this and I feel like we've got so much left to do.
It is disheartening... but at the same time... 30 years ago we would have never heard about these women. They may never have reported it. They may have been ignored if they'd tried to report it. Newspapers would have refused to cover it.
Still, this dissemination of the story means the light of truth is being shined on a dark and horrid place. And that's something.

Brinda said...

I hope some new readers stumble upon this post. I commend you for taking your experiences out into the world to educate people.

On a related note, have you read Easy by Tammara Webber? I'm almost finished reading it. Fighting back against rape is a theme.

Matthew MacNish said...

I know I'm coming back much later, but you came up in conversation, and I had missed this post.

So ... as a father. As a guy who played football in high school. As a heterosexual who finds women attractive. As a human being who feels compassion for all living things ...

I still don't know what to say. I've been thinking about this a lot since I first heard about it maybe six months ago.

I really can't comprehend what would take a person to the point where they would think this kind of behavior is even remotely okay.

Clearly it's not actually about sexual arousal, so ... okay, fine. But even dominating another person in that way seems so sickening, I can't comprehend the mindset in which a person could convince themselves that this a good feeling. And furthermore, the idea that advertising that kind of behavior as if it is not only cool, but perfectly acceptable, because ... what? You're untouchable?

Not to be crude, but where I come from we would have kicked these guy's asses.

Hell, they still might need a bit of that going down.

And ... I'm sorry. I know that anger isn't how we change as a human race, but I think of my daughters, and I can't help it.

Anyway, I plan on emailing you about all of this at some point, because I need to bend your ear, but it may be a while.

Thanks for everything you do, Christa.