There’s (Probably) A Steubenville Near You

Yesterday I received a series of terse tweets from my “namesake”, Abena.

“How come you have not blogged abt the #steubenville rape? Why the silence? Don’t u feel sense of outrage? What if it was (one) of ur *girls*?”

Ah. I don’t like to be attacked like that. I asked her why she was being so aggressive! She explained with a laugh that she knows that this is something I am passionate about, and was surprised that I had not written about it yet. I promised that I would do so – just for her – and so here I am. I also cautioned her that my opinion might actually serve to disappoint her, and here’s why:

Perhaps my sense of cynicism has eclipsed my sense of outrage, so I might as well quickly admit that I am not outraged at all by what happened in Steubenville. I am outraged with society’s reaction to the event, however.

Let’s consider who the players in this atrocity were: a group of 15 – 17 year olds. 15 – 17 year old who grew up and lived in a derelict town in Ohio that hasn’t flourished since the Industrial Revolution. Now, if you’ve ever stopped for gas in one of these towns, you know exactly what manner of individual lives there. They’re low achievers. They live in homes with trash in the yard. They barely have an education. They are content with the small world that they live in, and in that small world the football team is the only source of pride. At the age of 16, you already have a false belief in your own invincibility, but when compounded with a whole town’s affirmation that you are indeed invisible and even further, above reproach, then the acts and the events leading up to rape in Steubenville was the next logical step.

Why do I say this? It all goes back to something I have talked about on this blog, my Facebook and over coffee with friends. It all goes back to how we parent (or don’t, rather) in this country.

The two boys involved in the rape came from broken homes where their fathers were either physically absent or emotionally unavailable. Not much information is given about the girl’s home, but I’m willing to bet that her parents were equally lax in their duties. I’m going to say something that is going to sound like I’m “blaming the victim”, but I’m really not. I am cautioning would-be victims and my remarks should only be read as such.

Under no circumstances should a 16 year old girl be out in the middle of a different town drunk, and by herself. When I was 16 and heading off to jams and parties, there were key questions my parents asked me.

“Who are you going with?”

“Whose car are you driving in?”

“Will there be drinking at this party?”

The questions went on and on until finally they ended the inquisition with this advice: “Stick together with your friends and be home by 10:30 pm.”

I thought I would die. Be home by 10:30?? That’s just when things would start to pop off! While I always broke curfew and suffered the month-long grounding afterward, there was one thing I always did – I stuck with my friends. There is safety in numbers, and we kept each other safe. When one of us got stupid drunk (as in the case of this victim) the four of us would made sure she wasn’t taken advantage of and got her home safely. This girl didn’t even know she had been violated until pictures of her attack began to surface on social media!

American society has developed increasingly casual attitudes towards sex to the point where we actually ask ourselves if a wide shot of Beyonce’s crotch during a half-time performance is “going too far”. Knowledge of sex, alcohol and violence are more common in a teenager’s everyday experience than the ability to solve a mathematical equation or locate their own freakin’ town on a map of the United States. From the cradle to the graduation stage, kids are encouraged through song to dabble in foolishness. Do shots! (LMFAO); Get freaky with a stranger at a hotel! (Pitbull) Lift your hands if you came to get drunk! (Mania)  And when you have parents who not only do not monitor what their kids are watching and listening to, but participate in the debauchery with their children, what behavior can you expect? There was some music I was embarrassed to ever let my parents know I was listening to, and that’s the way it should be. Your children should know that there are some things that are totally unacceptable.

These boys didn’t even know what they did was wrong…and that is frightening. They testified as much.

“I didn’t know,” said one of them tearfully.

In his mind, “rape” is a guy dragging a woman into the bushes and violently penetrating her. Coming from a culture where football players sleep with a different girl every week and where coaches and bars supply them with as much liquor as they need, slapping his penis against the thigh of a girl passed out on the floor while his buddy fingered her seemed “harmless”. Why else would they film it and distribute the video? They have literally grown up without a sense of compassion, shame or empathy.

America came to a crossroads a long time ago and willingly walked down a dark path. When you supply a mad man with a grenade, what makes you think he wouldn’t throw it into a crowded room? Why do we think we can give teenagers the ability to make adult decisions?

“Hey! You’re 14. You need birth control. I got whatever flavor you want. You want an IUD? The Pill? A quarterly shot? Some condoms? I got what you need!”

Why aren’t we instead explaining to the teenager that he/she is a three part being: spirit, soul and flesh, and that singularly satisfying one to the exclusion of the others is not healthy? No one talks to a girl about how she is going to feel in her soul the moment after her virginity is taken (because in most cases, it’s not “given”). It doesn’t matter…because her school nurse made sure she was on the pill. And even worse, we socialize boys to believe that they ought to be getting sex early and often. Furthermore, do we even think discuss with boys/men the implications of what it means to have taken something as precious as someone’s virginity? I’ll wait for the crickets to finish their serenade.

Of course Steubenville happened! Peel back the veneer and look at your neighborhood. It’s happening right now, right under your very nose. Why, WHY do we think we can give someone for whom it has been scientifically proven has limited cognitive ability the chance to make serious decisions and then get upset with they fail? That’s lunacy on our part.

So Abena, please accept my apologies. I can’t be outraged when someone meets the expectations of their conditioning. We live in different times. The machines are raising our children and we’re letting them. Anytime a kid has a smart device in their hands, there’s the propensity for trouble. Condoning the use and access to alcohol only exasperates this. Being an absentee parent guarantees disaster. And to your final question: What if it was one of my girls?

That’s a hard one to answer. I’m shaking at the thought. All I can do is teach them the lessons that my own parents taught me and do my best to raise a God-fearing son who respects humanity so that this cycle is not perpetuated within my own family. What about you?

  • Ekuba

    @ Malaka: good post. I read that the girl lied to her parents that she was going to stay with a friend so maybe that’s why they allowed her to go? I know I did that a couple of times with my mum even back home in Ghana whenever I wanted to go over to my boyfriend’s place (I was 22 and in the university but you know in Ghana all sex is not permitted till you’re married to the guy so I lied to my mum which was bad). That being said, the guys in Steubenville don’t seem to have grasped that what they did is rape because in May’s apology, he only apologized for the pictures but not for using his fingers on the girl & Malik also sent text messages that he wished ‘he’d raped the girl since everyone is saying he did’ (although he admitted in the text messages to have used his fingers on her).

    • Have we all lied to our parents? YES, it’s what kids do. But even in your case, you were an adult, past the age of the legal drinking limit, and fully aware of your risks. I just don’t see how this girl got to a neighboring state on her own. She had to have had an accomplice.

      I feel bad for her, and I do feel bad for the boys too. To get to the point where you say you wished you had raped the person since you were being accused anyway is an abysmal low.

  • Abena

    Hmmm,Abena my namesake,u have ‘silenced’ me with this your insightful and perspective post,I asked for it and u delivered.
    U managed to say exactly what I think about our current generation and the pathetic training we are receiving,we have become soo lax in our thinking and actions and what we deem to be normal.It is indeed sad.
    For me I got “mad” watching the video where one of the guys asked his friend ‘what if the girl lying there was his daughter?’ And the idiot replied ‘that’s not his daughter and his friend persisted with his question and the guy replied ‘ I wouldn’t care if she was my daughter,I would have let her die anyway’ and that left me with blind fury!how could anyone be soo wicked in their thoughts?but then u(Malaka)just summarized the whole problem and why this shouldn’t be shocking at all,that’s what society has made them to believe that what its supposed to be.
    Sometimes,just sometimes I’m grateful for my African parents and their way of upbringing,u know who is an adult and who’s the child at home.Even at age 28 working full time &earning my keep,my mum still has a curfew(which I resent),I can’t just say or do anything ‘stupid’,she has an opinion about how my life should be till marriage and curiously I don’t wanna displease her in any way.I guess that’s what proper training is about.
    Thank u Malaka for writing this spot,u just put it in a whole new perspective