Warning: there are potential triggers below in regards to rape and violence.
The internet has been on fire this week with the Steubenville rape. I actually had started thinking about rape and our society the weekend before because of this horrible rape and murder that happened in my hometown: http://www.wbng.com/news/local/Man-in-Custody-for-Murder-and-Rape–198626431.html These incidents are two sides of the same multi-faced beast, and I’ve felt a heavy weight in my mind and heart for a week now.
My point for the following is not to rehash what has happened but to discuss a shift in my way of thinking and to explore possible ways to change our culture for the better.
There have been a lot of really thoughtful, honest blogs and articles on the Steubenville case and the issue of rape and the awful coverage in the national media. But there have also been a lot of hurtful, hateful, angry, careless comments in response to those thoughtful blogs and articles. Hatred toward both the victims and the perpetrators. And this has been one of the most troubling aspects for me. I can understand the anger. I know if someone hurt my child, I would want to kill them, plain and simple. But the lynch mob mentality, taking pleasure at the thought that the torturers will in turn be tortured, frightens me.
While the bulk of my compassion and sympathy lies with the victims and their families, I also feel heartsick for the perpetrators, and that is honestly a new feeling for me. I just can’t dehumanize violent and sick people anymore. I abhor rape and violence, and I think the destruction of a child (whether via sexual or physical or mental abuse) is the worst possible thing any human being can do. But the truth is that something is broken in the minds of those men and calling for their blood or taking delight in the fact that they will be raped and beaten in prison does nothing to fix the underlying issues at stake. Personally, in the case of the murderer/child rapist, when there is no possible way that they have the wrong person in holding, I think it would be both a kindness to the man and safest for society if he were quietly and quickly killed. There is no fixing that level of madness, and there is no point in torturing him for the rest of his (possibly short) life in prison. But that’s not an option in our current justice system. For the two Steubenville boys, some kind of punishment is obviously necessary, but our prison system won’t rehabilitate them. It won’t teach them to respect a woman’s body. Once someone is that far gone, is there anyway to help them? I’m not sure.
The phrase “personal responsibility” is bandied about a lot, usually by someone who holds themselves above the person or group to whom they are referring. But part of the problem in America today is our insular approach to life. Our historic sense of “rugged individualism” couples with some fairly twisted ideas held over from our Puritanical days, and people are more and more isolated and left with less and less support from family and community. Our society truly failed all of those involved in these crimes on a multitude of levels, and that is tragic. I feel like we need to start thinking about “societal responsibility”. And as corny as that old song is, the children really are our future, and we should be teaching them well and let them lead the way. So it makes the most sense to devote the bulk of our resources as a nation on the new generations that we haven’t destroyed yet instead of on defense and the aging populations. But as that will never happen with the current power holders in our country, the best thing we can do is hope for small changes in our own daily lives and via the connections we’ve made online, which could eventually change things for the better.
- Continue having and improve honest discussions about sex and rape and male/female relations and the issues we have in society. Don’t bully people when you engage them to your point of view. Listen, respond, and keep it as civil as possible. Don’t automatically shut down people because they are “just a male/female/black/white/straight/gay/uneducated/overeducated idiot”. Don’t mistake people’s honest questions as insults, and don’t use qualifiers like “never” unless it’s true because the more we use extreme language, the less powerful it becomes. (Ex. “it NEVER is okay to rape” is fine to use, but “it NEVER is okay for blank to have an opinion on rape” is not okay to use).
- Going hand in hand with the above. We MUST get over our issues with talking about sex. We are a society that obsesses about sex, we’re blindsided with it, but we’re not supposed to talk about it. Look at what is allowed violence-wise in a PG or PG-13 movie and then look at what is allowed sex-wise. That is the true perversity. Thus most of us walk around with a really messed up sense of what a healthy sex-life looks like. We also need to acknowledge the sexual nature in all of us and again, be honest with each other about it. I love the notion of teaching “enthusiastic consent” as part of this. People should learn the difference between seduction and coercion, should learn as soon as they hit puberty that it’s okay to have certain thoughts but not okay to always act on those thoughts.
- We need to teach our children at the earliest age (with age-appropriate guides, of course) about respecting their bodies and the bodies and minds of others. We need to honor their inquisitive minds, and teach them that every person is a person with their unique rights. And that your individual rights STOP when it infringes on another person’s individual rights.
By doing all of the above, we will create a safe place for people to come forward when they are raped or abused. We will finally stop victim-blaming, and we can hopefully address issues before they become life-altering crimes.
I don’t know if I was able to articulate everything as well as I wanted to. It’s a tough issue to tackle, but one that is in desperate need of addressing, like so much in our society today.