The young men in the Steubenville rape case are guilty and responsible for their actions, and need to pay the penalty.
However—and I say this without any weakening of my contention that the above sentence is true—the entire incident highlights the fact that large segments of adult society have become profoundly remiss about teaching and supervising and monitoring young people. Why were these high school kids in an environment where this could happen so easily? Where were there parents? How did they get the liquor? We don’t know the exact answers, but I think we do know the answers in the general sense: the kids were either out of their parents’ control, or their parents didn’t care what they did.
The impulse to use sex as a game and group sport is nothing new. It was well-known when I was in school, and that was a long time ago. And the dangers to a woman (yes, especially a woman) who gets drunk in that environment were well-known back then, too. Very well-known.
Since I’ve been blogging for such a long time now, I find that it’s not unusual that I’ve already written something that’s apropos to a current situation. So I’ll just quote this post of mine from 2007:
The older rape laws were embedded in a societal structure that regulated women’s freedom in a way hard to fathom today. And yet many of these mores were still in place in my own youth, and I’m not that old. No, an unmarried woman wasn’t required to have a chaperone for any encounter with a man who wasn’t a close relative, as in an earlier century. But boys were only allowed on the ground floor of a girls’ dormitory and were confined to the public areas (at least three of the four feet owned by a couple needed to be on the floor, please, as they necked—archaic word, that—on the couches).
We girls knew the rules, and they weren’t just empty meaningless exercises. I recall being on the terrace of a fraternity house in my college days, at a party, and hearing some raised voices upstairs, one of a woman, quite drunk. A female head with long blond hair (a fellow student from my dorm whom I knew, although not very well) poked out from one of the windows on the upper floor (where we were not allowed!). She yelled some slurred words to raucous laughter. Just as quickly, her head was withdrawn, but she didn’t come down, and all of us girls knew what was going on.
Or rather, we knew and didn’t know, all at the same time. The details could be imagined, and they weren’t good. Whether the sex she was having was group or individual, technically consensual or non, we downstairs knew that she’d put herself in a highly vulnerable position.
Did we think she was to blame? At least partly—not for whatever rape might be occurring (even then I would have put that responsibility squarely at the proverbial feet of the guys involved) but for sheer stupidity and reckless behavior. Everyone knew the code, even though we found the whole situation distasteful and sad, and wished it were otherwise…
I’m all for female freedom. But the checks and balances of the society in which I was raised, restrictive and limiting though they undoubtedly were, kept the behavior of most of us more reasonable. In other words, we learned the art of self-protection and even something known as good judgment, all in all not bad things to learn in this imperfect world.
Because the law isn’t able to prevent all bad things from happening. It can only try to punish the perpetrator after the fact, and that doesn’t mend a broken life or repair a deep trauma.
Now a new wrinkle has been added since I wrote that post: the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and social media have combined with the mainstreaming of pornography to further desensitize kids to what they’re doing. These guys were playing at making a porno flick of sorts, and thought it was perfectly okay to do so with a very drunk 16-year-old and themselves as the subjects.