I once thought the term “rape culture” was overly alarmist, a phrase used by outspoken and too-vigilant feminists. I thought the problem was being exaggerated, that rapes were random acts of violence, the type of crime perpetrated by heartless psychos and murderers. I thought that if women didn’t want to get raped, then they shouldn’t get drunk in mixed company, shouldn’t wear low-cut tops, shouldn’t go out at night by themselves.
I thought a lot of things until rape affected women I knew and loved. I learned that two thirds of rapes are perpetrated by people the women know – by acquaintances and friends and boyfriends and family members. I learned that, over the course of her lifetime, a woman in the U.S. has a 1 in 5 chance of being raped. And I learned that, nearly half the time, people think that a woman who reports a rape is lying about it. (The actual figure is much more near two percent.)
And I thought a lot of things until Steubenville. I combed through the headlines of this horrid crime, learned how a young girl was raped and photographed naked and unconscious. How she was driven to not one, not two, but three different parties, used as a novelty item for others’ gratification and entertainment. How her friends let her drive off into the darkness with boys with ill intent. How adults who knew about the situation turned a blind eye. How teenagers surrounded her and laughed and tweeted about her unfortunate state of affairs. How one boy laughed on Youtube about the whore who was being raped while he was present.
And I saw a special interview with these teenage boys, the rapists. And they did not match the picture in my head. They were clean cut. Respectful to the reporters. And young. (So young.) I looked into their eyes and saw the boys that I taught last year – the high school boys that rallied around and helped me when I was nine months pregnant and mounting a huge musical. I saw the eyes of the boys that gave up their weekends to build sets, who I shared meals with at a theatre conference, boys who moved tables and chairs in and out of classrooms day after day.
And I wondered – would they have offered three dollars for someone to urinate on an unconscious young girl? Would they have laughed at her as she vomited on a cement curb? Would they have seen her drunken state as an invitation to take advantage of her?
Or would they have taken their jacket off, wrapped her up, and taken her home?
I saw the eyes of Nathan, my son, sixteen years from now. I realized, as Ann Voskamp did, that it’s not enough to raise him well. The Steubenville boys had strong family units, too. They lived in nice houses with big back yards and sat around a table and ate dinner with their families each night. I realized that this – this conversation about consent, about valuing women – will have to be a real conversation:
It is never okay to force yourself on a woman.
And I will worry about him for the rest of his life. Because I know that, no matter how much I and his father try to protect him and teach him and guide him, that one day he’ll be with a group of boys making offhanded, misogynistic comments about a girl that he knows. He’ll see commercials and television shows and movies that send the message that a woman is only as valuable as her physical appearance and ability to satisfy a man’s sexual needs.
I weep for the young girl of the Steubenville scandal, and for Nathan, and for all of our sons and daughters. I weep for the family and friends scarred by abuse. I weep for a church more intent on swarming to Chic-Fil-A in protest than reaching out to the hurting and the broken.
And I’m remembering this, trying to brand it on my soul and in my mind: