This is a serious and somewhat difficult post for me to write, but I’ve felt compelled to say something about the event that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio – which I actually didn’t know about until I saw the news story about the conviction of the young men involved.
The short story, in case you haven’t seen the synopsis anywhere, is that there was a big party going on with high school football players and their assorted hangers-on, plenty of drinking and all the usual things one would expect from a bunch of teenagers out for a good time. At one point, a girl who’d had way too much to drink was carried bodily away and assaulted while she was passed out (or nearly so). The two high school players who were directly involved in the assault were found guilty … but there were a lot of bystanders who saw what was happening and *did nothing*.
Now, here’s the thing. One of those bystanders, earlier in the evening, realized that his buddy (one of the two convicted) was about to drive after having had too much to drink. He managed to get the keys away from him and drove him home – yay for responsibility. Good job, we’ve all (finally) figured out that drunk driving is really not okay.
However … just a little while later, this same responsible young man walked in on the assault as it was happening and simply turned around and walked back out. The girl was passed out on the floor, being molested by two boys … and it didn’t seem to occur to this otherwise apparently responsible (and sober) young man that this was also a situation that called for his intervention. That he should say, “guys, she’s way out of it … leave her alone, that’s just nasty.” To scoop her up off the floor and take her home. Anything. Anything besides turning around and walking away.
Now of course we say “how awful” and “that’s terrible” … but you know what? These kids live in a culture that tells them that this is the kind of thing that happens at parties, that this is to be expected, that this is no big deal. They took photos and video and shared it with each other, texted one another bragging about what they had done, laughing about what they’d seen … they had no clue that what they were doing was abhorrent. So she was drunk and passed out, big deal, just makes it easier to get what you want from her, eh? And if she’s stupid enough to get pissed, well, she shouldn’t be surprised to wake up in the morning in a strange place with her clothes missing and only realizing what happened the night before when she sees herself on Facebook. Ha ha, how funny, look at that, they got you good.
That wasn’t a funny joke or a simple prank. They violated her bodily integrity and treated her like a blow up doll. Unconscious or not, she was their classmate. A member of their community. Someone’s daughter, someone’s friend. Not just a piece of flesh to be used for their entertainment.
But you see, they’d never been taught that. Somehow, the majority of these kids didn’t register the basic concept that you should treat others the way you’d want to be treated, that we don’t take sexual services from someone, that sex isn’t something we do to another person … it is something we do with another person, and only when they are willing. Enthusiastically willing, in fact, not reluctantly acquiescent. Anything other than YES (preferably “yes, yes, yes!”) is NO. Plain and simple. No gray area. No “I wasn’t sure”. Well, if you weren’t sure why didn’t you ask? And if you couldn’t ask because she wasn’t in a state to give you an answer, well, then, there’s your answer. It isn’t a resounding yes. So zip your pants back up and be a gentleman.
We have to start teaching our kids about this. It’s not just for teens at parties either, and not just for boys. Girls need to know this too.
I was assaulted by my own husband (not The Reluctant Farmer, my first husband, the one who died of a brain tumour), when I was stone cold sober and at home. I was in my own bedroom. I didn’t scream and kick and fight … but I sure as heck did not say yes. I was not in any way enthusiastic. And he should’ve known to back off. He didn’t, and I’m still dealing with the consequences … blaming myself, feeling stupid, feeling guilty for my feelings. I mean, no stranger leapt out of the bushes and grabbed me, it was my husband. What right do I have to my wounds, to be suffering the consequences of a sexual assault that most people would define as anything but? I never fought, never even shouted at him, how could it be assault?
Well, it was against my will for one thing, and it was entirely about power and control, not sex, for another.
I didn’t argue or fight with him. Of course I didn’t, I was too scared, too scared of the consequences of resisting – I wasn’t scared that he’d beat me, I’d absorbed enough of the lessons about domestic violence that if he’d ever actually hit me, I’d have run (at least I think I would have). I was afraid that the subtler emotional punishment would go on and on and on for weeks. He could be so cruel, yet always with this perfect plausible deniability – he had excuses and reasons for everything he said and did, but all of it hurt me. I was too weary from months and months of that kind of emotional abuse to tolerate it for one more day, and so I figured if he saw the pain on my face, saw how horrible this was for me, if he could just see the NO in my body that he would relent, back off, be sorry.
I was wrong. I gambled, and I lost.
And the pain of this unheard no still makes me crazy. Because it wasn’t yes, therefore it was no.
But even I doubt this, in my own mind. The lessons I learned were all about “no means no”, and “go along to get along” and “it’s your job to keep him happy and satisfied". if I don’t really get it, is it any wonder that drunken teens at a party might not get it, either?
We have to change the way we think about sex: it’s not a prize women withhold from men, and it’s not a measure of your manliness if you can trick a girl out of her knickers. If you aren’t hearing that enthusiastic yes, then back off – no matter who you are, how much anyone’s had to drink, whether you’re married to them, or what.
And if you aren’t giving an enthusiastic yes – then expect your no to be heard. If it isn’t, shout louder if you possibly can. And if you can’t, if you’re too scared, or you’re just not in a place where that is a choice for you … well, do what you have to do to get through and then get help afterwards. Whatever you do is the best you can do at the time – something I keep telling myself. The healing journey is a long one, but I have hope that it’s not an impossible one.