The Atlantic Wire reports that Steubenville High School football player Ma’lik Richmond, who was convicted Sunday of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, will appeal his guilty verdict using the claim “that the 16-year-old rapist’s brain wasn’t “developed” enough” so he “should not have to be on a sex offenders list for life.”
Since Sunday, many bloggers have reminded anyone critical of the sentencing in this case that the victim – who Richmond and Trent Mays raped in August – will have to live with what was done to her for the rest of her life. Some might take from that, then, that Mays and Richmond should be branded as perpetrators for the rest of their lives as well. I’m not sure I agree that these boys should be on a sex offenders registry for life, but I’m not sure they shouldn’t be, either. I was moved by the points in this post by Black Girl Dangerous wherein she talks about the failings of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate offenders, but I also believe that these boys were treated fairly by being tried as juveniles and given a fair sentence in juvenile detention. Perhaps they should be given a chance to start fresh when they turn 21. I think that’s worth considering. What I don’t think is worth considering, however, is appealing the guilty verdict.
There is no doubt in the public or the judge’s mind that everyone involved in the drugging and gang assault of this young girl is guilty. The social media evidence in this case is shockingly graphic and leaves no room for doubt. Richmond’s lawyer knows that his client is guilty, so he’s going to appeal using brain development as a last-ditch-effort technicality. While it’s true that the human brain isn’t fully formed until about age 25, that’s no excuse not to hold teenagers accountable for their actions. Richmond’s lawyer certainly believes that, since he tried to hold a girl who was drunk and drugged accountable for being dragged from party to party that fateful night, alleging that she was functional enough to make decisions. That perverse logic is so sickening, and then to fully flip the script and say his client’s brain isn’t developed enough for him to know what he was doing is even more abhorrent, but it should come as no surprise in our bully culture or rape culture or whatever you want to call it. We all recognize now that America is a land filled with sad, weak, angry, entitled and selfish narcissists who will say whatever they want – constantly contradicting themselves and being hypocritical – to get their desired result, which is the ability to do whatever they want without being held accountable.
I have thought about this and talked about this and written about the narcissist-victim dynamic every single day for the past several years, and I have felt a lot of grief and despair and helplessness and hopelessness over it. Recently, though, the tides have turned, and I don’t feel helpless anymore. I don’t have to, because I see all of the brilliantly brave, wonderful, kind and strong people willing to stick their necks out for the common good and common decency and common sense. People like Alexandria Goddard, the blogger who first broke the story of the Steubenville case in a way that got national attention, who spent hours taking screen shots of the very evidence used to convict the perpetrators of this heinous crime. People like Katie McDonough at Salon who wrote this article asking why Steubenville head football coach Reno Saccoccia hasn’t been fired even though he knew about the rape and didn’t report it, which is a crime in Ohio. The hacks at anonymous who pushed the Steubenville story to a new level. The people of Occupy Wall Street. Parents who tour the country fighting bullying in schools. This dying soldier who is calling out the leaders who sent him to Iraq for their lies and flagrant abuse of power. I could list so many more examples. People everywhere are waking up and taking a stand against narcissistic abuse. The imbalance of power and wealth in this country cannot and will not last forever.
What will help this process of cultural awakening is for more and more people to understand what narcissism really is and where it stems from. Bullies and rapists don’t come from nowhere. We live in a culture that supports bullies and rapists because we live in a highly competitive, capitalist society. I’m not going to bother to try to dismantle free-market capitalism right now 1) because I don’t have the economic knowledge to do it and 2) I don’t need to to further my point. I mention our economic and business construct simply to remind you of the overall tone of the culture that we live in, the “dog-eat-dog” world that we exist in.
When people feel threatened in a stressful, competitive environment, they react one of two ways: they retreat, or they attack. This is very basic stuff. What we don’t fully seem to understand yet, but what Americans of all stripes are really becoming aware of, is that what narcissists do after they attack is deflect responsibility. They shift blame. It’s a very child-like way to behave.
“Sweetie, did you write on the wall with crayon?” “No, the dog did it.”
That argument is really no different than, “Ma’lik, did you rape that girl?” “No. My body did it, but my brain didn’t.”
Now, narcissists will not allow YOU – their victims – the same type of out when it comes to holding you accountable. Girls are raped because their skirts are too short, they’re too drunk, they’re not protecting themselves, they’re whores, etc. Narcissists are – in their own minds – never responsible for anything they do. It is always someone else’s fault that they behave badly. Often criminally. Sometimes murderously.
And how they get away with this rationale – how they snow us all into pitying them and believing them – is because they use the compassion they know we feel to try to manipulate themselves into seeming innocent. So, for example, in the Jodi Arias trial, where we know she brutally murdered her ex-boyfriend, Arias is claiming he raped her, and psychologists for the defense claim that she had PTSD, and that’s why she killed him. Arias knows that compassionate, conscience-bound people don’t like to see women raped, so she’s using what is most likely a lie to try to deflect responsibility for murdering a man. (To quote CBS News: “She faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities say she planned the attack in a jealous rage. Arias initially told authorities she had nothing to do with it then blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense.” See also Casey Anthony.) Narcissists know that “good” people are reticent to see someone punished undeservedly, so they exploit that weakness and constantly wiggle their way out of trouble.
The good news is, people have had enough. We are not without compassion, but we are not going to stand for unchecked abuses any longer.
I, too, have compassion for most of the narcissists I see featured in all of these news stories that stream across our feeds day in and day out. As I said, they’re not created out of nowhere. The entire town of Steubenville for generations has taught its boys that they are heroes and that they should rape and pillage and that if they don’t they are pussies. People are bullied into becoming bullies. Their souls are raped into becoming rapists. I’m not trying to give anyone a pass, but simply to say, if we really want change in the atmosphere of this nation, if we want to relate to one another differently, in a more compassionate way, we have got to start to be honest about what we think, what we feel, what we learned. We have to examine it and dismantle it and see the garbage parts for what they are, throw them out and move forward. We have to be willing to help people grow. We have to encourage people to go to fucking therapy, for chrissakes. We have to stop being so god damn snarky and demanding and demeaning all the time. I’m not saying we can’t use boisterous and passionate and rough-hewn language – I mean, if I’m anything, it’s a woman of the people, the salt of the earth. But I learned to be rough-and-tumble from my dad, a man who had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. He taught me that comedy and commentary – even when it’s critical – always comes from a place of love. When he called someone he knew a fuckin’ asshole – as he often did – he railed not out of hate, but because he was disappointed that things weren’t better. He taught me that you don’t have to hate in order to want things to be better. He showed me that hating the people who disappoint you isn’t necessary, and he proved that wanting things to be better meant that you actually cared about people and life.
It’s easy to understand, though, why hurt so quickly turns to hate. And this is how I think narcissists are born. A small child is picked on, neglected, hit, screamed at, whatever it is. No one is listening to him. He is alone. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings of abandonment. He is sad. That sadness turns to anger, and left unchecked it eventually morphs into the kind of seething, seeping loathing that created a culture full of people going, “Fuck you, I want mines.” I want what’s mine. Mine. Give it to me. Give me something. And if you don’t, I’m just gonna take it. Because that’s what you get.
If we don’t stop forgetting in the fray of the crazed day-to-day that we are human so we can help each other all act humanely, not like anti-social monsters, we will be done in by the business of our own busy-ness. It is not too much to ask to offer time to one another. It is the only thing that matters.
I am not delusional here. I have done a lot of reading about what some healers call the “core wounds” of individuals and of our society at large. I know that what happens is that after a certain point, some hardened criminals, some of the emotionally wounded who are filled to the brim with self-loathing and therefore loathing for everyone around them are beyond hope of rehabilitation. At least for now. Because we haven’t really examined this giant scourge that plagues us, this very basic lack of fundamental love. That’s really all it is. Love, acceptance, encouragement, friendship, kindness, compassion. These are the things that keep us healthy. These are the things that keep us whole. I will never stop standing up for Universal Love and healing, even though bullies and rapists and narcissists will say that I am bullying them by doing so, by preventing them from trying to fill the hole with whatever they want. I don’t believe that anymore. I’m no longer fooled by manipulative, sick logic. I pray that we all continue to move forward fighting the good fight, knowing that we don’t have to believe what isn’t true, and we don’t have to be scared to speak truth to power, knowing what is right.
Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays and their friends and parents and teachers and coaches and drug-suppliers are all guilty of raping that one girl. Let us let what she has been through for the past 8 months mean something. When will we stop making a mockery of pain? When will we stop hurting each other because we feel hurt and then pretend that nothing is wrong? Everything is wrong, guys. But we can still make it right.
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