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After Steubenville: One Mother's Vow to Teach Boys to Speak Up and Protect Women

steubenville, trent mays, malik richmond ma'lik richmond, steubenville trial, steubenville sentencing

On teaching boys not to rape.

The Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial came to a close yesterday, and Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays were both found guilty of the sexual assault of a 16-year-old teenager who was drugged and dragged from party to party by several Steubenville High School football players last August. The events of that horrible night were filmed, photographed and tweeted for all to see, which certainly helped secure a guilty verdict for two “star” players who might otherwise have been protected by the powers that be in their corrupt, dysfunctional town.

Lots of people have been talking about how CNN’s coverage of the verdict made no mention of the victim and went so far as to sympathize with the perpetrators. Gawker notes that CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow reported live from outside the courtroom yesterday, saying, “Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.”

Imagine then, Poppy, how incredibly difficult it might have been to watch a young girl get raped and peed on – yes, peed on – while she was passed out and dragged around like – as one of the boys involved in the mayhem described her condition – a dead body. Imagine that. Imagine it. It shouldn’t be that hard. There’s photographic and video evidence for you to refer to if you’d like some help visualizing what that might look like. Imagine not collapsing because you heard that you’re going to be in juvie for a year thanks to the fact that you raped someone – imagine collapsing because someone roofied your beer and then had sex with your “dead” body. Imagine it, Poppy. You too, Candy Crowley. Are we there, ladies? Is the girl you’re imagining your daughter? Your niece? Your younger self? Your mother? Your aunt? Your favorite teacher? Your sister? Your best friend?

Good.

Because unless we stop sympathizing with rapists and stop blaming victims, this story is going to continue to repeat itself as it has since the dawn of time. Unless we stand up against systematic disease like the kind found in Steubenville, another crop of boys will rise to gang rape another girl. Unless some brave parents start to talk to their children about sex (first of all) and consent (we can’t get there if we never even talk about sex to begin with), children are going to learn from our misogynistic media that sex is something boys do to girls instead of an act engaged in by consenting partners.

Magda Pecsenye of Ask Moxie showcases her parenting bravery in a post she wrote responding to the sentencing of the Steubenville “stars” titled “A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape.” Not only does she reveal that she has discussed the ins-and-outs of sex thoroughly with her two boys (“you know all about sperm and eggs and penises and vaginas and vulvas and orgasms and condoms”), but she writes at length about bodily autonomy and integrity. Pecsenye has built a clear foundation of self-respect for her sons, which is the first step to encouraging children to respect their peers. Pecsenye not only tasks her sons with respecting the physical and emotional boundaries of their potential sex partners, but – and this is key – she expects them to step in and speak up if they witness a peer violating someone else.

Pecsenye writes:

You are going to know people, and maybe even be friends with people, who think it’s ok to hurt other people in a lot of ways. One of those ways is sex. I know you’re going to hear other boys say things about girls, or sometimes about other boys, that means they don’t care about those girls’ feelings or bodies. When you do, I need you to step in. All you have to do is say something like, “Dude, that’s not cool” or something that lets the person saying something nasty know that it’s not ok. Remember that everyone wants to fit in. If you can take control of the mood in the room by letting them know nasty talk isn’t ok, they’ll stop so they don’t look like an idiot ….

If you are ever anywhere where boys start hurting a girl, or touching her in any way that she doesn’t want, you need to step in. If she’s asleep or drunk or passed out or drugged and can’t say “no,” you need to step in. Remember, it’s not good unless both people can say they want it. If a girl isn’t saying anything, that doesn’t mean she wants it. If she isn’t saying specifically that she wants it, then it’s wrong.

According to Michael Thompson, PhD, the co-author of Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, only five percent of children always stand up for what’s right in difficult situations with peers. That seems like an awfully small number, and it goes to show that in addition to instilling in our children a respect for others, we must also teach them to be brave in helping those who can’t help themselves.

An hour after the close of yesterday’s trial, Ohio state Attorney General Mike DeWine said “he was continuing his investigation and would consider charges against anyone who failed to speak up after the attack last summer, a group that could include other teens, parents, coaches and school officials,” Yahoo! News notes. That’s a promising development, given that virtually the entire town of Steubenville was complicit in this heinous act in one way or another. As Gawker put it, “Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond are not the ‘stars’ of the Steubenville rape trial. They aren’t the only characters in a drama playing out in eastern Ohio.” Certainly not. There are parents and students and coaches and drug and alcohol suppliers and faculty and staff and journalists who have all built and protected and sympathized with these young boys who – in their view – have simply done what boys do. But we can influence what our boys do. We can build and nurture loving and kind boys. We can foster confident, vocal girls. We can learn not to be violent with one another. We have to.

Related: Change.org petition asking CNN to apologize on air for sympathizing with the Steubenville rapists.

Photo credit: iStock

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