No matter how you look at the events of Steubenville, there is tragedy compounded upon tragedy in the story of this publicly celebrated gang rape.
How did a town become so callous that some of it's children had no compunctions against treating a human being the way they did?
This is a story of culture.
Steubenville isn't an outlier. They are a microcosm of the US. They simply got outed in a way that no one could shove under the rug. Steubenville is us. As such, they could choose a course to show us all a different way. They could choose to transform their reputation by transforming their culture in the aftermath of these horrors.
Those of us outside of Steubenville want to point and them and say, "pariah!" But, we don't need someone to give us statistics to know that rape is very prevalent in the United States. Nor do we need research to tell us that the football culture, and sports in general, generates a hyper-competitive state of mind which causes us to lose our sense of right and wrong.
This young woman, the victim of a heinous crime, is receiving death threats for seeking justice. The national media are showing more concern for the plight of the boys than for her. Whether people want the girl to die or the boys to rot in jail, this is how we are all seeing a case of human tragedy. We think someone needs to be destroyed.
If I lived in Steubenville, I'd probably be living through an ongoing trauma. A town divided, as it comes to terms with what it has engendered: they're "star" football players felt so entitled that they dragged a human being around like she was dog toy, to be used until they chewed her up too much to be bothered with, any longer. They did this at the houses of several adults, with many other young adults bearing witness and all while filming, photographing, tweeting and celebrating their dominance on social media.
If I were a citizen of Steubenville, I can imagine having a lot of conflicted feelings. Wanting this to just go away. Horror at what happened. Anger, that in this era of immediate mass communication, our town is under the international microscope. Lost. Wondering how to move on and how the town regains any sense of dignity.
There is a way. The two boys who are now headed to juvenile detention could lead the way. The one who had the courage and humility to apologize to his victim's family's faces offers us a path to follow. It's called restoration. Steubenville could become a very public model of the value of restoration. Restoration doesn't demand the destruction of anyone. If you respond to a situation by feeling that someone should be destroyed, you are not seeking justice. You are seeking revenge. Revenge only begets more harm. Revenge via prison sentences only serves prison industrial complex. Restoration serves society.
A crimes is really a destruction of relationship. Causing harm to others. It interrupts the ability of people to co-exist without fear and to work together with trust. Justice, true justice, is the restoration of healthy relations, where everyone, even the perpetrators, regain the ability to function together in trust. Putting someone in a jail cell does not even begin to do that, as it doesn't repair the broken relations. Broken relations between two people, tend to impact their relations with everyone. It's a stone in the pond of your life, reverberating across every relationship you have.
No action is ever an isolated event without context. Everything we say and do influences one another. We shape each other's experiences, perceptions and emotional landscapes. No one becomes who they are in a vacuum. Certainly, we each have innate personality traits and are pre-disposed to be more impacted by different types of experiences. Still, we are a product of our society. We are accountable for our actions, as only we can stop ourselves from acting, but we are not solely responsible for how we became who we are.
We all know that children who are loved and tended to become more centered, self-assured and empathic people than children who are neglected, abandoned or abused. We all know that brainwashing is possible. Cultures brainwash us. We are fed messages about who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to perceive others and what is and is not acceptable behavior by a million messages every day. How we conduct ourselves becomes shaped by that. In some cultures burping is a sign of appreciation of a good meal. In others, it is repulsive. There is nothing inherently repulsive or laudatory in a burp. Our reaction to a burp is acculturated.
Our reaction can change. If we move from one culture to another, we can adopt the norms of the new culture and our responses to things can change. You can change your acculturation.
Steubenville is just the latest example of the acculturation prevalent in the US. They could change their culture. Here are a few steps that could start that transformation:
- The boys who are going to detention could begin a campaign asking the town to protect and support the girl they victimized.
They have to know that she is receiving death threats. Their voices would be a powerful counter to that, if they would take responsibility for victimizing her and asking their townspeople to help her heal, rather than blaming the victim. As the people who dehumanized her, they need to re-humanize her in their own hearts and in the hearts of Steubenville.
- The parents of the boys could meet with the parents of the girl and ask them how they can support them.
They could meet in private and discuss ways in which the families could support each other, but particularly what can be done to help the girl heal, gain emotional strength and a sense of safety in the world.
- The coaches of Steubenville - all of them - could be required to get training about how to guide students regarding a culture of consent.
Since what appears to be so important to everyone in Steubenville was that these boys were football players, it seems that the sports teams are accorded a higher status in Steubenville than other citizens. I've read that two of the parties the students were at that night, were in the homes of assistant coaches. So, the first place to instill a culture of consent is at the top. Money may trickle - or gush - up, in hierarchies, but culture trickles down. The coaches need to be trained and need to adopt a culture of consent. It needs to be a part of their required coaching curriculum to instill this culture in their athletes.
- The town could inject a "culture of consent" curriculum into their entire school system. From teaching toddlers not to hit people, to teaching elementary children not to mock each other or take lunch money, to teaching middle- and high-schoolers that sex without consent is assault.
An impaired person is not capable of consent. Don't trust the judgment of an impaired person. With teenagers, alcohol and drugs impact their brains more profoundly than with adults. It also creates long-lasting effects. For health reasons, teens should not be damaging their brains with alcohol and drugs. We all know they will, anyway. Still, if they are going to pursue that activity, they should forego sex, as consent is then impossible to discern. in a culture of consent, our primary concern is to do no harm. We don't risk harm to others, needlessly. Therefore, if there is any chance that the consent we think are getting is influenced by substances, we should reject that consent and wait until it is truly a mutually consenting situation. Don't make sex more important than the well being of another person. Don't make it more important than your sense of self and your relations with other people.
If Steubenville could teach this to all of it's students, it would be a model for a transformation in US culture.
- The town could offer parenting courses on how to model a culture of consent and home and teach the principles of consent to their children.
- Parents of Steubenville could start a foundation to support rape victims and restorative justice. Victims could receive counseling, college scholarships, or whatever they find that they need. Those who have committed rapes could receive counseling, be given community service to perform and be guided through a process of apologizing and offering restitution to their victims.
These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I'm sure they're not perfect and people could find flaws or suggest improvements. That would be for the people who actually might execute the overall idea to do.
Imagine, if you will, what a different experience it would be for all of us, if Steubenville decided to transform. If they used social media to document their process of learning and growing and mending. While it's titillating to follow the events of a tragedy and be all righteously upset about what has happened, it isn't satisfactory to see things play out the way they do. Girl is raped. Apparently, several girls were raped. Boys have behaved sociopathically. Town is dysfunctional. Girl is crying every night and receiving death threats. Boys are in jail. It's all tragedy and no light.
Steubenville had an acculturated reaction to these tragic events. Steubenville can change their acculturation. They could pursue transformation and offer us all some inspiration to do the same. They could turn off the Friday Night Lights and turn on the Saturday Morning Lights. Let's encourage them to do that rather than simply shame them.