Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lessons from Steubenville

The two defendants in the Steubenville rape case, both found guilty and sentenced to one year in juvenile detention along with registering as sex offenders for life.

When I saw the verdict for the Steubenville rape case Sunday before church, my heart was relieved. This case was one of the saddest, most maddening things I've heard in a while and it showed the power of social media.

Social media and texting made this case have overwhelming evidence that led to the guilty conviction of the two young men. Social media attracted enormous attention to this case as websites brought this story to a national audience to make sure the town didn't cover it up.

The two men who raped this young girl will do their time but I hope that even more prosecutions come up for folks who either lied to investigators, took videos, passed around pictures or those like these two girls who were arrested for threatening the victim (again - an easy arrest since they did it on social media).

Here's what I think we can learn from this case, which I don't think is unique to this Ohio town at all.

1. Social Media Exposes Fools - This is an easy one that I continue to be amazed at. Kids somehow think that by posting something on Facebook or Twitter won't make it easy to track. College kids post illegal activity all the time as if that's not dry snitching (snitching without intent to). Adults continue to show why they fail to think before posting something.

The police really didn't have to do much legwork with this case. Thanks to folks at that party sending pictures, texts and video of the incident among other things, it was a matter of collecting it all and piecing it together. I find it maddening how in this CSI/Law and Order/Facebook era, people are still oblivious to how obvious they make it for folks to see their dirt.

At the same time, shouts to blogger Alexandria Goddard who raised her voice on the concerns in her native town. Shouts to Anonymous who made many of the messages and pictures available and brought national attention to this from it.

If you're going to be stupid, don't go bragging on your stupidity. And don't be mad when you get caught cause you left a paper trail for good sleuths and activists to find and expose your sins.

2. Sports and Hero Worship Keep Leading to Problems - This is not a surprise. I never thought that folks would stop putting sports in its proper context and realize they had to be careful on what happens when they elevate athletes.

When anything becomes more important than morality, we see people grow more cult-ish to defend their prize instead of see what's right. It's idol worship of the highest order and I hope the despicable reaction of some the good folks of Steuebenville reminds people that this can happen anywhere. People need to re-examine their identity and value away from sports (esp. in college and high school communities) so that they won't hesitate to pursue justice when it's warranted.

3. Lack of Accountability  - That leads to my next point. An underrated part of this story is that there was rampant underage drinking at somebody's house. Where were the parents? I won't act like I'm surprised at this considering that when you get to college, a good number of freshmen are pros are drinking. But when something like this happens, you have to look at the parents since the folks involved are minors.

By all accounts, football players were allowed to act like they own the town. Sorry but if that's my kid, I go out of my way to remind them they have responsibility with that power. Granted I know that teenagers deserve their freedom but when things go wrong, I look at the parents like "How could you let this happen?" It's a reminder for us as future parents on what not to do.

4. Men Must Lead the Fight Against Rape - This is the major point. On the heels of Zerlina Maxwell catching all kinds of hell for daring to say that it's not a woman's burden to prevent rape, we really need to say this stops with us. Quite a few young men passed the buck when the victim was unconscious and incoherent and some even participated in the passing of texts and shooting some video of her.

I remember attending a youth conference in 2001 (summer before senior year of HS) at Pepperdine and my group talked about sexual assault. 3 of my group members had been assaulted as had our college assistant. To see that room get deathly silent and then see tears of girls who had also been victimized, it was numbing.

What also saddened me is one of the defendants' fathers admitted he failed as a parent. While the young men made their own decisions, this hit me because it's a reminder that as a father, he could have done more. Advice sounds stronger coming from men to other men.

This is where we must step up as men. We can teach our young men to respect women and use our strength to protect, not overwhelm. We can do our part with the women we are friends with to let them know we have their back. Maxwell outlines some other strategies as well but remember, rape is about power and control. Two things that men have and struggle with but it's not too late to reclaim it for the right reasons.

We all have mothers. Some of us have sisters and aunts. Never forget what we'd do if that were them abused. Now think of the brothers, fathers, uncles of women who'd appreciate you treating them with more respect. We have to be reminded of this everyday and if Steubenville makes Maxwell's words even more appropriate, may we as men act from it.

To wrap this up, I truly feel the sorry for the victim who has been threatened with death and had her name mentioned by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Her life has been altered forever and I pray that she will recover from this nightmare. I also hope the defendants learn from their horrible decisions and find ways to be productive in this society. I will not demonize them while they still have young life to live and if they impact at least one life from being rehabilitated then their punishment was well served.**

For the rest of us, it's a reminder where we have to take stock of how we can learn from this. This happens far too often and if we can use it to do better, then let's do it.

**(Before anybody dares come at me for siding with the defendants, remember that I've worked closely with kids since 2006 as a tutor, high school sports reporter and youth leader at my church. My heart doesn't want to give up on teenagers or kids because of their shortcomings but hope they can use them to be productive adults and save others from following their footsteps.)

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