Sunday two Ohio teenagers were found guilty of raping a drunken fellow teen during a night of party-hopping and binge-drinking. The story grabbed the headlines again, as it had back in August of this year when the episode first came to light. The nation, the world, tuned in as the lurid details went viral and created fault lines in a small town. Football versus the rights of victims were again hot topics, much like after the Penn State scandal. Some argued that there was no case, that what happened to the girl and the ensuing text-photos that captured the events of the evening – were not criminal in nature. Merely, boys being boys. And a girl being stupid, allowing herself to get so intoxicated she didn’t know what was going on.
I absorbed the news in pieces, my desensitized-mind doing its normal ten things at once until my parental-mind had hit overload and I leaned over in my parked car and was overcome with grief.
Grief for the young girl who endured more than embarrassment, more than “teens being teens”, more than anyone honestly could imagine. Grief for her innocence gone, her wounded heart, her perhaps-never-able-to-put-it-past-me mind.
Grief for the boys, young football players who had, in their extreme stupidity and callousness, made the worst decisions of their lives that night of drinking and debauchery.
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Grief for all the families involved:
The girl’s mother who bravely spoke out addressing those boys, pointing out how their actions had altered the course of her daughter’s life by violating her person and then setting in a motion a chain of digital media that took her wound and ripped it wide open for anyone with a cell-phone, TV or computer to see.
The convicted boys’ parents, siblings, extended-families, now judged by all as parentally inept, guilty by association or worse, who must try to go on with their lives without their children .
The families of the witnesses - prosecution and defense - who have these past months walked down a long, dark tunnel instead of off to high school graduations, college visits, and football camps.
But my grief doesn’t stop there.
I think of the other children, in different cities, towns, villages all over the US who, faced with our pop-culture’s messages about girls-being-sexy and boys-being-boys and sex-being-what-girls-should-give-because-that-is-what-cool-boys-want, repeat that night in Steubenville over and over again.
I am witness to that which children today can’t avoid: the racy-posts, the hump-me music lyrics, the pushing-the-envelope-over-the-edge PG and PG-13 movies that our children are bombarded with on a daily basis in this country: When they turn on the radio. Log on to Facebook. Search the net. Linger on Readit.com, IFunny.com or Yahoo.com.
For Pete’s sake, just yesterday I watched what should have been benign daytime TV – where I landed after trying to get away from all the media reports on Steubenville – when I was smacked in the face by the network’s pandering to the sex card. Yet another reality show with a voyeuristic – and sexual - angle. Double Divas, a show about over-endowed - some obscenely so - women shopping for bras.
Hey, it adds flavor right? It brings in the viewers and thus the advertising dollars. And it’s a show intended for adult viewing – albeit we all know adults are not the only ones watching it.
Really, what’s the harm?
Ask the teens in Steubenville Ohio what the harm is.
True the roots of teen-sexual conduct, drinking and digital-voyeurism go deeper than racy TV, computer images and Facebook-driven-lack-of-ethics-and-etiquette. But this mother feels strongly that the desensitizing of our youth lies heavily in what is fed their hearts and brains. That the media-feast out there today is not helping them learn what is right and wrong or how to make good choices between the two.
And yes, one can argue that it is up to parents to protect their children from this onslaught of sex-is-everything, to set the tone of appropriate behavior. That when things, as they did in Steubenville, go wildly wrong some blame must fall back on the parent for not picking up on and curbing unsuitable behavior.
Yet, the evidence is mounting that the voice of today’s parents is being drowned out by a much louder one – that of our pop-culture.
I bet if you asked the parents of Steubenville, Ohio they might agree.