When the news first broke about the incident in Steubenville, Ohio, part of me was glad. The more of these incidents that see the light of day, the more likely they will stop, was my initial thinking. Even in this time of female empowerment, there is still a stigma attached to reporting rape and other crimes against women. Girls feel especially vulnerable, and they sometimes let their peers talk them into not reporting these incidents, especially if the perpetrator is a popular boy. Popular does not always mean 'good', but it might as well mean such a thing. I was glad that she had come forward; it would have been easier to hide it all away.
Then I thought of the victim, and her shame and embarrassment. None of what happened was her fault, and yet there are people out there who blame her. She was exploited when she was vulnerable, and now everybody knows that. It's not going to be an easy trip, to recover from the betrayal, the hatred, and the anger. Her parents have said that she just wants it all to go away. I get that. She wants things to be what they were before. Before she went to that party. Before she drank too much and passed out. Before two boys, left to their own devices, did something that everyone regrets.
But it happened, and it's not going to go away. Not for her, and not for those two boys. And not for all those kids who sat around and watched, the girls who felt justified in not interfering out of some petty jealousy, or the boys who didn't want to go against their fellow athletes. Those students will have to live with their decision to not interfere, and it will come back to haunt them. Parenthood will do that to them. Parenthood makes you think long and hard about the choices you made growing up, and how those choices might affect your children.
What about all those "good kids" who sat around watching while this entire event happened? I refuse to believe that those kids, the ones who did nothing to intervene, all had horrible home lives. I refuse to believe that those kids did not know right from wrong. I refuse to believe that those kids were never taught acceptable societal values by their parents. I refuse to believe that those parents never spoke to their children about treating others with respect. And yet when it was time to make a good decision using what their parents taught them, those kids chose poorly. There are probably several parents in Steubenville who were horrified by the behavior of their children, who will spend the rest of their lives wondering where they went wrong.
I'd like to tell you that my kid will be different. I'd like to be able to say that I know that my child would never do such a thing. I'd like to be able to say that my child will always be respectful of others, that he will be kind to the people he meets. That he would never, ever do something like that to another person. That he would have stopped those boys from hurting that girl.
But the fact is that I don't know. And that keeps me awake sometimes, knowing that a single bad decision could be costly.
We will teach him to respect others. I will make sure that he knows that it is wrong to disrespect women. He will hear that "no means no". I will probably talk until I am blue in the face, just like I do every day, about being a good person, morals, family values, etc.My son will ultimately have to make his own decisions about his behavior, and I know this. I can't be with him all the time, and he will eventually have to use what his father and I have taught him to make choices. I may not like some of those decisions. Some of his choices might result in some pretty negative consequences. And I will have to live with that, just like he will.
All we parents can do is our best when it comes to raising children. We may not always succeed, but we at least have to make the effort, don't we?