We are fabulous about being outraged when unthinkable acts of violence happen to children. We cry, hold vigils, mourn the loss of innocence, blog about it, Facebook about it and the twitter world goes crazy. And then, the next shinny issue arises, catches our eye and we repeat this cycle over and over and over…
Two high school football players were convicted recently of raping a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio. Two other boys, also football players, in Connecticut are also in the news accused of the same crime. The girls involved have been demonized by their peers for “ruining these boy’s futures.” They blamed the girls because they were drinking, thus, making them “easy targets” for teenage boys. Ironically, the news coverage in Ohio focused on the fact that the teenage girl was known to drink on the weekends. I continue to try and connect the dots on that.
We live in a world where every thought, action, reaction can be captured by word or photo and sent out on the internet for the entire world to read/view. Teenagers are able to bully each other without looking them in the eye, hidden behind a computer keyboard. Comments and photos – true or not – can be disseminated to thousands of people within a few minutes. Photos of the attack were shared. Instead of outrage over the acts of violence against a teenage girl, the community and even the school administration’s reactions resembled a cover-up.
It is clear that students, schools and society need educating about “victim blaming and what “consent” means. Rape is rape no matter who is involved and that football is a sport and is secondary to education and the rest of life. This sort of bullying and harassment cannot be tolerated. The idea that the boys could not control themselves should be offensive to EVERYONE, not accepted as an excuse.
Are we so willing to concede that men have zero self control, and it is not their fault if they see something that they want and take it regardless of the consequences? If an individual discovers a work of art that touches their heart, must they steal it? If a car has power and control that stirs up one’s adrenaline, is that person allowed to take it on a test drive and just keep going? Of course not… However, does anyone ever blame the piece of art for being irresistible, or, the car for being too sporty. Does the excuse “can you blame him for stealing it” apply? Again, the answer is of course not.
But if a woman is in a bikini, showing too much thigh or has too much alcohol to drink, then is she partially to blame for being attacked? The answer should be of course not… but is that the message that is being sent by parents, teachers, coaches and the community to teens? Unfortunately, in too many instances….Nope.
When the convicted rapists in Ohio return to their homes at age 21, what are we as a culture going to be able to say has changed? Are we doing anything to change our culture to prevent this from happening again, or, are we just going to be satisfied moving from issue to issue?
We can be proactive and move the ball forward. Restorative Justice is the catalyst for change. It is not an impediment to punishment by incarceration, but in order for the climate to change, removing the offenders does not solve the problem of victim blaming by society – and in this case, other teenagers. The core principle of restorative justice is to make the victim whole again – to restore what was lost. It is easier to understand how restorative justice can take place in smaller civil cases. For example a fence is knocked down by a driver, and he/she builds the victim a new one, thus, restoring their fence. In cases of rape, assault and domestic violence it is more difficult – but it can happen.
In the Steubenville episode, the incident was intertwined with the football team. The town voiced a great deal of concern for the boys’ football careers. Those who photographed the attack were all members of the team. To the family of the victim, the act of prioritizing football careers over the violent act committed against their daughter was offensive. Further, the accusations hurled at the victim about her drinking, sexual experience and clothing puts her on the defensive, rather than feeling defended.
Through the act of conferencing circles, a victim can express the impact of the violation on their lives. Conferencing is a process in which a group of individuals connected and affected by the issue come together to discuss what occurred. The actual victim does not have to be present, but those who have been affected by cyber bullying and victim blaming can come together and share their experiences. However, the actual victim will feel supported by having the community speak out on her behalf.
When dealing with teenagers, the incident can be used as a teaching moment and guide them toward a more socially responsible behavior. Those who hide behind a keyboard to make angry or hateful statements are not brave. Thoughts that they would never say out loud can be typed easily – but their reach is much further than their voice would have been. When confronted, the immediate response is either “I was misinterpreted” or “ I did not realize it would hurt you that much”. Sitting with neutral parties in the room who have shared experiences can create a bond between victims and serve as an education to those who have participated.