By Elizabeth Childers
Late last year, when the shocking and unbelievable events in Steubenville, Ohio, came to light, I was conflicted, as I assume many people probably were. What those football players did was wrong, but the victim should have been responsible for herself. Both of these clauses are correct. However, the fact that the victim had poor judgment was no excuse for what happened to her. But, I digress.
After 2013 dawned and we all survived the “Mayan Apocalypse,” two young men were arrested for the sexual assault of this young woman. Though they were minors—ages 16 and 17—I had assumed, due to the type of crime they committed, they would be tried as adults. Imagine my surprise when the judge who regretfully sentenced them sat on the bench in juvenile court—as if their crime was befitting a juvenile.
Why am I reminding you of this uncomfortable moment in recent history? Because this isn’t the only one. When the Boston bombing occurred, the media turned a relatively blind eye to many happenings in other corners of the globe. A fertilizer plant exploded in Texas and killed 14 people, for example. And an earthquake in China left 207 dead. There’s also the story of the arrest of three young men who raped a fellow student (unconscious) at a party, drew graffiti on her body and disseminated the photos afterwards. The young Californian, feeling she had no way out, hanged herself. This assault occurred on Labor Day weekend of last year.
There are more than one or two similarities between this young woman’s story and the girl from Steubenville’s. They’d been at a party with “friends,” they had been drinking, their rape was documented by photos and the multiple assailants were underage. The biggest difference is fairly significant. The California girl, Audrie Potts, has a family who’s fighting for her.
That’s not to say the Steubenville girl’s family didn’t. I’m sure they were supportive of their daughter and wanted justice as well. Whether or not they got the justice they deserved, I guess it’s up to them to answer that question. The Potts family, however, is demanding action—that the boys be tried as adults and a certain California law be changed by what Potts’ mother hopes to call “Audrie’s Law.”
There is a bigger picture here, as always. The media continues to cover stories like this, but they seem to avoid two questions. The first: does it really have to come down to someone killing themselves before any action takes place? Steubenville coverage made the young men who committed the crime look like the victims. Even in Potts’s case, the media is showing a large amount of skepticism as to why the family is being so vocal now, months after the fact. These are crimes that should have no expiration date, and skepticism makes it much more difficult for those who have been assaulted on the most personal level to be taken seriously. It shouldn’t take a noose to spur a new way of thinking.
The second question: what the hell are we teaching our kids? These criminals and these victims are young. Too young. In a world where everything is so interconnected, with a media so focused on being edgier, being sexier, we’ve forgotten why there are rating systems on movies, video games and television programs. I’m not blaming the media for how quickly our children are “growing up.” I’m blaming, to some extent, their parents. It shouldn’t occur to a 16-year-old boy, sober or drunk, to rape someone. It shouldn’t be permissible for a 16-year-old girl to get wasted. Truth be told, this behavior shouldn’t be condoned for anyone at any age, but people aren’t perfect. Children don’t make smart decisions. They’re not supposed to. Instead, they’re supposed to be accountable to someone, presumably parental units, until they’re old enough to think things through. And parents should be accountable to their offspring. Teenagers shouldn’t be making adult decisions—and mistakes—in a life that’s barely started.
I don’t want to live in a PG world. In fact, I like it R-rated. But there are issues, like treating rape as a serious crime, its victims as real victims, and its perpetrators like the criminals they are, that need to be resolved. I can’t be the only person out there who still thinks if a teenager wants to act like an adult, they best be ready to deal with adult consequences.
This is my last editorial as an editor for The Transcript. Instead of saying fond farewells and making snide comments about how I will not be missing the food, I am giving my last editorial to these girls, and to anyone who has been a victim of a violent crime, especially at such an age where life should be good.