When my mother and I heard the verdict in the Steubenville rape trial, we wondered why only two people were on trial. Clearly, there were other people responsible:
Who provided the alcohol?
Whose home did this happen in?
Who took the photo of the boys carrying the unconscious girl by her arms and legs?
Who failed to teach these teens the appropriate action to take when a classmate is intoxicated beyond consciousness?
Who failed to teach these teens that rape is not okay?
With that last question echoing in my head, I remembered the tail-end of a conversation I had some time ago with my best friend, who happens to be a heterosexual man. He said, “If I’m intimate with a woman, and I can tell that somewhere in the back of her mind there’s a ‘no,’ then I have to stop, or it’s rape.” After the verdict, I decided to ask him how he learned that. (Yes, learned. I mean, if “lack of consent = rape” were common knowledge, we wouldn’t have the high and unchanging number of rapes we have in this country every year.)
His answer: His parents taught him. His father respected his mother. In his household, the boys learned to respect women and to value what women say. While it seems he learned most of this through observing his parents’ relationship, he remembers his mother actually having a conversation with him about rape and explaining, “If a woman says yes but changes her mind at the very last minute—to the point right before penetration—you stop, back up and walk away, or it’s rape.”
The lessons stuck. Today he says with certainty that not committing rape is about more than knowing ‘no’ means ‘no,’ but that “no indicators mean ‘no.’ If you say, ‘Yes,’ but you’re crying, that means no. If you say, ‘Yes,’ but your demeanor, your body language says no, that’s actually a no. I don’t like ambiguity, and I think it’s wrong to not walk away.”
Well done, parents.
Reading this op-ed by Dan Wetzel in which he recounted how several witnesses did nothing, laughed, or took photos as the football players sexually assaulted an unconscious girl, reinforced my initial post-verdict thoughts: “Do not rape” has to be taught. And someone (and I would bet several someones) in Ma’lik Richmond’s and Trent Mays’ households, school, houses of worship, and larger community failed to do it. I could speculate on why that happened. Maybe these teens didn’t witness dads respecting moms. Maybe it was being treated like gods in a small town where the football team is the only remaining source of pride. Maybe it was that proverbial boogeyman, The Media, and its unbalanced images of women. Could’ve been all of that, but that particular analysis isn’t as important to me as a concrete action step for preventing rape in the future. And that is…
Learn from my best friend’s mom. Whenever you’re in a position to do so, whether you’re male or female, whether you’re a parent, a coach, a minister, or a mentor or another category, please teach boys, in no uncertain terms, what rape is and that it’s wrong. Teach them what respect for women looks like. Because if boys don’t learn it, they won’t act like they know it.