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, â€œIf Iâ€™m intimate with a woman, and I can tell that somewhere in the back of her mind thereâ€™s a â€˜no,â€™ then I have to stop, or itâ€™s rape.â€ After the verdict, I decided to ask him how he learned that. (Yes, learned. I mean, if â€œlack of consent = rapeâ€ were common knowledge, we wouldnâ€™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 parentsâ€™ relationship, he remembers his mother actually having a conversation with him about rape and explaining, â€œIf a woman says yes but changes her mind at the very last minuteâ€”to the point right before penetrationâ€”you stop, back up and walk away, or itâ€™s rape.â€
The lessons stuck. Today he says with certainty that not committing rape is about more than knowing â€˜noâ€™ means â€˜no,â€™ but that â€œno indicators mean â€˜no.â€™ If you say, â€˜Yes,â€™ but youâ€™re crying, that means no. If you say, â€˜Yes,â€™ but your demeanor, your body language says no, thatâ€™s actually a no. I donâ€™t like ambiguity, and I think itâ€™s wrong to not walk away.â€
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: â€œDo not rapeâ€ has to be taught. And someone (and I would bet several someones) in Maâ€™lik Richmondâ€™s and Trent Maysâ€™ households, school, houses of worship, and larger community failed to do it. I could speculate on why that happened. Maybe these teens didnâ€™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. Couldâ€™ve been all of that, but that particular analysis isnâ€™t as important to me as a concrete action step for preventing rape in the future. And that is…
Learn from my best friendâ€™s mom. Whenever youâ€™re in a position to do so, whether youâ€™re male or female, whether youâ€™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 itâ€™s wrong. Teach them what respect for women looks like. Because if boys donâ€™t learn it, they wonâ€™t act like they know it.