Like many others, I’ve been following the Steubenville case these last days. I’m not as much interested in all the sad and something shocking details, as I am in the light this case has shed on important developments in youth culture. There are many things that can be sad about this case and everyone involved, but I want to focus on one observation in this post and that’s this one:

If a girl is partying, drunk, and/or dressed a certain way, she is asking for ‘it’.

Like I said, I don’t know all the ins and outs of the case, but I do know this: many have come out in social media to state that the girl was to blame for what happened to her because she was drunk. Just take a look at this Tumblr which has posted several public tweets on the case (mind you: some very strong language here!).

rape culture 

In the Steubenville case, there were many bystanders who saw what happened, but didn’t do anything (except take photos!) to stop it, because they felt the victim deserved it. Some testified or stated that they didn’t consider it rape because it wasn’t forceful (she was too out of it to resist) or because ‘it was just a joke’.

The rape culture in which rape is a joke

Now I’m not one to get easily outraged over youth culture, but this does make me very angry: when did penetration stop being rape? When did it become okay to not only rape a girl, but make pictures and photos of this, post them online and then call her names and state that she deserved what happened to her? When did rape become a joke?

High School sophomore Nathan Blansett wrote a great post for the Huffington Post Teens, where he lamented the ‘rape culture’ that has developed over the last years. I quote:

We need to accept that we live in a culture that shames and tries to discredit rape survivors, that some of them “deserved it.”

We need to accept that we live in a culture where rape has become a topic of humor.

We need to accept that when we make excuses for rapists and for their actions, we are perpetuating the existence of a rape culture.

He’s right. There used to be a time when rape was a clear crime, not something to watch, make jokes about or share with others. There was a time when no meant no and even if you couldn’t say it, others would stand up for you and say no for you. There was a time when girls looked out for each other instead of laughing over the rape and public humiliation of one of them. Sure, there were exceptions, but the general consensus was clear.

The accused

The AccusedWhen I was a teen, there was this movie that made a lot of impact on me. It was called ‘The Accused’ and it starred Jodie Foster as a young woman (Sarah) who was raped by several men in a bar, while others looked on and did nothing. One of the key discussion points of the movie was the question if Sarah’s drinking, flirting and sexy clothing were to be seen as ‘asking for it’.

I remember talking to my mom about this movie and about the implications of it all. My mom stressed the importance of appearances, how you could bring trouble upon yourself if you dressed and behaved a certain way. But she also made very clear that ‘no’ always is to mean ‘no’, no matter what happens.

I think it’s time that we have that same conversation with our students and/or that we encourage parents to do the same.

Students and the rape culture

We need to talk about this rape culture with our students, we need to show them the moral implications of it. We need to talk about black and white, about right and wrong. We need to help them find moral ground here, firm moral ground, that will help them make wise choices for themselves and for others.

It’s not about telling our students not to drink, or not to dress seductively or not to party. That may be valid advice, but it doesn’t help. It’s about teaching them that no means no, that rape is rape and that we cannot and must not be bystanders while someone else is being raped, abused, beaten or whatever.

There’s a rape culture and we must teach our students to not be a part of it. And maybe it all starts with teaching our students more empathy…but that’s just a thought.

PS I just saw this post on Relevant Magazine on the same topic, sharing some great insights. Be sure to read it as well!

What do you think?