Five Questions From the Steubenville Rape Case

Steubenville Rape Case
(Note: This post contains some frank and graphic discussions of sex and sexuality.)

Two boys from a Steubenville Ohio high school (I’ve opted not to use their names, though they are readily publicized by other media) have been sentenced to time in a juvenile detention center for the rape of a sixteen-year-old classmate who was reportedly so drunk at a party that she could no longer stand on her own. Aside from “digitally” raping the girl with their hands, reportedly multiple times, one of the boys took photos of the girl without her clothes, shared them via social media, and both young men bragged about the incident to their social networks following the incident.

As the father of both a boy and a girl, I was particularly angered and disturbed by this story. The very fact that such things happen in a supposedly civil society is a stark reminder that we have only a tenuous hold on the well-being of our kids once they leave our sight. We can only hope and pray that we’ve empowered them with the sense of autonomy, respect, compassion and restraint to keep them either from becoming victims of such violations, or perhaps even perpetrators of it themselves.

But once I get beyond my initial feelings about the whole situation, I’m left wrestling with a number of questions that still feel terribly unresolved.

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  1. How do we understand rape in our culture? During the investigation of this crime, dozens of high school peers were interviewed, many of whom were in attendance at the party. A shocking number of them confessed that they did not consider what the boys did to this sixteen-year-old girl to constitute rape. For me, this raises similar concerns that I’ve had in reading about the so-called “hook up” culture, in which many teens (if not perhaps a majority) don’t consider things like manual or oral sex to actually be sex. This is our fault. We’re letting peer groups and media define for our children what is appropriate behavior, how they should establish and maintain boundaries for themselves, and how they should respect the rights of others’ bodies. Rather, we risk distilling one another down to sources of pleasure, to be exploited like any other commodity.
  2. Where do our children learn compassion? I was profoundly troubled by a statement made by the victim’s mother after sentencing, in which she said, “Human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us.” Granted, I do agree that we are inborn with some innate sense of concern for one another, but to suggest this isn’t taught, modeled or even enforced by parents, teachers or other figures of authority is ridiculous. We bear a daily responsibility to model compassion in word and deed for your children, and to instill in them a sense of responsibility to do the same within their respective peer groups.
  3. Why didn’t anyone stop them? In a social setting such as this, bystanders are implicitly responsible for allowing such violations to take place. Further, in so much as they share images of a victime, they are complicit in the crime to an extent. And finally, if they are found to have deleted messages, responses, “shares,” “likes” and such, they are liable for tampering with evidence in an ongoing investigation. There are so many points at which those witnessing the event itself and the related fallout should have brought this to the attention of authorities, parents or school officials that it points to a systemic breakdown of collective accountability.
  4. Where did they get the alcohol? I’m not naive. I drank at a few high school parties, and certainly in college before I was of legal age. But for a group of small-town high school students to have access both to a home to throw a party and enough alcohol for a young woman to be unable to walk on her own points not only to the failure of the parents of the perpetrators, but also the parents of all children in attendance. It’s one thing to allow minors on given occasions to drink; it’s entirely another to put them in a situation where they have relatively unlimited access to alcohol and are unsupervised in a private home.
  5. Isn’t it time to talk about sex yet? We are both a sexually repressed and a sexually obsessed culture. One the one hand, we cling to puritanical values that suggest “good people” don’t talk about sex and sexuality – certainly not in detail – in places like schools, churches or around the dining room table. One the other, we consume more pornography than any generation in the history of the world before us. We speak in generalities, lean on vague moral lessons from Sunday school and hope that the high school gym teacher’s six-week sex education class will suffice to equip our kids to deal with sexuality through the most confusing, emotionally charged, hormonally volatile and socially confusing time of their lives. And then we’re surprised when they don’t think oral sex is as big deal, or they wonder if they can get pregnant if a boy ejaculates in a hot tub they’re in. Until we’re willing to answer EVERY question our kids have about sex, and eve to anticipate others they’ve yet to formulate, we’re equally responsible when such tragedies take place.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian published a memoir on faith, family and parenting in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due DateVisit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo Credit: The Plain Dealer, Lisa DeJong/AP

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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, founder of the Homebrewed CultureCast Podcast and owner of Crowdscribed, a publishing house, social networking platform and crowdfunding tool.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • Jonathan Starkey

    When I was a teenager, we drank and partied a lot. I could totally have seen something like this happening. In fact we saw and participated in some crazy stuff.

    I have hope, but I don’t know in society if you just evolve out of this. Is it more education????

    High School was a strange place. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

    One time I went to court for getting into a fight with a guy. I was drunk, he was drinking, it was after midnight. The judge gave us both tickets and fines. When it’s after 10 O clock and alcohol is involved. It’s like the old saying, “nothing good happens after midnight.” I don’t know the details of the case you mentioned, but being a former addict alcohol and drugs never led me into situations that kept me safe, free from guilt or shame.

    Sooner or later the party has to end. Something bad happens.

    We were all drunks and addicts. My best friend in High School committed suicide while partying. At the funeral we couldn’t wait to get away to go party. Even then I thought our friend just died from drugs and alcohol, and we’re going to go get wasted???

    Even today in Church culture though, I have “Social Justice” friends that lead a seemingly party lifestyle, because they’re cool and non legalistic. It’s confusing.

    All that to say, a judge will just throw you out of his court. “Oh, you were out partying and blacked out, and something bad happened. By 2 other drunks who were out partying. Get out of my court.”

    • Jonathan Starkey

      I have empathy so I feel bad for people who are wounded, but empathy doesn’t mean that I don’t see that people “put themselves into positions to be hurt.”

  • Frank

    This is simply a symptom of a culture that is moving towards the acceptance of any sexual behavior. If we stuck to Gods plan, man plus woman, we would have far less problems such as this. We are telling our kids that however they want to express themselves sexually is ok. We are destroying our kids!

    • Jonathan Starkey

      This stuff isn’t new, the culture has always been drifting that way. You can’t say, back in the good old days.

      • Frank

        Well yes culture has always been drifting away from God but we are seeing something unique with regards to sexuality which was my point.

        • Jonathan Starkey

          Are you carrying over your offense from yesterdays article into this one?

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Are you connecting the debate about the LGBT community, to this offense. And saying, that the offense in this article is tied in with the acceptance of LGBT community.

            I’m saying this kind of stuff happened back in my day, and we still hated gay people back then.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Except 10 to 30 years ago. In the offense in this article, it would even had made the news because, women were seen as men’s property.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            We have new media, and stupidity to thank for bringing this stuff into the light.

          • Frank

            As long as we continue to accept sexual expressions outside of Gods plan we will see more and more sexual brokenness.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            That’s a good comment to go under yesterdays article.

        • Women have been raped since the beginning of time. What has changed is that it is considered a crime. Even date rape and marital rape.

          • Frank

            Yes sin has been with us for awhile but as long as we normalize sinful behavior we will see more and more of it,

    • Thisisstupid

      I don’t have any proof that we are more accepting of sexual sin today then we were thousands of years ago. Maybe the brokenness you are speaking of is because we might be more accepting of all sins. Like greed, not helping out brothers and sisters, anger we carry in our hearts etc. it just might not all be because some people accept homosexuality. Ever think about that?

  • SamHamilton

    This is well written Christian. Thanks. As a parent of two young girls, this is good advice that I need to think about.

    • Jonathan Starkey

      I think you give to much power to schools. Students at that age half listen to teachers… maybe.

      • Jonathan Starkey

        Maybe they had those crazy “progressive” sex ed teachers in the OT.

        • Jonathan Starkey

          Many see Conservative Law/legalism and sexual oppression have given fuel to rape and woman oppression. Sadly Christians (Conservative ones) have lead the way in sexual purity.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Have not lead the way in sexual purity.

      • SamHamilton

        If they’re not listening, then it’s a pointless waste of time that could be spent on math or science or the arts. In fact, if they’re not listening, what’s the point of schools?

    • Anatomy and physiology lessons are important. Children should know how their reproductive system works. And access to birth control is not sending any message except be safe and don’t have children that you are not ready for. Many Christians will never talk to their children about sex at all. I live in a blue state and my children’s sex education classes had a strong abstinence message as I expect most programs do. What I didn’t want is teachers lying about the effectiveness of condoms and telling girls that sex is their responsibility because boys’ hormones control them. Often when you open the classroom to religion, the teachers have their own agenda – Misinformation and slut shaming. That sounds like part of the rape culture to me. Schools should not be teaching value-based anything because all parents don’t agree on what proper values are.

      • SamHamilton

        Anatomy and physiology can be taught in anatomy and physiology class. I don’t condone lying. Sex ed can be done poorly in many different ways by non-Christians and Christians; I don’t deny that.

        There is no value-free teaching. Values will be transmitted regardless of what is said. The only question is “which values?”

  • This was awful and revolting on many levels. The crime itself. The bragging. And the attempted cover up and intimidation that followed.
    I would like to point out that while alcohol abuse is a real problem, the evidence in this case pointed to the victim having been drugged.
    A large amount of a common “date rape” drug was found in her system when her parents took her to the hospital the next morning.
    This explains why she was completely passed out, and she was unaware of being transported to 3 different party locations. Some witnesses joked with each other that she seemed “dead”.

    • Drugged or drunk, she didn’t consent, so it was rape. I can understand the logic behind insisting that she was drugged, because so many are so quick to blame the victim and so we respond by removing the source of their accusations. It shouldn’t have to be that way, though. Underage drinking and overindulging is an issue, yes. But no amount of alcohol equates to consent. We shouldn’t have to try to defend her, because even if she did something wrong, nothing she did gave those boys permission to violate her. There is nothing she could have done which would have given them permission to rape her, because the only thing that would have given them permission is her consent, which would in turn mean that it wasn’t rape.

      Sorry, I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m attacking you, because I’m not – I’m just angry at the system that forces us to defend someone who shouldn’t need to be defended like this.

  • It makes me so sad to hear Christians respond to this situation with discussions about “hook up culture” and sexual promiscuity. This is a great injustice.

    Rape is a crime of violence. It is about control and power, it is NOT about sexual needs/gratification. The Stebeunville case screams the message that something is sick, deathly sick, in our collective understanding of sexual violence. For Christians to continue to talk about the need for abstinence or stricter sexual morality completely misses the heart of the issue- rape is a violent crime. It is not related to casual sexual consensual encounters.

    Please, for the sake of all the women and men who are being raped by spouses, intimate partners and strangers, please address the real issue: how is rape so misunderstood, poorly defined, and socially acceptable? Why are rapists defended more vehemently than victims?

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