On Rape Culture, Steubenville, and the Failure that Caused me to Bystand no more

I’ve been wanting to say personally say something about the Steubenville Rape Trial Travesty. I have been wracking my brain to figure out what I can add to the conversation on Rape Culture, and how our treatment of this crime was made so apparent. The Rape Apologist Coach, the News outlets talking about what a shame it is for the Rapists who now are losing years of their childhood, the internet videos of people laughing over the rape, Fox News, classy as ever, releasing the name of the victim and opening her up to harassment, all betray the biases and privilege systemically present that leads to 1 in 6 women in our culture to be victims of sexual assault.

I can do what everyone else is doing right now, ranting and screaming against the media, Steubenville, etc. but it isn’t enough. It’s important to do, and others are doing it well, but it just isn’t enough. We have to look inward, and see where WE can make the changes as well.

14 years ago, I was at a party, and I didn’t do enough to protect a friend. The few other people I knew had stepped out, so I was standing in a crowd of strangers and I looked across room to see the birthday girl so drunk she was barely conscious. There was a guy next to her, who looked around the room, and then kissed her. I knew what was happening, I knew what was going on was wrong, but all those ingrained fears and worries that tempt every person into being a bystander kicked in.

“What if i am misinterpreting this?”

“What if I’m making too big a deal out of this?”

“What if I make a scene and ruin the party and it really is just nothing?”

I thought the best course of action was to try to find someone I knew knew her better to check it out, but in those moments of inaction, the guy picked her up and began to carry her out of the party.  The birthday girl managed, even in her nearly incapacitated state, to pull free and slump to the floor. As I reached down to pick her up, someone who was twice as big as me noticed what was happening, and bounced the guy out of the party. Her girl friends then surrounded us, and as I handed her off to them, I urged them to keep her safe. I can still remember every moment, what the guy looked like, the tug on my ponytail when she grabbed onto it while I pulled her off the floor, and my intense, confusion, anxiety, fear, and shame.

It all turned out ok for my friend, but it almost didn’t. Those moments of doubt, those few minutes of inaction, were almost enough for my friend to be carried off. I was a bystander, the dreaded, cursed bystander.

Since that night, I have refused to sit back and do nothing because of tradition, politics, social pressures, etc. I have worked to prepare myself for occasions like that again so I don’t get stuck like a deer in headlights and watch innocents get hurt. But that is now, and not being prepared then almost cost my friend a lot.

So what is the message?

Part of it is to not be a bystander, but more importantly, we have to learn and teach others not to be bystanders. In every story where you hear of a gang rape at a party, what often gets overlooked is that there are people there just watching. We ask how could people commit such horrific acts, but we forget to ask why no one tried to stop them, why no one pointed out that it is wrong. We tell people it is wrong to rape, but we forget to tell people it is ok to make a scene to stop a rape. we forget to tell people that it is ok to call the police to protect your friend at a party. We forget to tell people the cost of doing nothing will always be greater than the social embarrassment of doing nothing.

We also need to teach people how. We need to practice ways to run interference. We need to teach our kids ways to do the right thing, not just tell them to do it but expect them to figure it out on the fly. We need to have conversations about rape before the rapes happen so that people know what they need to do to step in and how to step in as well.

Today, I learned from my failure. I had one supervisor actually nickname me “Rorschach,” after the character from the Watchman comic, because I refuse to stand down and say nothing even when “politics” of the field call for it. I have friends who come to me for support when they have to do something rough, and sometimes we brainstorm how. I am working to fix the mistake I made that night, but you can begin to do the same and not have that mistake follow you.  Say no to the Rape joke. Teach your kids how to break up a rape at a party. Learn to dispel rape myths.

You can prepare and prepare others to do the right thing, or you can be caught like a deer in headlights when you are at the moment you need to act most.

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One thought on “On Rape Culture, Steubenville, and the Failure that Caused me to Bystand no more

  1. That was an honest and important post, brother. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for being willing to share your “confusion, anxiety, fear, and shame” in order to bring some measure of healing to a terrible brokenness of our culture. When we can speak honestly of the brokenness within ourselves, we can speak healing words towards the brokenness of the world. I will share it with as many as I can to spread the healing.

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