Where Were the Adults?

By Andrea Barbalich

By now we all know the sick, sordid details about the Steubenville rape case: the way Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond took a 16-year-old girl who had passed out from excessive drinking and dragged her from party to party, assaulted her in a car, took her clothes off and assaulted her again in a basement, took photos of her and texted them along with lewd comments, and left her in the street with no shirt on.

We all know other kids watched this happen, shared the photos and videos, and laughed about them. No one made any attempt to intervene. No one tried to help her. No one called a parent.

Which brings me to the question I’ve been asking myself all week: Where were the adults?

Where were the adults teaching their sons not to rape a girl and photograph it, not to stand by and watch and laugh, not to feel bad about what they’d done only after they’d been caught, not to think only of themselves when they were found guilty?

When Richmond was sentenced to a year in a juvenile facility, he cried and said, “My life is over.” His first selfish, self-centered thought was about himself, not about the girl who will have to live with the pain and shame of what he did to her for the rest of her life.

Where were the adults teaching their children how to genuinely apologize and feel remorse?

This is what Mays said in the courtroom: “I would truly like to apologize. No pictures should have been sent around, let alone taken.” That’s right: He apologized for taking pictures and sharing them with the world on social media, not for raping an unconscious girl.

Where were the adults teaching their children not to threaten the victim on Twitter, as two girls were arrested for doing on Monday?

It’s adults as well as kids who behaved horrifically throughout this case. Five months after the rape, locals in Steubenville were still blaming the victim for what happened. She was called a “train whore” on Facebook. Twitter exploded yesterday with tweets calling her a drunk slut, among other insults.

And how about the parents who were missing in action while a girl was being repeatedly assaulted and while news of it traveled through Steubenville via text and Twitter? None of them came forward during the investigation, and they didn’t encourage their kids to come forward either. Sixteen people refused to talk to investigators.

And didn’t anyone—anyone—see that girl lying in the street?

Then there was the football coach, who knew about the rape but made excuses for the rapists because they were star football players in a football town. Did he learn nothing from what happened in a place called Penn State?

And if all that weren’t enough, there was correspondent Poppy Harlow’s coverage on CNN: “I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Harlow said on air after the verdict was announced. “It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures—star football players, very good students—we literally watched as, they believe, their life fell apart.” The segment—which also included comments from anchor Candy Crowley and legal analyst Paul Callan—focused almost exclusively on the hardship faced by the perpetrators, not the victim.

So the adults in this case are guilty too. I have no direct experience with this kind of crime or the aftermath.

 I am not naïve enough to think this couldn’t happen in my town. It could. It might. It could happen in your town too.

So we—as adults—have an obligation, and it starts with our kids. We must teach our sons what rape means. To teach all our children that it’s horrific to do what those boys did—and just as horrific to stand by and watch someone else do it—and just as horrific to forward a photo and laugh about it with your friends. To teach them that if you participate just a little bit, you are guilty too.

We must teach our kids to accept responsibility for their actions—to truly own them and own up to them. To say “I’m sorry” and mean it. To put themselves in someone else’s shoes and try to understand how that person feels. To genuinely care about and for others.

And we have an obligation to examine our own thoughts and actions. To be the kind of adults who can be called for any reason, no matter what, when someone is in trouble. The kind of adults who would come forward instead of cover up. Who would not make obscene comments about someone else’s child. Who would not blame someone else for our own child’s behavior. Who would discipline instead of deny.

To be the kind of adults who would help that girl lying half-naked in the street.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Andrea Barbalich is an editorial and marketing consultant who has held top positions at several media companies in Manhattan. A nationally recognized expert in motherhood and women’s issues, she lives with her son in Westchester County, New York.




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