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Inside the minds of risk-taking players and die-hard fans.

Boys to Men—What the Steubenville Trial Makes Clear

5 Ways to Teach Men (and Boys) Not to Rape

Steubenville Trial
Associated Press
Associated Press
How much did the 16-year-old accuser drink? What does she remember? Where were the parents in whose homes the parties with excessive drinking were held?  Would the presence of adults have prevented the rape?

Based on current male attitudes in regard to women, this sexual assault probably would have happened at some point, somewhere. Women are raped (one of every six American women has experienced rape or attempted rape) and then, if they report the incident, are blamed for it.

The two Steubenville, Ohio teenage football players tried for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female during multiple end-of-summer parties are indicative of our male macho culture. These teens, like too many males in the military and elsewhere in society have little respect for women and view them a sexual objects. Unlike 97% of rapists who spend no time in jail, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, will remain in juvenile detention for a year or more. Mays was sentenced to an additional year for uploading nude images of the victim to the Internet.

The rape victim took the stand yesterday for two hours, according to one report. Once again, even with the preponderance of evidence, she was questioned and prodded by the defense in an attempt to prove, or in the least insinuate, that she is the guilty party—that she is at fault for drinking and for whatever else the defendants’ lawyers can dredge up. She was publically humiliated on the Internet since the event took place last summer and again today in court when she had to relive the experience.

As she rightfully stated in court, “I didn't want to get myself into drama because I knew everyone would just blame me." The burden is usually on the female, the victim, instead of where it belongs on the boys and men who assault and rape women.

In our sports culture, particularly in towns like Steubenville where football teams are revered and its players celebrated, it is easy to lose sight of the fact boys and men should be held accountable. In this case they were, however, jail time is not the solution for this epidemic cultural problem. The answer lies in changing male attitudes about women, starting when boys are young whether or not they ever play sports or become super stars. 

During a series of media interviews, Zerlina Maxwell, a rape survivor and advocate for changing this culture where males are blameless, offered a five-point plan to teach boys to respect girls and women and not to rape. 

Maxwell’s plan (an expanded version is in Ebony Magazine):

  1. Teach young men about legal consent:  Legal consent tops my list for a reason. Without it, sexual contact with someone is rape...whether you intended to rape or not. A woman who is drunk, unconscious or sleeping cannot give legal consent.  And it’s not about a woman simply saying “no,” it’s really about making certain she’s saying yes!
  2. Teach young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects for male pleasure: There is a reason why women are shamed into silence and why teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio are caught on camera laughing about gang raping an unconscious girl at a party. The dehumanization of women spans all areas of American life.  
  3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity: The question that’s being asked about what women can do to prevent violence against them is the wrong question. It’s not what can a woman say or do that can prevent being attacked. We need to turn that paradigm upside down. We need to focus on the messages that men are getting and about how they relate to women. 
  4. Teach young men to believe women and girls who come forward: The vast majority of women do not report their rapes to the police and many more only tell one or two people in confidence.
  5. Teach males about bystander intervention: When we talk about bystander intervention, it’s more about simply intervening when you see someone doing or about to do something wrong…Our young men shouldn't shift uncomfortably when a peer jokes about bringing home a drunk classmate who can't possibly give verbal consent; they should know to speak up and to do all they can to prevent it from happening—even when it simply seems like a vague possibility. 

These messages should be part of conversations with our sons and repeated frequently. They should be part of school sex education or health programs. Society must move away from exalting tough guys and sports heroes and blaming the victims.

The Steubenville case centers on high school boys, however, most boys today go on to college. Sexual assault is a major issue in higher education circles including our elite colleges and universities: Harvard reports it, too, has a problem. And last week Princeton released survey numbers with the headline, “In 2008 survey, 1 in 6 female undergraduates reported non-consensual vaginal penetration.” 

I don’t believe the outcome of one trial will change centuries of attitudes toward women. Where women are concerned, we need to reeducate boys who will become men. 

Also of interest including earlier details of the Steubenville incident: Hero Worship: Football’s Double-edged Sword

For sexual assault information and statistics, see Rainn: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 

Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman

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