It was with mixed emotions that we at Men Can Stop Rape received news of the guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape case. We are happy to hear that, in this instance, the justice system has treated rape and sexual assault as gravely as it would other crimes. We cannot bring ourselves to smile, though, as two teenage boys are sent to jail and one 16 year old girl is left to pick up the pieces after her very public trauma. When I think of those young men, I think about the countless young men we have worked with in our Men of Strength Clubs throughout the country, including in Ohio. Boys who are trapped in a toxic culture of unhealthy, violent masculinity. When I think of that young woman, I think about my own daughters and how angry, saddened, hurt, and confused I would be if something like that happened to them. Girls who are as well trapped in that toxic culture of unhealthy, violent masculinity and pay the heaviest toll for it.
I can admit that my first instinct on these kinds of cases is to demand my pound of flesh. I’ve been working on issues of healthy masculinity for over 15 years and I still cannot escape the societal mindset that vengeance is the same as healing. It is not. For many of us, this is what happens in a society dominated by unhealthy masculinity, and the easiest way to react to something like rape that scares, shocks, saddens, and wounds us is to be angry. But our anger won’t help us understand why these boys felt it okay to rape an unconscious girl, it won’t help the survivor heal from her trauma, and it certainly won’t address the underlying causes of rape culture. It may make us feel better to think that a case like this will make would-be rapists question their actions, but the pressures to showcase traditional ideals of masculinity will always outweigh the news stories that only capture our attention for one week at a time.
Many smarter and more eloquent people than I have talked about the nuances of this case and how it reflects how we as a society view rape and other forms of violence against women. The victim blaming of the media, the sympathy for perpetrators at the expense of survivors, and the connections between sports and sexual violence all need to be addressed. Our perspective comes from working with young men on all ranges of the continuum of violence: from young men who help organize Take Back the Night marches to young men who have perpetrated sexual violence at one or more times in their lives. What I’ve learned most of all from my over 20 years of working with boys and young men is that I have to love them all, both the activists and the perpetrators. That doesn’t mean I don’t hold them accountable, but I still have to love them or there’s no hope for change. If we allow ourselves to believe that these boys are monsters, if we distance ourselves from them with our anger, we conveniently miss that one day it could be our sons, brothers, or selves sitting in a courtroom because we didn’t take action sooner. We miss that stopping sexual violence means being a role model for healthy, non-violent masculinity. We miss that violence against girls and women is a public health problem created and perpetuated by our society, not one confined to a football team in Ohio or a bus in India. Most of all, we miss what Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Let’s use this verdict as an opportunity to examine the ways we can help build strong children, children who will respect others and build a world free from violence against girls and women.
Men Can Stop Rape
With Contributions By:
Men Can Stop Rape