Ever since the news broke of the Steubenville sexual assault case, in which two high school football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, raped an unconscious girl at a party, I’ve been trying to place that story in some kind of context.
After all, this happened at high school very much like mine, in a town very much like mine, approximately two hours to the east of where I grew up in Ohio. So you go back in your head. You try to remember high school and being a high school athlete and attempt to formulate a set of circumstances that allow such a reprehensible, revolting, pathetic incident in which basically an entire high school class is aware of what happened, and I simply can’t.
Now maybe that’s naïve. Maybe the rose-colored glasses will always do their work, but even when I try to imagine myself and my friends as idiotic sixteen year-old boys, the thought that anyone I knew or grew up with could do something like this and/or crack up about it on camera later seems not only impossible but like something out of a dream or an alternate reality.
Which is perhaps why it’s so unsettling. When awful things happen in places you don’t understand, it’s easy to shake your head and move on. But when you recognize the dumb swagger of a kid and the poorly lit living room where he and a couple friends drank too much, it becomes that much more unnerving.
The Steubenville incident marks a cultural moment: we now understand that the glories of social networking will also serve the giggly impulses of casual rapists. I don’t recommend watching the video where a former football and baseball player, Michael Nodianos, goes on an impromptu stand-up routine about how “dead” the girl was, but it says something about his mentality that he saw no problem using the incident to flex his imagined comic talents.
Least Funniest Moment: An off-camera voice asks Nodianos, “What if it was your daughter?”
“But it isn't,” Nodianos replies.
There are a lot of angles you could come at this story: the weird, unflappable misogyny, the small town high school football cocoon (we all wish high school football was “Friday Night Lights” but probably more often it’s “Steubenville Tweets”), the total lack of empathy and moral bearing from not only the attackers but all those present or knowledgeable of it.
The most interesting angle, however, has to be that the entire story unfolded via social media and left behind a mountain of evidence for prosecutors to pick through. On the one hand, it made the conviction that much easier. There wasn’t a lot of interpretation for he-said-she-said here. On the other hand, it speaks to something truly dark about what goes on in the minds of people who carry out sexual assaults—that they could feel so invincible as to all but brag about it publically.
This is why sex ed has to go beyond showing how to put a condom on a banana or how to check for lumps in your breasts. Because education about sex has to include—especially for young men—an education about what it’s like to be the victim of an assault. It has to go beyond abstinence and even safe sex and include some method that allows their still-developing brains to understand and empathize with the shame, fear, and pain that disgusting acts like that visit upon their victims.
They have to be thinking, years in advance, of their own daughters.