Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cannonball Wounds, Serena Williams, and the Steubenville Rape Case. . . .

Brian Regan is a really funny guy. His comedic observations about everyday life make me laugh. His little bit on going to the doctor is a good one (see video below). In the middle of the bit, Regan ponders what it would be like to go the doctor with a cannonball wound. . . and the doctor shows you a list of how to avoid getting a cannonball wound in a preventive effort to get you to wise up ("#1 - Do not stand directly in front of cannon."). Regan drives home the obviousness of cause and effect, along with our unwillingness to live our lives wisely in light of cause and effect.

How come we're so stupid about these things. We know we shouldn't do things that we know are risky and might hurt us. Still, we choose to do things that we know are risky and might hurt us. . . and when risks are realized and we get hurt, we typically blame someone or something else.

Tennis Star Serena Williams is taking a bit of heat this week for some comments she made in her Rolling Stone  interview with Stephen Rodrick. Her comments brought Regan's cannonball wound bit and issues of risk to mind. It seems that the TV news was on during the interview. An update on the well-publicized Steubenville Ohio rape case came up on the screen.

If you aren't aware of what happened in Steubenville last August, it was a case involving a 16-year-old girl who passed out after drinking too much. While she was passed out, she was undressed and sexually assaulted by some high school football players. She was also photographed with pictures of and texts about the incident going viral from peer to peer. In March, two of the football players were found guilty of rape.

Back to Serena Williams and Rodrick. . . as the two watched the news about the Steubenville verdict together during the interview, Williams asked, "Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously, I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."

Rodrick included this account of William's comments in his Rolling Stone interview. Now, the backlash against William's opinion on the matter is picking up momentum.

I'm wondering if it would be best to look at the Steubenville case and liken it to standing in front of a cannon. The young men who perpetrated the rape and all those who participated as bystanders did something very criminal and very wrong. . . something extremely foolish. . . and the risk they took both hurt a 16-year-old girl and hurt themselves. Yes, they should be held accountable. . . and others who are watching the story should learn from it. But to stop there is not enough. As a dad and as a youth worker, I think I have a responsibility to my kids to not only clearly define right and wrong regarding the behavior of the boys and other bystanders, but to warn my kids about making risky decisions like the one made by the rape victim. . . a decision which resulted in her being in a physical state and place in time that made it easy for this crime to be committed. In other words, if you choose to put yourself in a risky location and/or if you choose to drink yourself into oblivion, you are choosing to stand in front of a cannon. . . and you might wind up with a cannonball wound.

Common sense, caution, and wise judgement are severely lacking in our culture. Borders and boundaries have been thrown to the wind. These realities should shape the way we converse with and nurture our kids as we work to equip them to live their lives to the glory of God.


Anonymous said...

It's tough to fight a tidal wave, but a solid first step is to not go in the water. The young lady is learning (hopefully) a hard lesson that actions/decisions have consequences. The boys actions landed them in jail and rightfully so. Her actions/decisions placed herself directly in front of the cannon holding up a sign asking to be shot. Guilt goes to the ones who obliged her request, but she is the one who made herself such an easy target.

Anonymous said...

These comments leave me to believe that society is still blaming the victim. Yes, she made a bad decision, however, that does not in any way shape or form give those boys the right to rape! Couldn't they have just as easily bundled her up and driven her home--or called her parents? This is merely a variation on the same old theme, "if her skirt wasn't so short" if her top wasn't so low" "if she didn't wear so much makeup" "if she didn't dress like a hooker" etc etc etc. It is time to put the blame where it belongs--on the rapist!

Anonymous said...

So if I walk down a street on the bad side of town waving a wad of cash around, if I get robbed then I am a victim. If I drive a car while intoxicated, and crash into you, killing your family, it's not my fault, I am a victim. Now if I get fat, it's not my fault, I'm a victim of disease.......when we live with no personal responsibility, we are all victims....Sad.....

Eve N. said...

Walt, I have to say I'm quite disappointed with your assessment of this. It is a very slippery slope from what you're saying to blaming the victim outright, as the poster at 1:09 pm pointed out. How is what you're saying different from the line, "she was asking for it by wearing that outfit/flirting/drinking/going to that party"?
Serena Williams' comments are unhelpful and troubling on many levels (she seems to be saying that it wouldn't be as big a deal if the woman weren't a virgin and that woman was lucky that she didn't remember it, as if that somehow diminishes the trauma.)

Given the fact that you work with teenagers, I'm sure you know about adolescent cognitive development and the prevalence of risk-taking behaviors among teenagers (speeding, etc.). You bemoan the fact the lack of common sense and caution in society but that's not framing the issue entirely accurately, as I'd like to remind you that we're talking about a 16-year-old girl who is still maturing in her cognitive and decision-making capabilities, including her understanding of risk. I myself am an extremely cautious person, but as a female in this society, I know that just walking home from the bus/train/campus alone in the evening can be considered "risky behavior" in many places that I've lived. Hence, the slippery slope blaming the victim.

Instead, it might be better to take a cue from Calgary's "Don't Be that Guy" anti-rape campaign. This is what we should be teaching young men:

As someone involved in the campaign said, “Our campaign places responsibility where it belongs — on the perpetrators."

Walt Mueller said...

Thank you folks, for your thoughtful discussion here. I don't think this is an easy issue at all.

Just to clarify. . . my blog post was about risk, not blame. The two Steubenville football players and any peers who participated were wrong. They deserve to be punished. They took advantage of someone and committed criminal/immoral acts.

My point, however, is that as a parent and a youthworker I need to be looking at cases like this and using them as examples as I teach my kids about risk. Eve, your comments about cognitive development are right on, making it all the more necessary and urgent to think with our kids about the plethora of new risks thrown at them by the culture. But I would be hesitant to liken "walking home" alone to breaking laws established regarding underage drinking or willingly deciding to compromise your judgement through alcohol consumption. I see that connection as a slippery slope.

Again, to clarify, I in no way think "she asked for it." I do however, think that she made it easier for those guys to commit a crime, for herself to be victimized, and for her to disqualify herself from being able to resist/fight back.

Let's keep the conversation going on this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. I would encourage you to edit a similar statement into your original post as well. I knew from reading it that you were not talking about blame at all; rather, you were encouraging parents/youth workers to use it as a cautionary tale of risk. However, victim blaming is SO prevalent today that people often jump to the assumption that you're participating at the first hint. I would hate for anyone to use this post against you and say "Here's yet another victim blamer/slut shamer" and malign the faith at the same time.

So, take that for what it's worth. I know what you were getting at, but people are so sensitive that a disclaimer in the original post may be in order.