Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Need Stiffer Penalties for Rape and Sexual Assault... and Prevention Begins at Home, Too

Yesterday brought something very ugly to my email in-box. Two different petitions, from two different parties, each urging me to sign letters asking local authorities to investigate the sexual assaults of two different underage girls.  As if the gang assaults weren't devastating enough, both girls had committed suicide after not only living through the atrocity of sexual assault, but also having to live with the enduring humiliation of their assault being posted onto social media websites and the bullying which followed. 

I'm not sure I can think of anything worse for a young person to have to live through. To then have their worst nightmare on public display, open to gawking, scrutiny and ridicule by their peers: this is too, too much. Boys posting pictures of what they consider to be their conquests.... so arrogant, entitled and flaunting what they feel is sexual prowess... this is sick. So while I am deeply saddened that some  young victims of these crimes do commit suicide, I also want justice. 

I want those boys to be facing stiffer penalties, which should include not only the sexual assault of a minor and distribution of pedophilia, I want them to be charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

These young women had a future. Until some boys, who believed themselves to be invincible, irresistible and above the law decided to steal it from them.  The website Suicide.org states that:

"It is quite common for rape victims to suffer from depression. And untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. About 33% of rape victims have suicidal thoughts. About 13% of rape victims will attempt suicide. Suicide attempts may occur years after the rape." 

This is something we cannot ignore, the cause of the deaths of these young women. Even if the victim does not kill themselves, they may very well experience post traumatic stress disorder. In a report, from the website Mental Health Impact of Rape, we find the following data:

 Almost one-third (31%) of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime; and more than one in ten rape victims (11%) still has PTSD today. 

Rape victims were 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who had never been victims of crime (31% vs 5%). 

Rape victims were 5.5 times more likely to have current PTSD than those who had never been victims of crime (11% Vs 2%).  

How, then, can we continue to assign measly sentences to the boys who commit these heinous acts? I was disgusted when the Steubenville rape case resulted in a puny one year in juvenile detention for one of the perpetrators and "at least' two years for the other boy, who was also charged with photographing the underage girl naked. They will both be registered sex offenders for their lifetimes. 

Yet, this, to me, is not enough. The fact that they chose, again and again, to drag an unconscious person from party to party and to repeatedly violate her goes far beyond two boys making a mistake. This is beyond what most of us would consider a bad choice. And it is continuing in other parts of the world, perhaps because we haven't brought the message home loud and clear~

Do this to someone and your life as you know it will end. 

We need the boys who do this to be locked away for a long time. We need those who stood there and witnessed this poor girl being violated -- those who did absolutely nothing to help-- to be serving jail time, even short sentences. We need to send a message which is loud and clear that this will not be tolerated. That if young men choose (it is a choice) to sexually assault a young woman, the singularly most frightening moments of their life are going to be in their faces immediately. These boys need to get the message that it won't be one or two years in juvie, that it will be at least five years served in juvenile detention as well as adult prison. They need to know that investigators aren't going to drag their feet but will be locking them up first thing and then asking questions. When we have actual proof of these crimes, law enforcement should be doing everything possible to protect the victims.

The other reason I am concerned regarding the slow path to investigation and justice is that I believe this also puts the young men in danger. In the case of Audrie Potts, one of her assailants was still attending school for over half a year. I am concerned that an angry, destroyed parent whose child has committed suicide might not wait any longer for justice. They may choose to take matters into their own hands. 

We have to stop thinking of this problem as 'why are underage girls getting drunk and raped' and start talking about how we, as an entire culture, contribute to the problems we are now facing. 

We need to address some of the small stuff first. How our kids are allowed to speak to each other reflects one aspect of our culture's violent attitude toward women. My ears ring regularly with young men calling each other 'bitch' in a derogatory manner. They act like it's all in fun, however, the underlying statement is that women are not worthy of respect; that any possible feminine traits are to be considered weak and disgusting and subject to derision. Some of us also allow our sons to play games which feature women being abused and degraded verbally and physically. We need to stop this right now. There's no value to those situations, albeit pretend, and this should not add to the allure of a game-- the possibility of pretending to slap and beat a woman is a sick, disgusting thing which video game companies should not be offering. No one benefits from these depictions.

We need to address how we raise our boys. As parents, we must stop excusing violent and aggressive behaviors with the pat phrase 'boys will be boys' and a shrug. There is a time for rough play, when it is agreed-upon by both parties and there are rules to keep things safe, much like in the martial arts. This is a problem that many mothers wonder what to do with-- when our own children are being hurt and other parents apathetically dismiss their child's actions. Be accountable for your kids, folks. If they are hitting, don't make excuses, address the problem, or you are failing your children. We don't hit, period. Not because 'it's not nice' but because it is wrong. Teaching our kids the difference between aggression and self-defense is important, and teaching our youngest kids that there are penalties for hurting others will go much farther in helping our boys know what is appropriate behavior. 

We need to take a very hard look at the fact that our kids are not doing a great job in managing the supposed freedoms of technology. The incidence of young people posting online pictures of crimes they have committed only tells me that we have some very stupid children who have too much access and liberty and not enough common sense. We need to get over ourselves as parents and to get over the idea that cell phones do not make our children safe. Knowing where our children are, knowing whose house they are going to, physically showing up to see that the parent is there and to have an actual conversation with those parents would go a long, long way in preventing the problems we are now facing. Yet, time and again, we hear of parents who would rather give their kids a phone because they feel their child is safer if they can contact them directly. Not true. Our children are much, much safer when we as parents take the extra step of confirming our kid's whereabouts with other responsible adults. 

We need to talk to our kids about bullying, and then continue to talk about it. If your child has a Facebook page or other social networking avenues, you need to be looking at them regularly. Part of having access to social media is to be accountable for it. We need our kids to know that they must report any questionable emails, text messages and pictures to us immediately. Like the recipients of those awful texts and pictures of the rapes, we need to tell our kids that they have an unwavering obligation to report these crimes and that any action otherwise is the same as allowing it to happen. We need to get real with our kids and be part of their lives. We have to be present. 

Let's teach our children that alcohol is never an excuse for anything, period. That they are never to be drinking with their friends, and then let's back that up by ensuring our kids don't go out and do just that. Again, contacting other parents, talking to them, making our own expectations clear and then making our own decisions regarding our children's safety are all our own responsibilities.

Let's also address this at the schools, as well. What rape is must be discussed, over and over. What rape might look like-- that it is not just a question of a victim not consenting or trying to fight off her attackers, but that anyone unconscious in that situation needs medical help immediately. Let's make it clear that if a student sexually assaults another student or witnesses a sexual assault/receives information of a sexual assault or bullying and refuses to report it, there will be very severe consequences.

Will our kids still lie to us? Yes. Will they still try to sneak out or get one over on us? Likely. But if we choose to make it harder for them by simply being present and engaged as parents, we will do much, much better. If we hold our young men who sexually assault girls up to stiffer, more severe penalties, that is one discouragement. And if we set the standard at home that we are to respect all other people, that we never take advantage of someone else who is in a vulnerable position (this includes cheating on schoolwork and theft of property), that underage sex is to be avoided, that sex should always be consensual-- and that good sex is always ONLY consensual-- we have already made a little bit of progress in keeping all of our children safer. 

We as parents must rise up and realize that we are the only ones who can change the future for so many kids. I don't want to see or hear another story about another girl who was robbed of her future. Never again.

2 comments:

Hakea said...

Here's an article that I think addresses what you talk about here...

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/05/how_to_talk_to_teens_about_sexting_and_steubenville_like_cases.single.html

Hazel M. Wheeler said...

Hakea,

I appreciated the link. The conversations with teens mentioned in the article are spot-on;the idea of creating some 'back up plans' beforehand and having honest talks about this topic is so vital to preventing the continuation of this sad, sad problem.

thanks!