Julie Gillis is glad for the convictions in Steubenville, but believes that for meaningful change to happen, we must make changes on profound levels.
I spent the morning scrolling through my phone’s Twitter feed and trying to watch live streaming of the verdict on a tiny screen. I’m out of town in a small tiny village visiting family and I finally took off in the car in search of wireless and found it at the ubiquitous outpost of Starbucks. Thank the universe for free wifi.
Driving through the empty streets, as most are in church this Sunday morning, I thought about the defense attorneys ask for leniency for the young men now deemed guilty, legally, of rape.
There were a lot of tears from the young men, which I have to admit didn’t seem remorseful to me, but fearful and finally, possibly, getting what was happening to them, that they were wrong, rapists, people who have assaulted someone. That through their actions they have damaged a young woman, her family, a town, and yes, themselves.
At least, I hope that’s what they were getting, and not just that they were caught.
I got into a small Twitter argument who felt that the judge’s verdict and sentencing was too harsh. I’m not sure why he felt that way, since they were actually tried as juveniles and given the harshness of their actions (and the 300,000 texts, photos, and gossip…and the physical and emotional violation of the victim) I’m not sure that a few years in some form of penitentiary isn’t a bad idea.
I’ve seen a number of people note that the boys are afraid of being raped in prison. Which is ironic. I don’t think they should be raped in prison. I don’t think anyone should ever be raped. I would hope that the whole nation would start grappling with that concept, yes?
That rape, in all its forms, is bad. To be avoided. Fought against. Taught away from. That violence is endemic in our culture and that needs to change.
The good news, if one can frame any news coming out of this case as good, is that the Ohio Attorney General stated that it wasn’t just a Steubenville problem, but a nationwide and societal problem. Indeed.
“DeWine gave a sense of scale to his office’s investigation: 13 cellphones, 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos, 940 video clips, 3,188 phone calls, 16,422 cellphone contacts. And that was just the cyber-crimes division, which prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said was brought in on the request of attorneys “after Anonymous hit,” referring to the hackers who brought social-media attention to the case and “put enormous pressure” on the victim. DeWine also said the “appalling” case involved closed to 60 interviews, but that 16 people refused to talk to his investigators, and that his office was seeking finality in continuing court proceedings in the matter. “Most of the 16 are underage,” DeWine said.
“This is not a happy time for anyone. No one can take any pleasure in this. Every rape is a tragedy. This is a tragedy,” DeWine said, moving on to castigate rape culture in general. “This happens every Friday night,” DeWine said. “We shouldn’t tolerate it anymore as a country.”
This brings me back to the topic of punishment.
Yes, there should be punishment. There have to be consequences for these actions, but do you know what I’d do instead of placing these teens (or any person, actually) in jail, where they are likely to be abused, raped, hurt, and damaged? Cause you all know prison culture is not good, right?
Here’s what I’d do if I had the power and influence to do so:
If there were such a place, a prison without violence, I’d have them sit, in near solitude (NOT solitary, but with ample time of quiet and reflection), penitent. With access to journals to write, or paint to paint with, or something to create with and reflect. I’d have them made to volunteer in healing professions where they had to tend to those who have been wounded, damaged, hurt. They need to be made to bear witness to what trauma does. I’d require counseling for them, for their entire families, for all the families involved. I’d go so far as to ask the town to commit to moving away from a sports culture and take a year to do those same works of self reflection, of classes in non violent communication, of listening to men and women who have been damaged by abuse.
This would be hard emotional work. It would be wrenching and draining but I think it would do more to heal than being incarcerated in a violent place rife with authoritarian abuse.
I’d require all high schools and frankly, down to the elementary school level, to teach bystander intervention training, celebrating and supporting anyone who steps up to help friends, to stop even the most minor of crimes, to find new paths to pride in a town in economic distress that seems to focus all it’s needs on the football team. I’d push for consent education and better sex education so that a fuller understanding of what rape is and isn’t would be clear and unable to be used as excuses.
I’d ask our whole nation to join in this reflection, slowly, calmly, with vulnerability and grief. I’d want us to avoid rushing into social media blame or snark, or pissing contests between poles, which side of the fence is “right” or not. I’d hope we could focus, solely on the actual roots at play, instead of getting distracted and scandalized by the next shiny crime, celebrity debacle, or issue in the media, which the media seems to need like a vampire needs blood, engaging in exploitative headlining in order to get page views and money. That in and of itself seems like it’s part of the problem, somehow.
There is no “getting past this” as a town, or a nation, unless the town and nation really looks in the mirror. Really. No excuses, no blaming love triangles or drinking or social media for this. This is rape culture and the town, all of us…we are in it whether we want to admit it or not.
I want real change. Deep change. Not just vengeful anger and punishment until the next disaster happens. This was a disaster, for all of us, as a people.
I know by publishing this I’ll be laughed at by many. That I’ll be considered naively visionary at best, stupid and ill informed at worst. Or maybe worse. After all, I’ve already had commenters tell me that this whole thing was a drinking issue, not a rape issue.
I don’t care what I’m called.
Vision helps lead the way. I’d like a world where people don’t take an eye for an eye. Where we don’t sacrifice our children to sports or greed, where we teach them to stand up for each other, where we consider compassion a vital strength, rather than a weakness.
I know I’m not alone. There are others who want this same world, too many to name, but I’ve friended or followed so many of them on Twitter and on FB. So many. Look to my Twitter feed and follow these folks: women, men, spiritual, sexual, social justice focused, loving, kind, compassionate, actively working towards this world.
We are organizing and we will move towards peace. We have no other choice.
Originally appeared at JulieGillis.WordPress.com