By Amy Dickinson
March 18, 2013
Last month I posted a Q and A from my “Ask Amy” column which I thought might be controversial. The query was from a 16-year-old girl, and her question to me was, “Was I raped?”
(For the original Q and A, please click here: )
What I didn’t quite anticipate was how this question and my answer (“yes, you were raped”) would unleash a certain hateful ferocity in my readership. I also didn’t anticipate – at all – how brokenhearted I would feel, not by the reaction toward me (ten years of writing this column has made me thick skinned) but by the violence people expressed toward a girl who was raped.
Should a 16 year old girl go to the home of a 19 year old guy, tell him she doesn’t want to “go all the way” (the writer’s own delicate word choice, not mine), and expect him to respect that? That’s exactly what a typical 16-year-old with a crush on a guy would expect. And it’s what she should be able to expect.
She wanted to have a relationship with him. She stated she did NOT want to have sex with him, but then she did have sex with him. And, according to her, she did not fight him off. She did not yell (or even say…) “no.” But she did say in advance that she did not want to have sex and she never (according to her) gave any consent. And the next day she wrote to me. “Was I raped?” she asked. And I said, “Yes."
As the torrent of hate mail poured in I was prepared for the usual assaults on my competence and character (and looks, too – because when people don’t like what you think, they enjoy telling you you’re ugly, too).
What truly broke my heart was the tone and content of the hate mail directed at the teen girl. There were so many hundreds of emails that I didn’t read them all, but after I posted the column on my Facebook page, the comments section quickly filled with so many haters blaming the victim and spewing garbage toward the teen, me and other commenters that readers begged me to remove the column and I did.
But one email stays with me. It was from someone claiming to be a grandmother who said she had shared my column with her teenage grandchildren – both boys and girls – ages 13 - sixteen.
I was curious about the reaction of these kids, so I kept reading.
And what this grandmother reported sent shivers up my spine. "She was a stupid slut who deserved to be raped,” said her 13 year old granddaughter. The grandmother showed off her grandkids’ reactions like she was proud of them, quoting each in turn – each more hateful and vile than the one before it. I won’t quote these other comments because I don’t want you, dear readers, to have them rattling around in your head the way I have.
One thing I learned from this is how tricky people think this issue of consent is. Because if you go to someone’s house, they think that means you consent to sex. If you don’t scream or fight or shout “no,” then that means you consent to sex. And if you claim you were raped – you had better have some cuts and bruises (or video) to bolster your story.
Which brings me to Steubenville, Ohio. A 16-year-old girl goes to a party, gets drunk and possibly drugged, is stripped and violated repeatedly (while unconscious) by two of her peers. (In some news accounts they were referred to as friends of hers.) Her assault is photographed by other teens and the photos and videos are widely shared. No one attempts to help her. The girl, unconscious and naked, is carried from place to place as she is violated repeatedly. She is referred to as “deader than OJ’s wife.” And kids text about it, share photos and video – and no one attempts to help her.
The victim herself was brave and savvy enough to put together a time line of what happened to her after she woke up, naked, on a basement floor, her rapists standing over her. The boys all but admitted what they had done in multiple text messages, sent to the victim and to other people. In fact, two days after the attack the victim finally texted one of her attackers, “It’s on YouTube. Stop texting me.”
And yesterday the two teen boys were convicted of rape. In court, given the opportunity to apologize to the victim and her family, one of the rapists said through his sobs that he was sorry he took photos and video of her, naked, unconscious, and with his semen on her body. He said he regretted photographing her and apologized for that. No mention of the sexual assault. The other boy sobbed, “My life is over.”
“Many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane, were ugly,” the Judge Thomas Lipps said.
Justice, I guess, prevailed in Steubenville. But what this case revealed about our culture and what my (relatively tame) Q and A revealed about our attitudes toward sexual behavior, expectations, degradation and violation is devastating. Aside from the horrific behavior of the teen rapists (and the voyeurism of so many), many ADULTS who knew about this sexual assault did nothing, covered it up, and even (in the case of the football coach, who is a mandated reporter) joked about it.
Just after the guilty verdict was announced, Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine announced plans to possibly prosecute various adults who either did nothing or who actively tried to thwart an investigation. I glanced through the “comments” section of the CNN story and noticed that it was dominated by men who either felt sorry for the boys for their one and two year sentences in juvie – or who were calling DeWine the “gestapo” and screaming about their own rights (not to report a crime). And – as the comments to my own Q and A revealed, and as the icky reportage from the proud grandmother revealed – we, the adults, are the real problem.