“This is the moment. This is our test.” Teaching Consent and Bystander Responsibility.

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Steubenville.

I cringe typing that town’s name. A town where football players are hero worshiped and slut shaming runs amuck. It was her fault. She was drunk. She was kissing all up on him. She’s done this before. She wanted to leave with the boys. She should have known better. The shaming excuses go on and on and gets much worse. Know what she also was? She was unable to give sexual consent.

The saddest part to me about Steubenville and the crimes committed is they are committed everywhere. Sexual humiliation and dehumanization of females in our society has become so normalized. Do we have the courage to stand up and not only face it, but change this norm?

In this culture it’s typical to pick up your cell phone to photograph, post and send images/texts/tweets instead of dialing 911 or a telling a trusted adult. Dialing 911 this particular evening could have prevented underage drinking, driving while intoxicated, naked images from being taken and shared, and most importantly prevented several incidences of rape from occurring. Instead, what happened was a group of people were able to travel to three different homes, carrying an intoxicated 16 year old female with them, doing whatever they pleased to her and denying it later, until it all showed up on social media.

Witnesses took pictures, tweeted about it, shared pictures, posted pictures, sent texts and made horrendous YouTube videos. A quick Google search will fill you in. Not one time did anyone called the police or even stepped up to say “This is WRONG! Bring her home!” Not when she was throwing up all night and not while she was lying there passed out while people around her committed felonies. A bystander stepping in could have prevented several rapes from occurring, yet no one did or said anything to assist this girl.

There was plenty done to hurt her in addition to the rape. The maniacal laughing heard during the infamous Youtube video that made fun of rape and of her being so inebriated she was referred to as “dead” and the many Steubenvillites that broadcasted the night’s events as they unfolded, all over Twitter, “It has to suck to be that sloppy drunk girl everyone’s tweeting about right now #embarrassing” and the “Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana.” It’s clear they were aware this was occurring, yet not one of them thought to offer help. In fact her best friends testified against her in court.

It happens again and again in towns and cities across the globe. An eerily similar case echoes in Connecticut and months before the guilty verdict came in Stow Ohio. Prevention through education is the key. We must talk with our young people and explain what consent looks like, what common decency and respect mean, and we need to empower our bystanders to speak up. We need to have this conversation again and again. If someone witnesses a felony or they feel internally that something is “just wrong,” they must report (and delete) it versus capturing it on their cell phones to share. It’s always immoral and often illegal.

Want to start a conversation and unsure how? Start here with this quick PSA on consent, and then check out the netsmartz.org video on Your Photo Fate. Think before you post.

As Laurie Penny eloquently put it, “This is the moment. This is our test. Before another Jane Doe gets hurt, before more young rapists can tearfully claim they ‘didn’t know,’ it’s on us all—men and boys and everyone who loves them—to stand and be counted.”

Sexuality is a powerful thing and most often adults aren’t there when it comes time for youth to exercise their right. The CDC recently reported one in five women are sexually assaulted. Remember that 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. We have got to continue to educate because saying, “Respect all women” is not enough. I’ve heard next week, Framingham High School hosts White Ribbon, during an am collaborative for male students that address sexual assault. That’s a great start. Then what?

“This is the moment. This is our test.”

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