It took me several days to digest all of the information about the accused rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. That's partly because there is such an avalanche of news reports, blogs, tweets, videos, activist hacker accounts and petitions out there, but mostly because the details of the case are so vile and disgusting that I had to repeatedly walk away from my computer.
First brought to national attention by a New York Times story in December, the alleged rape involves a girl from a neighboring town in West Virginia who became so drunk and incapacitated at a string of beer-and-vodka parties on a late summer night last year that the boys who taunted, cheered and urinated on her as two high school football players allegedly raped her referred to her as "the dead body" or the dead girl in play-by-play accounts shared on social media. One reportedly sent to her father a screen grab of the girl, her hands and feet held by young men.
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Two examples of tweets now in evidence and supposedly posted by boys at the parties: "you don't sleep through a wang in the butthole" and "some people deserve to be peed on." In one disturbing 12-minute video uploaded anonymously online, one party goer calls the girl "deader than Caylee Anthony" and "OJ Simpson's wife" ... "She is so raped right now," he says to the camera. "There won't be any foreplay for a dead girl. It ain't wet now, to be honest. Trust me, I'm a doctor."
In the midst of sports cover-up accusations and rape protests in the football-crazy county, two standout Steubenville football players, both 16, were arrested and charged with raping the girl. One also was charged with disseminating photos of a nude minor. Their trial is set for next month. Not one of the boys who photographed the incident or stood by and did nothing to prevent it has been charged.
The girl's mother testified at a hearing that her daughter remains distraught and does not want to go back to her small, religious private school, where she was an honors student and athlete. The girl's friends have ostracized her. Other parents have kept their children away from her. The girl has trouble sleeping, said the mother, who testified that she often hears her daughter crying at night.
I'm not writing this to rehash all the sordid, stomach-churning details of this terrifying incident. I'm not even trying to make a statement about our country's football culture and our absurd tendency to exalt and protect athletes as our heroes. For me, the lesson in this horrifying case is a reminder that I need to start imparting these cautionary, disturbing tales to my 12- and 13-year-old daughters so nothing this horrible ever happens to them or their friends.
If convicted, the Steubenville "Rape Crew" won't be the first or last boys to destroy a girl's life. We can act horrified and indignant about the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi, India, last month, but the truth is our daughters are just as vulnerable here as they are anywhere else in this world. The Steubenville case is a wake-up call for moms. We need to arm our girls with knowledge and street smarts so they can do their best to avoid becoming victims.
It's unfair. It's sexist and offensive. It sucks. It's a fact of life we can't ignore.
I haven't unloaded the unofficial girl code below all at once on my daughters. Since first hearing about the Steubenville case, I've been having conversations at opportune moments and reminding myself that it's my duty as a mother and woman to reinforce these life lessons before my kids enter high school and college, socializing in wider and wider circles beyond my control.
+ Always stick with your friends and never go off on your own with one or more guys. At the same time, never let your friends do this. No girl gets left behind.
+ I don't want you to drink because you are under-age and too young to handle the responsibility. If I find out you've been drinking, there will be consequences. If you are tempted to drink even with this knowledge, please do so moderately. You need to develop an internal detector for potentially dangerous situations and you can't do that if you're drunk.
+ It's unfair to presume that all boys are bad. I don't want you to be afraid or paranoid. Most men in this world are decent and good. But you will encounter guys in your lifetime who think that women are less than human and exist for their pleasure and play. Trust your instincts. But because instincts can fail sometimes, you need to avoid certain situations and maintain control of yourself at all times.
+ Never, ever drink to a point where you cannot control your actions or you black out.
+ Don't drink something that is handed to you or not poured by yourself. Sleep and anxiety drugs can be slipped into your drink, even by guys you think you can trust. Victims of these "date rape" drugs lose their inhibitions and have little or no memory of what occurs while under their influence.
+ Be particularly cautious at parties with massive crowds. Not only do you not know many of the people there, but humans tend to act crazy stupid when they get in large groups, particularly if alcohol or drugs are involved.
+ Do not post provocative photos or thoughts on your Instagram and other social networking sites. One of the defense attorneys in the Steubenville case has said that online photos and posts by the girl before that night in August on her Twitter page will be used to show she was sexually active and "clearly engaged in at-risk behavior." I know it seems innocent and fun now, but think about how the information you post can be taken out of context and used to portray you unfairly.
+ You need to try to prevent this from happening to you – not because you'll be "damaged goods" or any less of a person, but because this causes mental and physical· pain that could affect you for the rest of your life.
+ If you see something like this happening to another girl (or guy for that matter), it is your responsibility to immediately call the police.
+ It is important for me to be able to monitor you on social media because you are young and I am responsible for you. I am not doing this because I'm nosy. It's because I love you.