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Steubenville rape trial: How can I raise my boy not to rape, nor be a bystander?

The Steubenville rape trial ended Sunday with two guilty perpetrators, but that's not the whole story. Many other boys stood by, doing nothing. How can we teach our boys that the latter is also shameful?  

By Guest Blogger / March 18, 2013

Steubenville rape trial: Defense attorney Walter Madison, right, holds his client, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond, second from right, while defense attorney Adam Nemann, left, sits with his client Trent Mays, foreground, 17, as Judge Thomas Lipps pronounces them both delinquent on rape and other charges after their trial in juvenile court March 17.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

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In the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial, the social and digital media trail proved that many boys were complicit in the rapes of Jane Doe — not just the two who were found guilty. Chillingly, these boys seem like they could be anyone’s son. As a result, today, many parents are asking: How can I raise my boy the right way — to become a young man who will neither rape nor be a casual bystander to rape?

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Guest blogger

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life,"  she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
 

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It’s an important question to ask, but a difficult one to answer. The Steubenville boys’ families likely thought they were doing a great job raising their sons. But something is wrong with our society: girls are so sexualized and dehumanized by our culture that unless it is directly and regularly addressed at home, boys can easily internalize the attitude that girls are sub-human; Sex objects, rather than respectable subjects. And as the Steubenville case shows, once this attitude is internalized, boys think raping girls is not the problem, but rather getting caught. Consider even the judge’s words, which according to an AP report betrayed this kind of perspective:

"In sentencing the boys, Lipps urged parents and others 'to have discussions about how you talk to your friends, how you record things on the social media so prevalent today and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends.'"

Talk about being tone-deaf! As the mother of two sons, this is not my takeaway from the case. The issue is not how the Steubenville rapists and their peers recorded their criminal actions on social media and therefore were caught, found guilty, and sentenced for their crimes. It’s that they raped in the first place.

Even CNN committed a major gaffe in their reporting on the sentencing, focusing not on the victim’s vindication and the possible outcomes for her, but rather on how difficult it was to watch the young rapists’ lives falling apart. According to The Huffington Post’s report on CNN’s coverage:

"[T]he effects of the rape on the victim seemed to be an afterthought: 'It was incredibly emotional, it was difficult for anyone in there to watch those boys break down,' Harlow said. '[It was] also difficult, of course, for the victim’s family.'”

The victim shouldn’t be an afterthought in the media coverage. Her vindication despite our broken culture of rape, her prognosis for a recovery from her trauma, and the possible consequences she and her family may face in their small town as they move forward should be central to the coverage.

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