Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Word from Dark Places

I haven't really followed the story of the Steubenville rape trial. My own intimate knowledge of trials and sex crimes and media attention makes me incredibly averse to getting sucked into another tale of woe. The other day, though, I couldn't avoid the story as it was plastered all over yahoo and cnn - two teenagers convicted of raping a drunk/unconscious girl and now facing jail time. I didn't read any farther - that was enough for me to think about. "All those lives ruined..." I thought. And then I put it aside.

Until I started reading about all the backlash in regard to HOW the media was reporting on the trial.  Read this to catch up, or this one from Jezebel.com.  You can even watch a satire video from the Onion here that was made two years ago and seems to fit right in with the current news coverage. If you don't want to look at any of those links, to sum up: a lot of the push back has been at the framing of the boys' sentences as "tragic" and the lament over their "destroyed dreams" as it seems to value their lives over and against the shattered life of the girl they victimized.

I've felt incredibly conflicted about both the trial, the reporting and the backlash because I DO feel incredibly sadness for ALL of the parties involved here, the young men who committed the sex crimes AND the young girl who was victimized.  To be clear, I firmly believe in the equal value of all people and I also believe in the Christian responsibility to pursue justice for the victimized and to hold people accountable for sin. Society has judged that rape and sexual assault are terrible crimes for which there must be heavy consequences; I'm not disputing that.

What I AM disputing is the unwillingness to let the boy's punishments be labeled as tragic.  "They got justice!" you cry, "it's a tragedy what happened to that girl!"  And you're right - they did receive a just punishment  and what happened to that teenage girl is reprehensible.  But it is not out of bounds to label the WHOLE SITUATION as a tragedy.  To say their sentence was tragic is NOT to say that it was inappropriate; the word tragedy merely implies that the outcome is a dismantling of all the good that could have been.  3 teenagers are now living in a reality unimaginable before: a girl shamed and exploited and raped in the midst of bystanders who did nothing to protect her; two boys who will spend time in prison and then be labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives.  All of them living with a future that is dark and painful and was AVOIDABLE.

And maybe this is wrapped up in what I understand tragedy to be.

A fellow young clergywoman I know is reeling as her church has just burned to the ground after a freak lightening strike.  It is terrible, but nature is random and unpredictable and no one acted in a way to cause this fire to happen.  It is a tragedy, but of a faceless kind.

The Steubenville rape trial and convictions are a tragedy that has a face, has many faces.
- The faces of those two boys who will now carry the stain of this crime with them till they die.
- The face of the girl who has to find a way to heal from the terrible violation of her body and self.
- The faces of those apathetic teenagers who watched sexual assault happen and did nothing.
- The faces of all of us who participate in the perpetuation of rape culture, that insidiously implies that girls who make unwise decisions "deserve" what happens to them, as if sexual exploitation was a natural consequence rather than a sinful act of terror.

It's a tragedy of the first order because it could have been avoided.  It's a tragedy for those boys because they sinned grievously and now will be marked forever.  It's a tragedy because someone, ANYONE could have said NO and helped this girl get to safety.  This is what sin looks like - this is where choices lead.  This is what desolation looks like.

I am so sad for this girl who will be haunted by her rape.  I am so sad for these boys who will suffer under the weight of a punishment they earned.  I am so sad for those crowds that saw no reason to act.  I am so sad for all of the families involved, the parents and siblings and cousins and friends who are unseen but living with the consequences of choices they didn't make.  The family that has to help their precious girl heal.  The family that has to figure out how to love and support their sons while they linger in jail cells they deserve to be in.

I am sad because this is my story too.  My husband destroyed his life, crippled my life, handicapped his son's life and he could have chosen otherwise.  It IS a tragedy when human beings choose evil, and suffer just consequences: Because it never should have come to this at all.  

These are my words to you from the dark places carved out by tragic circumstances: Choose better.  Choose rightly.  And weep for all who suffer, especially those who suffer by their own sin.

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