Yet I wanted to revise my earlier examination of rape prevention and go beyond the culture of rape that often brews inside athletic circles. The problem lies much deeper than with some athletic programs, and as a high school teacher I hear the root of the issue spill out of the mouths of both boys and girls alike at least thirty times a day: She’s a whore. She’s a slut. I can’t believe that bitch showed that picture on Facebook, she’s just easy.
I hear a million different variations of these statements day in and out from the mouths of students of every class, color, and gender. I ask quite often, why girls are given shame for their sexuality and boys are given praise – no one has yet been able to give me an answer. I receive only smiles and shrugs. A boy who has sex with twenty girls is a champion. A girl who has sex with twenty boys is trash. Everyone knows that. We have spent so many hours tearing this topic apart in class, and no matter what I or other students share of the pains they have suffered at the hands of high school labels, the trend continues. And in the digital age the problem of shaming young girls is horrifically worse than it was ten years ago. Thousands of people can giggle and share bullying within minutes of social media exposure.
Shaming and labels are the crux of the rape issue. That poor girl in Steubenville was called many of these terms many times before finally being assaulted. Those words don’t cause the rape, but they do prime it. When you label someone, you dehumanize them. And once they are dehumanized, they are free game for predatory attacks. People used to beat blacks in this country and truly believe that they were doing not just something that was acceptable, but that it was actually a good thing. They believed they were putting animals in their place, black people weren’t human. And now, some talk and act as if they are giving these “sluts what they deserve” by terrorizing them online, in hallways, and on campuses. No one deserves rape. No one deserves humiliation. No one deserves your evaluation of their sexuality, their dress, or their choices.
How do we stop Stuebenville from happening again? It already is happening, all across America. Each time slut is written across a locker or Twitter wall, the target becomes a little clearer on a young woman’s back. No matter what someone’s sexual history is, even if it is destructive, calling them names doesn’t lend an ounce of help. Perhaps more people should try calling them a friend. Steubenville was not some appalling singular instance. Women are assaulted in and out of high school all day long. There is a sexual assault in this country ever y two minutes. And you stop this statistic the same way you halt any hate crime. You educate. You educate and teach respect for women and respect for the power of words. The power to tear down or build up. As an English teacher, that is my most central of teachings each school day – the power of words. You want to stop rape, start using words more wisely.
If you have any doubt about the power of words, ask Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond of Steubenville. They may have received short sentences for their crime, but shall be labeled as sexual predators for the rest of their lives – as state registered sex offenders. Words that they used to tear down shall forever be their shackle. Perhaps the most poetic form of justice has just been served.
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