Poppy's and Candy's Missed Opportunity: How They Failed At Reporting the Steubenville Rape Verdict

By now we've all witnessed the public outrage associated with CNN's, and mainly Candy Crowley's and Poppy Harlow's coverage of the Steubinville rape verdict. And that outrage is completely justified: remarks like how difficult it was to see the young men in tears, how one of the young men's fathers told him he loved him for the first time ever, and how their promising lives were now essentially over have made our collective stomachs turn as we listened to detail after detail of how emotional the sentencing was with no regard to or mention of the victim.

The victim. A sixteen year old girl. I have an almost sixteen year old daughter. She's like a baby. A sweet, snuggly baby. Today her cell phone got taken away from her at school because she broke the rules by not keeping it in her locker,  and her voice broke as she told me about it. It makes me smile at how sensitive she is. I'm glad that's the worst thing that has happened to my baby this school year. I'm guessing the mother of that sixteen year old rape survivor wishes that a confiscated phone, or anything else besides a brutal rape, was her daughter's only problem.

Yes, two promising young lives are essentially over. Or at least, they have been changed drastically. The boys will not graduate from high school. Football will become a bitter memory for them as any hopes of playing either for college or professionally are probably over. The next year or two in the juvenile rehabilitation system will be hard, and probably turn them into more horrible people than they already are.

Yes, they are horrible people. They drugged a girl, raped her repeatedly, made fun of her, urinated on her, and tweeted hateful pictures and comments about her. The other people who participated are horrible, too.

The survivor has a long road ahead of her. In the long term, there will be therapy (I hope...), figuring out how to have healthy relationships, learning how to trust people again. In the short term, she may have to finish high school with monsters who know what happened, who had a good laugh at her expense, and who have recently began sending death threats to this young woman for "causing" two star football players all that trouble.

The topic of sexual assault has been bothering me a lot lately. Like a lot of women, I know rape survivors. I adore the survivors I know; they are strong and funny and sweet, and I love their huge spirits. I've sat in a courtroom with a loved one, a precious person in my life, during a rape trial, and sure, it's hard to look at all the people, the family, and think about how crazy all this shit going down is, and why, for god's sake, why? How does this happen? How do young men not know this isn't okay? Where are parents and teachers failing these kids?

 Zerlina Maxwell (herself a rape survivor) came under fire recently for sayingthat we need to tell boys not to rape. Gun enthusiasts have been sending her death threats because she doesn't think arming women is necessarily the answer. She just doesn't want people telling HER what SHE needs to do in order to avoid sexual assault; women have been told what not to do for decades: don't get drunk, wear discreet clothing, don't flirt, don't be sexually active or you're just asking for it, etc. She suggests education about rape and sexuality for young people, and I agree. Maybe we do need to tell boys not to rape, and maybe we ought to show them what will happen if they rape, and if they get caught. Women have been taking responsibility for bad behavior that's not their own for too long; it's time to talk to the men.

This is where Poppy and Candy screwed up. They're women with media exposure, and they could have used this as an incredible teaching moment for the young men my daughters go to school/college/work with. Instead of being emotional and trying to tug on heartstrings, they should have said this:

  • Forget about your high school diploma. Maybe you can get a GED in juvenile hall.
  • There will be no football.
  • There will be no college. Not the cool kind with dorms, anyway. Maybe you can do an online class later, but it won't be the same.
  • Your mother's home cooking is a thing of the past for at least the next year.
  • No nice girl will ever want you. (And by "nice" I mean an awesome, empowered, strong young woman who will make a great life partner.) You are destined to spend your life with Maury Povich fodder. Well played.
  • You will have to register as a sex offender when you finally get out of jail, and you will have a hard time finding nice places to live because you can't live close to schools, daycare centers, any place where kids congregate. Because you are a sex offender. 
  • You will spend the rest of your life knowing that you are a piece of crap, and if you ever do have a "come to Jesus" moment, the guilt is going to suck. 

Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond chose to do what they did. Their lives are crap now, and that could be you. If she says "no", don't do it. If she's passed out and can't consent, "don't do it." Don't rape. Don't be that guy. 

So that's what Poppy and Candy should have done, and I think maybe that's what they were going for: portraying the horrific ramifications of heinous behavior. But they failed, and they've fallen into the growing category of people who just don't get it. Will telling men not to rape, and telling men what will happen to them if they do rape help? We won't know until we try. And for those of you who are laughing at this, okay: if telling kids not to do stupid shit (like rape) doesn't work, stop telling your kids to not do stupid shit, and let me know how that works out for you. Maybe talking, telling, teaching, and not being afraid of topics like rape and sexuality would help this generation of young people.  Maybe even the kids of Steubenville; once they're done mourning the loss of star footballs players and threatening a young woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, they'll start thinking about how to not be that guy.

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