Steubenville, Ohio, has been in the headlines over a court case involving two high school football stars and a 16-year-old girl. The three attended the same party last summer. The girl was so drunk she had no recollection of what happened that night.
Pictures, videos and texts circulating after the party revealed she had been sexually assaulted. One video showed the football players carrying the girl by her limbs with one of them saying, "She is so raped right now." A picture of her naked and passed out was sent to classmates.
People actually witnessed this happen and did nothing to stop it. When the victim's parents pressed charges, her family received threats and statements were made such as "She was asking for it." One of the boys pleaded with the victim not to press charges because it would ruin his football career.
"Sadly, this kind of behavior is prevalent, especially among teens, and few will press charges because it is unlikely the perpetrator will be prosecuted," says Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, president of the Coalition Against Community and Domestic Violence. "People want to sweep these kinds of situations under the rug or blame it on the female instead of holding people accountable for their behavior. When people get away with sexual assault, the message is your behavior is acceptable."
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Consider these statistics:
• A recent White House report indicated females between the ages of 16 and 24 suffer from the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault.
• Sixty percent of black girls report being sexually assaulted by a black male before age 18.
• Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted.
• One out of every five American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
"Teaching our teens about sexual assault, drinking, what to do if they witness someone taking advantage of another person and the appropriate use of technology is absolutely vital," says Boatwright. "Parents cannot sit back and believe that this is all just part of growing up. There is too much at stake."
Here are a few pointers for talking with your teens:
• Alcohol: It is illegal for teens to drink. Talk with your teen about the consequences of underage drinking, how alcohol impairs judgment and how it can lead to life-changing outcomes. Thirty percent of sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol. Drinking makes it easier to ignore sexual boundaries and more difficult to guard against an attack.
• Technology: Make sure your teen knows your expectations concerning the use of technology. Taking pictures of a drunk, naked teen and circulating it crosses the line and could lead to problems with law enforcement for the teen AND the parents who own the cell phone.
n Respect: Help your teen understand that stopping someone from taking advantage of another person is not "ratting them out." It is the right thing to do.
Three young lives were forever changed by one bad decision. It could have happened anywhere to any teen. By educating your teen, you can help prepare him or her to make wise decisions in the midst of a crazy situation.
Contact Julie Baumgardner at firstname.lastname@example.org.