Steubenville Rape Scandal: Enablers Have Consequences

It is a teaching moment that school officials covering up Steubenville rapes were indicted on the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. Here we have educators in positions of legal and moral authority over rapists abusing their power to enable rape and perpetuate rape culture.

While an Ohio petit jury will now address the indictments handed down by the grand jury in a court of law, we must address the pervasive problem of violence against women here in the court of public opinion.

To begin, we must teach our children to respect themselves and each other. We must teach boys not to rape. We must educate children at the youngest ages that private parts are private, no means no, and there is only one code of honor for everyone. We must teach children and adults that rape is a crime of violence not sex and that if they do rape, they will be prosecuted. And we must teach victims that we respect them enough to reject victim-blaming and embrace them without stigma when they come forward. The Ohio school officials did none of those things: they knew about the "Rape Crew" and didn't stop them. They knew about the Steubenville rape and covered it up. They knew a teenage girl in their community was victimized and deliberately made a choice to enable rape culture rather than prosecute the offenders.

It is infuriating that in the year 2013 we still have to teach the teachers that rape is rape. But it must be done.

And before we lay this all on Steubenville and pretend that a few miscreants are the problem, let's remember what happened when the rapists were convicted: many in the media were no better than the school enablers in their coverage. Remember that CNN and FOX took the opportunity to discuss the effects of the rape -- not on the victim, but on the rapists. No wonder one in three women will be abused in her lifetime -- the conspiracy of silence and the public victim blaming, shaming and minimizing reinforce the stigma and enable rape culture.

I worked as a sex assault prosecutor when Catholic priests were arraigned on rape charges and saw firsthand how the "circle the wagons" mentality made matters worse for everyone. And this certainly was not unique to the Church. I saw that dynamic in families, at schools, on sports teams, in companies and even law enforcement. So I say from experience: what unites rape scandals at Steubenville, Penn State, Citadel, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, the United States Armed Forces and countless other institutions is the pervasive enabling of rape culture that exists on a conspiracy of silence. Break the conspiracy of silence and ugly truths come out -- rapes against women and men, girls and boys. Break the conspiracy of silence and you reveal the unholy alliance of rapists and enablers. Break the conspiracy of silence and the excuses administrators tell themselves like "it was her fault" or "the mission is more important than the fate of the individual" or "everybody does it" collapse like a house of cards. Break the conspiracy of silence and the survivors become, as The Invisible War, the military rape documentary, proclaims, "not invisible."

There are Steubenville rapes happening all over America. What happens when one occurs on your watch? If you are a leader in a family, at a school, on a team, at a company, or in the military: don't blame the victims. Don't enable rapists by condoning rape or retaliation. Don't rally around the paternal figures who failed to protect the flock. Do cooperate fully with investigators. Do set up a victim restitution fund. Do make a transparent effort to make all staff mandatory abuse reporters and enact child protections like the Boy Scouts did after their child abuse scandal. Do place the safety of children over the economics of football. Do make respect for women and men part of the mission not subsidiary to it. Do know that when the truth comes out -- and social media assures that it will -- you may face even greater legal jeopardy than the rapists you enable. Feeling lectured? Imagine what it feels like to your kids, to your flock, to your students, to your employees, to your subordinates when you preach morality having enabled the immorality of rape. Whatever excuses the Steubenville rape enabling defendants make you can be sure it boils down to their unwillingness to do the mandatory reporting because they felt peer pressure. Perhaps they would be fired for failing to report the violent crimes and of the sociopathic Rape Crew. That's understandable, but illegal. Mandatory reporting is there for a reason - to prosecute crimes and shift the power dynamic by enshrining into law and practice that no institution is more important than its most vulnerable.

And as for the media -- again today I would ask CNN, Fox, and any other media outlet: before you present your coverage, please consult an expert in the field. There are thousands of rape survivors and professional advocates who can help you, starting with the good people at RAINN -- the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. If others are feeling triggered by this discussion, RAINN's confidential help is a click or phone call (1-800-656-HOPE) away.

Let today's International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women be the day that all leaders in civilian and military life vow that when the choice comes to enable respect or rape, we will all choose respect not just when it is easy -- but (especially) when it is hard. And if leaders make the wrong choice, as we learned in Steubenville today, enablers have consequences.