The Common Good

Steubenville Rape Case: From Blame to Responsibility

The tragedy of the Steubenville rape case has provided a moral challenge to our nation. We are caught up in a highly emotional cycle of blame as we debate who the real victim is in this case. I find myself asking two questions: Why is our nation obsessed with the story and what does this story mean for us as individuals and as a culture?

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images
Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

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My Family

I’ve always wanted a daughter. The problem is that adult Ericksen dudes tend to produce baby Ericksen dudes. My dad has 4 siblings — all brothers. I have mostly male cousins. So, when my wife and I started having children … yep … two dudes.

My Church Family

I’ve been a youth pastor for about six years, and for a long time I thought the closest I’d ever get to having a daughter was to pseudo-adopt the girls in my youth group. Actually, they first pseudo-adopted me by claiming me as their “Father” on Facebook. (Hey, it’s on Facebook, so my pseudo-fatherhood status is legit.) As something of father figure for these teenage girls, each youth group session I discussed with young women and men how the Christian faith is leading us into patterns of love and non-violence. Frequently after our sessions, one of my pseudo-daughters will tell me she’s dating a boy. So, of course, after teaching them about non-violence, I say to each of them with a straight face:

If he ever touches you, I will personally kick his ass.

I might be an over-protective pseudo-father, but I’ve learned there is a tension between violence and non-violence, especially when it comes to people we love. I’m human. I have principles. But I also have emotions. That tension is something I will struggle with for the rest of my life.

That tension is even more prominent because last year my wife and I adopted a baby girl. I don’t own a gun, nor do I ever plan to own one. But when my daughter becomes a teenager I’ll be tempted to buy one. I’m not afraid of being that dad who cleans his Smith and Wesson in front of his daughter’s suitors.

The Media and 16-Year-Old Girls

Which brings me to the tragic Steubenville rape case. The website Think Progress published an article titled “How the Media Took Sides in the Steubenville Rape Case.” The article is similar to many of the other articles I’ve read: It denounces CNN, ABC, NBC, the Associated Press, USA Today, and Yahoo News for sympathizing with the boys in this case and blaming the girl. These media outlets state that the boys are victims of a criminal justice system run amok and that the victim was a “drunken 16-year-old girl” who was at “an all-night party.”

This has our culture debating the ridiculous question, “Who’s the biggest victim in this case?”

Addicted to the Blame Game

We live in a culture that is obsessed with blaming. We blame the victim, the perpetrators, the media, the parents, and our hyper-sexualized culture that tells our teenagers that if it feels good do it and damn the consequences.

Humans have always been formed by the culture in which we live. When our culture is obsessed with blame, we as individuals become obsessed with blame. We become addicted to accusing someone else – anyone else – so that we don’t get blamed. Blaming another can become an addiction because it makes us feel morally superior to them and absolves us for taking responsibility to transform the way we humans relate to one another.

From a Culture of Blame to a Culture of Responsibility

I want us to shift from a culture obsessed with blaming others to a culture that encourages us to take responsibility for others. A culture of responsibility answers the ancient question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with a definitive “Yes.”

In order to get to “Yes” we need to see all people as brothers and sisters who share in a common humanity. Once we realize that we can begin to say “Yes” to victims and “Yes” to perpetrators.

But How Can We Possibly Say “Yes?”

A culture of blame defines people by their worst moments, but a culture of responsibility knows there is always more to the story and that healing is possible. So, what does saying “yes” mean to the victim and the two perpetrators in this case? It requires that all three have caring mentors. They need people in their lives who can show them that one horrible night doesn’t have to define who they are as human beings.

More specifically, saying “yes” to the victim means standing with her in the face of continued accusations of blame, and providing her opportunities for physical and emotional healing. She needs to know that she is not alone.

Saying “yes” to the two boys who committed this horrifically violent crime means more than implementing the punishment they will soon receive. It means they too will be provided caring mentors who won’t allow these boys to think they are somehow the victims of this crime. Rather, caring mentors will encourage these boys in two ways. First, mentors will encourage them to take responsibility and face up to the harm they have caused. Second, mentors will encourage them to take responsibility to develop patterns of behavior that are more compassionate and caring towards their fellow human beings.

How Do We All Heal?

Saying “yes” to the victim and the perpetrators will make many people uncomfortable because a culture of blame insists that we are good because they are bad. But the culture of blame ignores the truth that any of uscould have been there. A culture of responsibility doesn’t ignore the serious hurt that we cause one another, but admits that all of us get caught up in harmful patterns of behavior.  A culture of responsibility will move us away from those harmful patterns of behavior into patterns of behavior that seek to heal victims and perpetrators.

It’s Up To Us

Transforming a culture of blame into a culture of responsibility begins with parents, schools, and places of worship. We need to empower one another, and especially our children, to stop playing the blame game and begin to take responsibility for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.

Perhaps I’ve failed my youth group, the boys and the girls, in this aspect. The Smith and Wesson might make me feel in control, but the threat of a weapon doesn’t help. The question they need to ask when it comes to human relationships is the same question we’ve been asking for thousands of years.

“Am I my brother and my sister’s keeper?” It’s time we took responsibility and answered, “Yes.”

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

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