Steubenville Rape Case: From Blame to Responsibility

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

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?

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.

Rape Culture: How Our Scorn for Self-Control Drowns Out ‘No’

Balqis Amran /

Balqis Amran /

It’s easy to look at the now-infamous Steubenville case and see a Penn State writ small — a story of rape in the social-media age. What’s harder to see in Steubenville is ourselves. Yet the moral confusion of witnesses who prevented drunk friends from driving while permitting the assault on a teenage girl too drunk to resist or consent to sex cannot be understood apart from our widespread mockery of sexual restraint.

Self-control gets no respect in the bedroom. Hold back the passions deemed healthy and good? At best you’re quaint and immature, at worst repressed and puritanical. And don’t you dare suggest that possibly a little restraint might benefit those just becoming aware of their newly adult bodies. How dare anyone presume to limit another’s freedom, especially their sexual freedom?

Except in pockets of religious devotion, that’s the prevailing cultural sentiment toward sex and self-control in this country. And we don’t just defend our individual bodily freedom against almost any call to limits; we don’t even seem to believe you can control such desires.

So of course the 40-year-old virgin happened accidentally. It’s virtually a movie cliché that any deliberately chaste character will soon get his or her sexual comeuppance, as seduction or human nature eventually trumps principle.

And therein lies the problem.