The Mis-Education of the Stanford Rapist (We Are All Teachers)

I didn’t want to write about this Stanford case, mostly because I don’t want to think about it too much. In particular, I don’t want to think about it for two reasons:

  1. It is only by the ludicrous caprice of luck that the women in my life haven’t been touched by the poison of rape or rape culture (that I know of!). A friend of mine on facebook put it rather succinctly (and I’m paraphrasing): It’s like a minefield. Suppose we lined up 100 women at a college or university and started walking across the field. I make it across, but turn around to see that 20 women didn’t make it, and are now lying in pieces across the field. And the truly horrifying thing is that I did nothing different to cross the field than the ones that didn’t make it.
  2. The rapist (and that’s the only way I’ll refer to him here, because that’s what he is) is (apart from the rape I mean) not so very different from guys that I went to school with, if not myself. I mean, I got good grades. I wasn’t athletic, but I was somewhat talented and well-enough liked in my circle of friends. I was a suburban white kid. Not particularly affluent, but I can’t remember wanting for much in my childhood. Point is, I could easily have been friends with someone like the rapist and not known the difference. There, but for the grace of etc…

Unfortunately, as I see the outrage growing across social media, and the poignant and plaintive sentiments arising from the women in my circle, I’m realizing that this problem is bigger than a Stanford rapist. It’s cultural. And because I have a daughter (and a son, for that matter), it’s an issue that’s going to have to be dealt with in my house.

And deal with it we must. There’s something broken in our culture, and by extension, in ourselves. It’s so easy for the rapist’s father to say “this is not the son I raised; he made a mistake.” Regardless of how tone-deaf his letter was (and I want to circle back around to the issue of platforms and how you use them in a later post), his sentiment was basically what the sentiment of any parent would be. Look at the mothers and fathers of criminals of all stripes, and you will see the same statement bubbling up like primordial gas from a primeval swamp: we had no idea. But we have to have an idea. Regardless of intent, the actions of the father and mother (or maybe, their lack of action) played a role in turning their son into a rapist. Just Alyssa had a rather good post about this that’s worth a read. But parents have to know what their kids are doing, and they have to be aware of the impact that their actions will have on their kids. As much as his dad and his friends protest that the rapist is “not that sort of person” and he “just made a mistake,” it’s hard to imagine a perfectly straight-laced kid going straight to sexual assault as a first transgression. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not just the fault of the rapist.

Another friend of mine wrote about how she came to realize that men were a thing she had to protect herself against, a thing she had to be wary of. And it made me realize that conversations I thought were a very long way off indeed are perhaps not so very far off as I would prefer. Because the time will come when she has to protect herself — hopefully not from an active attacker, but certainly from getting into a situation where a would-be attacker crosses the line from upstanding Stanford student to rapist. And I want her to be prepared when that time comes.

But that’s only half of the equation. In fact, it’s not even half. Because while women are the victims of rape, they are not the source of it. Rape is a male problem with female consequences. Which means that, perhaps even more so than teaching my daughter how to protect herself, I have to teach my son how to treat women so that they don’t have to protect themselves. The Stanford rapist did not become a rapist just because he had a few drinks. He became a rapist because of a lifetime of entitlement and the enabling of parents and peers and an ignoring of warning signs along the way.

In a way, he is, sadly, a victim as well — but not in the way his dad thinks. Not as a promising young man whose future has been ruined by the evils of alcohol and college culture and an unfortunate 20 minutes behind a dumpster. He’s a victim of those people who should have taught him better, should have steered him onto a better path miles and years before he encountered his victim behind a dumpster. He is a victim of his parents and his friends and his culture that trained him to think he was entitled to whatever he wanted and that he would get away with whatever mistakes he made.

We have to educate our young women — but I have no doubt that the victim in this case was educated. No defense is perfect. Even the best-defended fortress will fall under constant attack — and make no mistake, our young women are under constant attack in this day and age. No, far more important than educating our young women is educating our young men. The best defense is a good offense, so they say; and the best defense for our young women is creating a society in which they no longer have to know how to defend themselves.

We have work to do. Parents of young men have work to do. Teachers of young men have work to do. Friends of young men have work to do. Aunts and uncles, big brothers and sisters, employers, pastors, coaches … if there is a young man in your life who has ever looked to you for an answer, you have work to do.

The justice system isn’t going to do it for us. Government isn’t going to do it for us. God certainly isn’t going to do it for us.

If we want this to change — if we really want our young women to be safe — the change starts in our own houses. It starts with us.

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