My two-year-old can’t even talk yet; but he already knows that rape is wrong.
He learned this after developing the habit of jamming his stubby little finger into Daddy’s nose – laughing maniacally if he managed to get it deeper than the second knuckle.
After some stern words, we managed to educate our little boy that sticking his finger into somebody else’s nose, ear or mouth was wrong; and since then he’s managed to keep his questing digits to himself. We’re pretty confident that, as he grows older, he’ll continue to keep his fingers to himself – and come to understand that the “finger rule” applies to any other part of his body (and the orifices of anybody else) as well.
That simple rule – don’t stick any part of your body into any part of somebody else’s body without their permission – is something most boys have managed to grasp the concept of before they’re even potty trained.
Which is why I’ve been becoming increasingly frustrated with the well-intentioned, but utterly inane, efforts of bloggers and pundits to prevent another Steubenville by “teaching men not to rape.”
Rape isn’t a social faux pas, like using the wrong knife during the fish course. Rape isn’t ignorance, whether malicious or well-intentioned (like calling somebody a “butch lesbian” when they’re actually a transman.)
Rape is a crime, which is clearly and obviously wrong, and the men who commit rape do so knowing that it’s wrong.
My two year old knows it’s wrong to shove his fingers in somebody else’s nose, just like Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond knew that it was wrong to shove their fingers into the vagina of an unconscious, underage girl. The only difference is that they did it anyway.
They raped that poor girl not because they were ignorant, but because there is something fucking wrong with them. CNN might lament how this crime will “haunt them for the rest of their lives” but to my mind, their place on the Sex Offender’s register is well deserved – they are animals, unable to grasp the basic concepts of human civility that even my two-year-old can master.
And no amount of “teaching” would have changed that. You can’t “teach” men not to rape, any more than you can teach men not to beat their wives, or murder people, or steal or swindle or commit any crime. When it comes to concepts like rape, murder and theft, right and wrong is pretty fucking obvious and the reason these crimes continue to be committed is because certain individuals in our society know what they’re doing is wrong and simply don’t give a shit.
But there is something the rest of us can do.
Perhaps what was most chilling about the night in Steubenville wasn’t the rape that Mays and Ma’Lik committed, but how dozens of onlookers were complicit in it.
Text messages, tweets and YouTube videos reveal that there were potentially dozens of people who saw this girl being manhandled and abused and did nothing about it. To me, those are the people who need to be “educated.”
In Sergei Bondarchuck’s adaption of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, the narrator solemnly warned: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That is what happened that night in Steubenville.
Dozens of onlookers – people who probably consider themselves “good” people, stood round and watched something wrong being done and did nothing to stop it. Text messages were sent to Ma’Lik and Mays warning them that what they were doing could get them in trouble, but no further action was taken after Mays blithely replied; “Nah, don’t worry.”
It’s one of the failings of human society, that large groups of people will stand idle while atrocities are committed. It’s what led to the election of Hitler, and the murder of the Jews in concentration camps. It’s what led to “Jane Doe” being raped and brutalized that night.
So if we want to teach men anything, it’s not to be one of those people.
I won’t “teach my sons not to rape” because they already know that rape is wrong. But as they grow up, I will teach them to take a stand when they witness something wrong being done – because if they don’t, they as guilty of the crime as the sociopathic young men who committed it.