Sunday, March 31, 2013

Inspiration and Definition

I watched an episode of Dateline NBC about the rape and murder of Kenia Monge and the rape, beating and attempted murder of Lydia Tillman.  I watched their stories unfold and was in awe of Lydia's courage, strength, heart and her unbelievable capacity to forgive.  At the sentencing of the monster who raped her, beat her so severely that she was unrecognizable even to her sister, and then tried to cover it all up by dousing her in bleach and setting her on fire, Lydia was able to do something extraordinary.  Through a written statement delivered by her father, since, as a result of what happened to her, she had a stroke and still needed to learn how to speak again, Lydia Tillman forgave the man who did this to her.  She said she no longer wanted to live with hate and anger in her heart.  She chooses, instead, to live life through an acronym for her name: Live Your Days Inspired Anew (L.Y.D.I.A).
I am amazed and inspired by Lydia.  She walked into the courtroom shortly after being released from the rehabilitation hospital she called home while she recovered from her injuries.  She looked the monster in the eyes and forgave him.  I have not been able to forgive the monster that molested me as a child nor the monster that raped me.  I have not been able to get to that point and reconcile the things that they did to me and being able to forgive them for it.
I have always understood forgiveness as telling the forgiveness seeker that what they did is OK; that the damage that they caused with their act no longer exists.  I have the capacity to forgive. I can forgive friends and family when we get in arguments, get on each others' nerves and do things that hurt each other out of pure stupidity.  We are each others' friends and families, we fight and make up.  These things happen in the best of relationships.  Rape and abuse are not that easy for me to forgive.  These are two things that have impacted my life and changed me dramatically. These things have made it difficult for me to trust other people.  These are things that have made me scared to pursue romantic relationships, even though I want to.  These are things that have made me doubt myself and my instincts.  How do I forgive the people who did these things to me?  How do I forgive the person who robbed me of my childhood, left me with memories that are blank, and stole so much of my innocence?  How do I forgive a man who professed his love for me yet raped me as I slept?  How do I forgive an act of pure evil?
I believe that I have to let go and heal before I can be free of it, but I don't know how to forgive these things.  I don't know how to forgive the hell I have lived as a result of what these two people did to me.  The one thing I do know is that Lydia Tillman has inspired me to try.  I do not want to live in a constant world of distrust and fear, questioning each and every word that comes out of a man's mouth looking for a sinister meaning.  I want to be able to go out on a date with a man without an intense level of anxiety and fear.  I want to be able to fall in love without feeling that it will all fall disastrously apart because of some fucked up belief that I do not deserve good things in my life.  I want to live without fear again.  I want to live inspired anew each day. I just have to do it day by day, hour by hour.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Culture of Arrogance

I had started this posting as something much different than what it has become.    Since the verdict in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case was handed down yesterday I feel that this is something that must be addressed now, rather than later. 

For those of you who don’t know about this case, two high school football players, one 16 and one 17, were found guilty of the rape of a 16 year old girl.  She was unconscious and unable to consent.  The town of Steubenville, Ohio is the typical American small town, with its pride determined by the victories of the high school football team.   With this pride came a town, complete with parents, who turned a blind eye to the hard partying, drinking and wild lifestyles of the football players.  Bartenders would serve these under age kids and liquor stores would sell to them.   There were no consequences for the behavior of these players because they were the pride of the school and the focal point of a town that had been hit hard by the economic down turn.  They gave the town something to cheer for, something to be happy about.

The two teenagers who committed this vile crime did not act alone.  There were many others who used their cell phones to record, take pictures, sent text messages and posted on social media sites about the attack.  This was, quite possibly, the best documented of a rape in history.  Everything that happened, including those who stood by cheering these two  young “men” on and those who stood by doing nothing to stop it, was all caught on tape. 

When I first heard about this case, I thought that they would be tried as adults.  After all, they are not children and they knew right from wrong.  No such luck.  They were tried as juveniles.  This meant no jury trial.  A judge hears the case and he alone decides the verdict and sentence.   With a few of the “witnesses” being granted immunity for testifying for the prosecution, and the whole attack being documented on Facebook, YouTube and text messages, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty.  They were sentenced to at least one year in juvenile detention, but could remain there until they are 21 years old. The only piece of their sentence that is still left up in the air is how long they will remain on the sex offender registry – ten years or a lifetime.  While I am thrilled that they were found guilty, I regret that they, for all intents and purposes, got off light.  If they were charged and convicted as adults they could have served ten years in prison, if not more.   After they were sentenced, both Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond made statements.  Proving at least to this writer that he still didn’t believe that he did anything wrong, Mr. Mays only apologized for the photos saying, “No pictures should have been sent around, let alone ever taken,” he said. In his statement, Mr. Richmond showed some remorse saying, “I had not intended to do anything like this. I’m sorry to put you through this.” These teenagers were arrogant enough to believe that they were untouchable because they were football players.  Why shouldn’t they believe that?  They were surrounded by a community of people who were so permissive that this arrogance and sense of entitlement was reinforced each day.  Even as the details of the rape came out, there were some in the town who stated that these boys are the “pride of Steubenville.”   

The coverage of the verdict was just as despicable as the crime itself.  CNN Reporter, Poppy Harlow, reported the story by sympathizing not with the victim and her family, but with the rapists, saying "family members (of the rapists) tried their hardest to plead for some forgiveness from the victim's family, as well as from the judge."  She went on to say, "These two young men -- who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students -- literally watched as they believed their life fell apart."  CNN tried to depict these now convicted rapists as the victims in this case, stopping just short of outright blaming the true victim, Jane Doe. 
Was there excessive alcohol at the party? Yes.  Was Jane Doe drunk? Yes.  Was she unconscious because she was drinking? Yes.  Does anything other than Jane Doe being unconscious and unable to consent matter?  Absolutely not!   She could not and did not give consent, plain and simple.  Last time I checked, being unconscious, no matter the cause, is not an invitation for sex.  In my mind, what the cowards who laughed and joked, doing nothing to stop what was happening to her, did makes them just as guilty as the rapists themselves.  They could have, and should have, protected Jane Doe.  They should have made sure she was safe instead of adding fuel to the fire with their comments, actions, and inactions. 

No matter what occurred prior to the rape, no matter how drunk she was, Jane Doe did not ask for, nor deserve what happened to her.  She is the victim in this case.  She is the one whose life is forever changed.  She is the one whose life is being threatened via social media by classmates and strangers alike.  She is the one who gets a life sentence.  These young “men” got off easy.  They were raised in a town awash in an arrogance that made this behavior, this crime, permissible.  They lived in a community that would turn a blind eye to and cover up any wrong doing by the members of their precious football team.  As a result these “men” grew up to believe they can simply take whoever and whatever they want because there will be no real consequences to their actions.  Had the presiding judge been from Steubenville and not from outside the area, as Judge Lipps was, I fear that this trial would have had a different outcome.

I stand with and support Jane Doe.  Will you?