by Taylor Nichols
Sexual assault and rape cases have been noticeably more frequent in the media in the past few years. Whether this is because of an increase in incidents or in reporting is arguable, but in the last year alone several of these cases have been brought to light in the news. Many of them have involved teens, alcohol, the use of social media and texting and/or bullying.
In early August, a program started by U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II in West Virginia sought to educate high school athletes about the legal consequences of inappropriate use of social media, smartphones, and drugs and alcohol. The program, called “Project Future Two-a-Days,” spends 15 minutes discussing drugs and alcohol and 15 minutes talking about social media.
It was created in part because of the Steubenville case, when two high-school football players were convicted of raping an extremely intoxicated 16-year-old girl after text messages and photos clearly linking them to the crime were sent to many of their peers.
While it is important that people are educated about the serious consequences of intoxication and the internet, the focus of this program is seriously skewed. Instead of teaching high school students not to rape or sexually assault women because it’s wrong, this program is teaching them that they should not do this and then digitally boast about it, because it could be used as evidence against them—and they will get caught.
Ihlenfeld said that the Steubenville case prompted him and his colleagues to focus on social media. The idea was that it would help students be conscientious about how they use smartphones and the internet. He also said that he hoped the program would keep athletes from being distracted.
The fact that these are the driving forces behind Ihlenfeld’s program is offensive. Many of these types of cases have been handled in a way that seems to lack a level of shock and repulsion. Rape and sexual assault are exceedingly serious, not for legal reasons but because of the permanent damage and severe psychological scarring they cause.
Other rape and sexual assault cases lately in the news have served to illustrate a general insensitivity towards the subject. In 2011, a 17-year-old girl from Nova Scotia was allegedly raped by four boys who took photos and sent them to numerous students at her school. She was shunned by her community, called a slut, and bullied severely. As a result of the harassment and the rape itself, she suffered from depression and was emotionally damaged. She eventually attempted suicide and later died. Police originally closed the investigation without charging her rapists, saying that there was not enough sufficient evidence.
Last spring, student protesters at Dartmouth College attempted to bring attention to the college’s failure to react appropriately to incidents of sexual assault, among other things. Instead of being supported by fellow students, they received rape and death threats.
It seems that more and more of these cases are being handled in an insulting manner. Countless women have been shown an utter lack of sympathy or compassion from their communities and an unwillingness by authorities to appropriately deal with incidents. These responses often do nothing but turn an already traumatizing situation into an unbearable one, simultaneously perpetuating a rape culture.
Educational programs can be an effective method of teaching youth, but “Project Future Two-a-Days” won’t cut it. Communities of all types should be teaching youth and young adults the disturbing and intangibly awful effects sexual assault and rape can have on a person. Parents should also be strongly encouraged to teach their children why these actions are extremely and perversely wrong.
Education and awareness are the best ways to prevent sexual assault and rape, but we need to be teaching people of all ages the seriousness of these actions on an emotional and human level rather than how they can avoid getting caught.