677166248Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is on a hard subject, but we adults need to stop looking the other way and speak up.

I am totally baffled by why one person would choose to assault another. But what baffles me even more is why they would record themselves doing so, and then upload that recording to Facebook.

There’s been a rash of recorded assaults in the news lately. In December, Scandale Fritz, 16, Kenneth Brown, 15, and Justin Applewhite, 16, allegedly assaulted a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint. They posted the video to Facebook. They’ve now been arrested. In Steubenville, Ohio, football stars Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were convicted of rape after assaulting a passed out 16-year-old girl and then circulating cell phone pictures. Closer to home, 17-year-old Halifax teen Raehtah Parsons committed suicide after cell phone pictures of her alleged rape were circulated throughout her school. No one was ever charged in that incident.

And that’s only the beginning.

Sexual assault is bad enough, but it has always been with us. Little girls grow up with that fear and knowledge that they are at a unique risk.

But something has changed–something very profound. In the past, people could get away with rape because they knew it would be a “he said she said” situation. There were no witnesses, after all, due to the very nature of the crime.

Today boys are actively soliciting witnesses. Why?

To me, there are only two options: first, they want the notoriety that Facebook can bring, regardless of the consequences; or second, they honestly don’t realize that anything they did was wrong.

I’m starting to believe that option two is more on the money.

Of course teens often don’t always make the best decisions, because they have a difficult time considering the long-term consequences of their actions. But few teens would rob a liquor store at gunpoint and then post a picture of themselves doing so. They know that would be stupid.

Why isn’t posting a picture of yourself sexually assaulting someone stupid? The Steubenville, Ohio football stars certainly seemed blindsided by the thought that they had done something horribly wrong. Perhaps it’s because in their world, this is normal sexual behaviour. These are the kids coming of age in the world of pornography. Sure, porn has always been with us, but when we were little kids, we had to raid dad’s stash of Playboys or Hustlers out in the shed. It wasn’t accessible at the click of a button.

Today it is. From the first time these kids start having sexual feelings, they see porn. And the lies that porn tells–that sex is only physical, that women enjoy being hurt, that real men take as many women as they can–become part of their sexuality.

Merge pornography with reality TV and we have a culture which promotes becoming famous by capturing people’s attention online. And sexual assault seems to play right into that. Most teens today dream of being famous, of going viral, of becoming a YouTube sensation. And this seems like an easy way.

We are making a grave mistake if we think that pornography is just a harmless way for people to indulge in some fantasy. Most teenagers get their sex education from porn. Sure, the vast majority of those will not go on to assault anybody, but we should not be surprised when some do. We have crossed an important, sacred line. We are teaching kids in their formative years that sex and violence are intertwined, and that everybody likes it that way.

Raehtah Parsons didn’t. And she deserved better. We as adults must take responsibility for the culture that we have created that is literally killing and harming teens. Porn is not harmless. And with so many teenagers growing up viewing it, it will be a tough road to teach them the ideals of sacredness and love and beauty again.

If you liked this column, you’ll like what I wrote about teenage girls and Facebook statuses and pictures: Too Young To Be Hot.

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