On Teenagers, Facebook Assaults, and Pornography

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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  1. ButterflyWings says:

    It’s not just the rape culture either. Kids are being raised to believe domestic violence is normal and even something to be proud. Just look at Chris Brown…

  2. You want to know another problem? People refuse to think anything but the best of their kids. I understand the love we have for our kids. Truly I do. I have two of my own. BUT. I have had a lot of exposure to a lot of different parenting and I can tell you from experience – a lot of parents literally do not think their child is capable of something like this so they don’t bother to teach them about it. And then when their child does something bad or stupid, they literally refuse to believe it was their child and they refuse to administer any discipline AND they swoop in and save their little precious from any discipline at the hands of their school. Ask me how I know this. Yep, experience. “My child wouldn’t do that!!!” they would scream at us, the school staff. Well, you must be living with a different child than we spend the entire day at school with because we saw it with our own eyes.

    My fellow parents, our children are human. And they are CHILDREN. They do not yet have the capacity or the experience to reason as we do. They’re going to make mistakes and they’re probably going to do some stupid things because they don’t know yet how wrong it is. It is our job as parents to teach them the difference between right and wrong before the police have to.

    And none of this being our kids’ friends business. That comes when they’re grown. They have friends. You are their only parent. Be the parent. Please. They need us.
    Melissa recently posted…On the MarketMy Profile

    • Yes, I agree with you on this one. When I was a 4th grade teacher and would catch kids cheating, usually, the parents would say, “My child would never do that.” I SAW them do it. I would only ever call the parent if I was 100% sure of what I saw. I always wanted to yell, “I’m not saying your kid is a terrible kid – but they DID make this poor choice, and it’s time to deal with it!”
      Megan G. recently posted…more summer fun!My Profile

  3. Unfortunately, kids don’t even have to go looking for porn on the internet. It’s practically all around us in advertising.
    I can’t believe how many commercials and print ads feature scantily clad women (and sometimes men) who move their bodies in sexually suggestive ways or are depicted with a member of the opposite sex in positions that clearly connote sexual intercourse.
    This is such a prevalent part of kids’ lives these days. As you sort of alluded to, they begin to think that sex anytime, anywhere, and with anyone is the norm.
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  4. We live in a world that preaches “do what makes you feel good” especially when it comes to sex. Our society has very little sexual morality. The media portrays women as nothing but sex objects. And as Sheila stated, the simple access to porn is another huge problem. When you live in a world that says it’s ok to have sex whenever with whoever it creates a very slippery slope. So is it really surprising that boys don’t know that rape is wrong? It’s come to the point where we now have to sit our sons down and tell them that rape is wrong, what is considered rape and the horrible effects it has on women. But until our society decides to change it’s view on sex, I fear that we will keep seeing stories like the ones talked about above.

    • Jenni I agree with everything you said except one thing: society will never change it’s view of sex. The reason we keep seeing stories like these is because these children have no limits and little to no instruction on right and wrong. We cannot wait for society to change. Parents need to keep their children close to them, instruct them, and realize that it isn’t a crime to disallow social media and unfettered access to the internet. Kids are not entitled to a ‘social life’, with freedom to explore all the world has to offer. They are well served by parents who care enough and love them enough to protect them from the world while their impressionable minds and hearts are SHAPED by the eternal truth of God’s Word.

    • Let me see if I can say this in a way that communicates what I’m thinking:

      We also live in a world where no one has the right to tell someone else what is right/wrong. If there is no absolute right/wrong, like our society is trying to get us all to believe, then how could we expect teens to believe that something is “wrong” that seems “right” to them in that moment? (I mean, how could we expect them to understand that concept if their parents haven’t taught it to them.)

      Am I making any sense?

  5. Agree with this 100% Sheila. And Melissa, you are right on! Kids aren’t BORN with innate goodness. If they are brought up by passive parents, then OF COURSE they will absorb the values of a culture that worships debauchery. Add to that the unfettered access to social media and internet and it’s no wonder this is happening all over the place. People act SURPRISED and disgusted and horrified when these cases come to light. Why? Why are we as a society even shocked when children go on to behave this way when they have been given NO INSTRUCTION OR LIMITS by their parents who willingly hand them the tools (unmonitored Facebook accounts and internet capable smartphones and all the “PRIIIIIIVACY their sweet little hearts desire) to engage in the things the world says is A-OK??? The boys in these cases wondering what they did wrong and why they are even in trouble is a glaring indictment of fathers and mothers dropping the ball in instructing them. That does not excuse them at all. But their parents are equally culpable.

  6. The drunk-sex-assault phenomenon isn’t really that new either, it was going on when I was in high school in the 90s.

    I remember reading a long indepth article about the steubenville case, and the author pointed out that one of the boys’ friends had taken drunk peoples’ keys but then walked right past the sex assault going on. The author said something to the effect of “how did we get to the point where drunk driving is socially unacceptable but drunk rape is ok.”

    I had 2 thoughts about that –
    1) people are just noticing drunk sex assaults??? I remember being 14 in the 90s and feeling like I was surrounded by aliens at my school because their idea of a good time was drinking until 2 am, puking until morning, and then doing it again the next day. And if sex assault happened, that was an even better party. Same with property damage.

    2) Seeing as how widespread this was when I was younger, I wondered if the author of the article I read had done this herself/himself. Were they now having second thoughts about some of their high school activiites? Does anyone?

  7. I live in Ohio so the Steubenville case was always being talked about. Something I noticed with so many of the news reports, both on tv and in the paper, is that the reporters were pitying the boys who had done the rape. They kept going on and on about these “poor boys”, how “they didn’t know what they did was wrong”, and now “these talented young boys’ lives are ruined”. Those poor, poor boys…NOT! It made me sick to see all of the pity those boys were getting yet nothing was mentioned of the effects that that girl was and still is going through. The media made those boys to be the victims and the true victim was ignored and many people in Steubenville have made her out to be the villain. It’s backwards thinking and it’s disgusting. I’ve noticed it with other cases too. We need to stop treating these rapists like victims. Doing so does nothing to discourage other would be rapists.

  8. Makes me think of the song “How Long Will Be Too Long” by Michael W. Smith:

  9. Way to tell it, Sheila! We have to say it in a thousand ways, a thousand times. What will become of the family if sex is viewed by our teens in these exploitive and destructive ways??!! Heaven help us! Tell it and tell it again! You have your soap box! I am proud of all you are doing!!!

  10. Can I just be honest for a second and say that this kind of topic makes me want to hide out in my house in fear until after my kids are grown? I don’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about it – I know that we should! But how can parents of young children move forward in the world we’re in right now without living in fear 100% of the time?

    I already feel like I have to plan my route around Target in advance so I don’t accidentally walk past the underwear section with my boys, because the pictures are so revealing. We recently tried a new ‘family’ restaurant in my town, and the men’s room was covered with wildly inappropriate pictures of women that both of my sons saw and will probably never be able to forget. I almost feel frozen sometimes because the issue is so overwhelming – and they aren’t even on the computer yet!
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  11. While I must agree that what these boys have done is deplorable and they should be locked up for a very long time, I also have to lay a lot of the blame on parents of both parties involved.

    How is it that you let your daughter/son go to a party like that? How is it that he/she does not understand the risks of alcohol consumption, and what could happen to you if you pass out? We see the big profile rape cases but there are plenty of other assaults that occur to both sexes when they pass out somewhere like this that we never see or hear about.

    Our job as parents has to be to protect our children better, to make sure they know the risks and what is out there.

    In almost every case the victims are unable to respond and unable to defend themselves or remove themselves from these situations.

    As parents we need to make sure our children are prepared to deal with the risks and have an understanding of what those risks really are. When you have a pool you teach your children to be wary, to swim and most of all you do not let them near it without life jackets and floaties until you know they are proficient enough that they aren’t drowning.

    We don’t shelter our children from roads and cars, instead we teach them how to cross safely, not to chase toys into the road, and to look for cars. We prepare them for the world in which we live.

    I think the same thing applies, if you know your kids are going to drink and be exposed to alcohol you need to teach them about it, to know what it does and what can happen. They have to understand and be prepared for the risks or better yet be taught to avoid them.

    We can shelter them or we can prepare them. With three daughters nothing scares me more than these stories but I hope as a parent I am doing what I need to do so that they can also make better decisions and know enough to avoid these situations. I am not in it to paralyze them with fear, but the world is a battlefield and I won’t send them there unarmed or unprotected.

    Just my thoughts.

    • As a recent high school grad, let me just say I know kids who have parents that tell them not to do certain things like drink alcohol. Our schools have told us the consequences of drinking too much, smoking, and doing drugs. However, I can name several kids who still went out and drank, smoked, and did drugs. Just because someone is given knowledge of the consequences doesn’t mean they’ll listen. Not all cases can be blamed on the teens not being informed enough…sometimes kids are going to do things just because they want to or they don’t believe what they’ve been told.

  12. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues lately.
    What happens to these teenagers when they decide to get married? What happens to the girls, with this kind of public humiliation? What happens to the boys, when some people are congratulating them for doing “what real men do” and the few that are chastising them are seen as prudes? What happens to our own children, who will grow up with them, and may be in the position to marry one of them.
    There is just so much hurt and pain going on… sometimes I’m not even sure where to start… Do we educate the parents? Do we educate the teenagers? Do we educate the schools?

    Thanks for bringing this topic and discussion up, it is much needed – worldwide.
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    • ButterflyWings says:

      The boys grow up to be like my first husband. Leaving behind a trail of destruction of battered women and abused then abandoned children. Telling each other that bashing your wife and forcing her to have sex during times when she refuses because of genuinely being unable to (eg in my case, it was because I’d had major surgery the day before and wasn’t even supposed to be home – had discharged myself two days early because I couldn’t stand the noise in hospital) is all perfectly normal, and “everyone” does it.

      And it’s not just men either who egg on other men. My former sister in law deliberately encouraged my exhusband to be violent by telling him it’s his right to beat his wife, that women don’t have a right to say no to sex for any reason etc. And the mistress he ended up marrying was even worse. Telling him (and me, to my face) that he did nothing wrong bashing our unborn baby to death because he didn’t know I was pregnant when he savagely beat me a few weeks after we separated (we separated because he bashed our 5yo daughter – something his mistress also told him was perfectly acceptable behaviour).

      While everyone is responsible for their own behaviour ultimately, how can we expect young men to grow up knowing how to treat young women with respect when it’s their own sisters, their own mothers, and other young women telling men it’s quite ok to bash your wife and kids and rape your wife as long as these men don’t treat them (the women saying these things to them) like that. Many of my exhusband’s mistresses had no problem with him bashing me as long as he didn’t lay a finger on them – and the one he ended up marrying after we divorced actually told him to bash me and our daughter, and as I mentioned, said to my face be did nothing wrong murdering our unborn baby.

      We need to educate all young people and their parents – not just that violence and rape is wrong, but that encouraging it and even just excusing it in others is wrong. I don’t understand some families – if one of my brothers did to their wives what my exhusband did to me, I wouldn’t defend him and tell him it was ok like my former sister in law had done, what I would do is make sure my brother wasn’t physically capable of laying a hand on anyone for a very long time. My brothers are honourable people and wouldn’t hurt anyone (they don’t even stick up for themselves), but if they weren’t so honourable, I guarantee they wouldn’t be hurting their wives because my sister and I would make sure they weren’t capable of doing it after the first time.

      I do not understand why so many sisters and mothers defend and even encourage young men. Nor do I understand why mistresses and new girlfriends defend abuse of wives/exwives and some outright instigate it. (My exhusband’s mistress encouraged him to stalk and abuse me for years until she got jealous of all the time he was spending stalking me). What leads women to do these things to other women?

      If all women told men they wouldn’t put up with this kind of behaviour, then guys would stop – because simply they wouldn’t be able to get girlfriends if women had a no tolerance policy towards domestic violence and sexual assault.

      How many of those steubenville football players had girlfriends who stood by them and defended them? I bet at least some of them. And many rapists do have girlfriends – it’s a frequent story – guy rapes girl, guy claims it was consensual, guy’s girlfriend harasses and abuses the victim for “seducing” her boyfriend.

      Of course at the end of the day, the man who abuses or rapes is 100% responsible for his behaviour, but how many guys would stop doing these things if their wives, sisters, girlfriends and wives had a zero tolerance policy?

      And it’s often not the guys who drive victims to depressoin and sometimes suicide – particularly in high school and college/university situations – it’s the nasty gossiping girls/women who drive the victim to self harm and suicide. It’s girls who do the sl** shaming to rape victims that push victims over the edge.

      So it’s not just guys and their parents that need to be educated about acceptable behaviour – and girls need a lot more education than just don’t put yourself at risk. Girls and guys both need to be educated about having zero tolerance for friends/family/partners who commit these evil acts and to speak up when we see those close to us doing the wrong thing.

  13. Thank you for this post…I’m totally ANTI pornography and in the world we live in that can be unaccepting but my young child was repeatedly molested by a close family member who had a porn addiction unbeknownst to me. This so called Christian led singing and preached some at church…it was very heartbreaking for all and my daughter has been a survivor, very strong, but now she and her brother are teens and were baptized and saved through Christ and we have very open talks about the hazards of porn on society and relationships. More people should take this stance not only is it wrong but it gives a very violent view of sex…not the way God intended.
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