Thursday, March 10, 2011

Something Much Heavier (an Op Ed)

Yesterday morning, an online petition started circulating among some of the women in my social network. The petition seeks an apology from the NY Times for this article that, in the mind of the petition organizer, inappropriate spin.

The NY Times reports the news. The journalist’s job, nay duty, is to retell the facts that make up that news. Certainly there is a call to find a compelling angle on a news story, but that doesn’t mean add a “spin.” Journalists are not supposed to proselytize for or against any particular viewpoint. They are supposed to be objective observers. And in my opinion, this particular journalist did just that.

There is no question that rape is tragic. No person deserves to be victimized in any way, the most horrific way being sexually. There is no disputing that rape is life altering for the victim. And, in some form, it irreparably changes the lives of the accused, despite guilt or innocence.

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions.

I think that all too often we forget that bystanders are also affected by crime. We are mystified, left to wonder, “how could someone do that?” or, “what’s wrong with people?” and, the thought resonating in my mind lately, “how did we get to the point in this society that people are capable of ____?” In this instance the gang rape of an 11 year old girl.

I think we need to consider that sentiment when reading the NYT article about this small Texas town, rather than presume that the author is further victimizing the victim by his report. There was no report that people had actually said she had it coming, although admittedly the sentiment could be readily inferred by the account of the victim’s appearance. But I don’t believe that the reader should automatically make that inference.

How could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

As a mother to a boy, I would wonder the same thing. How did I fail my son in such a basic way that he thought it would be OK to participate in this type of activity, this horrendous crime, this depraved act? How could he even be associated with those who were implicated?

There have been 18 boys and men charged in this case. How did 18 sons of this small town allegedly participate in this atrocity? Was it nature or nurture that failed them and, in turn, their young victim? Or, is the peer pressure to follow the herd just that strong nowadays?

I have no illusions; there is undoubtedly people in that town that might be of the opinion that the girl had put herself in a compromising position by running with a much older crowd, predominately male. Was it imprudent? Sure. But that in no way condones or sanctions the actions of those boys and men. This should have never happened.

“I really wish that this could end in a better light.”

So the victim is now left to heal, while the accused are left to contemplate their wantonness and agonize over their fates. And the community is left to reconcile this atrocity that occurred right within their midst. And they probably will never make any sense of it; there is no bright side.

We should be up in arms over this. Not because some journalist made an astute account of the irreconcilable situation in a small town in East Texas, but because we are failing our boys and our girls. Failing to teach them to respect themselves and respect each other, failing to teach them basic common decency. That is something worth fighting for.