What We Must Learn From Steubenville

03/19/2013 05:45 EDT | Updated 05/18/2013 05:12 EDT

It's very early in the morning. Mia had an unfortunate nap late yesterday afternoon that resulted in a later-than-usual bedtime and so she is awake now, at 4 am.

"It's wakey-time?" she asks me hopefully, after urgently calling me to her room.

"Not yet sweetie."

"But I hungry."

So I get her a snack and that settles her long enough for me to shut my eyes for at least ten more minutes. Finally I decide that I may as well get up and start the day.

I put the coffee on and make our usual breakfast smoothie. I check for the paper, but it hasn't arrived yet. I sit down to read the news on my iPad instead.

"Mommy, I sit on your lap?"

After hesitating a second, still somewhat annoyed at being up so early and just wanting to drink my coffee in peace, I help her climb up. I squeeze her three-year-old body, and remind myself that this time is fleeting. She can sit.

The news story in front of me is about the Steubenville rape case. Over the weekend, two teenage boys from Steubenville, Ohio were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl. During and after the incident, the boys took pictures of her - she was too drunk to remember the incident - and then posted them on social media sites and texted them to friends. There is a particularly disturbing video where the entire incident is described as if it's some scene in the comic tragedy of life as a teen in small town America. Which it is, of course, minus the comic part.

As I read the reports, it is hard not to remember what it was like when I was in high school. I grew up in a typical small prairie town with good, honest hard-working people. Yet I'm sure that if we're being honest with ourselves, most of us know that what happened in Steubenville could have easily happened where we lived, in any city or town.

These are places where a young girl is always supposed to see the attention of a boy as desirable. Where you learn not to speak up too loudly about things that might bother you, or you risk being labelled as "too sensitive" or "prude" or "bitch". We want to be wanted, don't we?

A place where, when I suggested that maybe I'd like a nickname other than "Boobs", I became known as "Baloobs" instead. Isn't that funny? Except that it wasn't. But what could I say? The only response would have been a version of, "What's your problem anyway?"

A place where, when incidents of sexual harassment are reported, those doing the reporting are the ones ostracized. Boys will be boys, you know. We're told:

"It's not a big deal."

Maybe not to you.

Was anyone I know ever raped or sexually assaulted like the girl in Steubenville? Not that I'm aware of. And I don't think that any of the people responsible for my nickname, or those who perpetuated it throughout high school, were malicious or intentionally mean. They sincerely thought it was funny. Like the game one boy made up when we were in Grade 10 called: Try to Pinch Erin's Ass Every Day. Funny! But when does teasing cross the line into harassment? I don't know. They didn't know either. I wonder how they'd feel if it was happening to their daughter. Should she just be grateful for the attention? (If any of them are reading this now, I would bet that they're thinking, "Oh whatever. She liked the attention." Am I right?)

That was twenty years ago. When - FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHEN - will our children learn that people's bodies have to be respected? Perhaps this is why I get so enraged when I hear that the Steubenville rapists "apologized" to the victim. All I've seen is an apology for passing around pictures and for "putting you all through this". The irony of being apologetic for posting pictures - pictures that essentially led to any charges being laid at all - is lost on these people. As if it would have all been okay had they not been stupid enough to post the pictures.


We need to keep saying this: NO!

Please do not apologize for the pictures. Apologize for treating a young girl like a personal plaything, like someone who owed you a good time because you took care of her when she was drunk. Apologize for trying to cover it up. But don't apologize for getting caught, for telling the story.

While we're waiting for that to happen, perhaps the rest of us can make sure that we don't dismiss all teasing as "not a big deal" because I think that if we learn anything from Steubenville, let it be the realization that this rape was the result of years of indifference. Not only do we need to raise women who can rise above the words they'll encounter, but we need to raise men who will recognize that a woman's sexuality is not a joke.

Maybe in the beginning it wasn't a big deal. It sure doesn't look that way now.

I finish reading the article and lift my daughter off of my lap. I look at her and I wonder if it will ever be different.

Please let it be different.