(And the talk I will have when I tell him not to rape anyone)
All respect goes out to the victim of this crime, Jane Doe. “Not all men” blah blah blah.
As of now I don’t want children. I want a marriage with lots of adventure, sex, and waking up at 3 pm on a Sunday because we both just can. But I have at some points thought about the “what if.” What if I wake up one day (early) and do want a child?
And in that fantasy, the fantasy of wanting a screaming little tiny creature, it is always a boy. Not that girls aren’t amazing in their own right, sorry. But I picture a beautiful little boy. Dressing him up in baseball uniforms (or theatre ones if he takes after me more than his fictitious dad.) I picture us, him and me, inseparable mom and son, watching whatever Star Wars film is out then, eating greasy burgers, and being crazy close.
I never had a brother, so I blame all my need for male bonding partly on that.
I picture me finally understanding why people brag so much about their children it makes me want to pull their eyes out. And of course I picture the not so fun stuff. Spending more money on groceries than I would if I had daughters, smelling farts that are supposed to be “funny”, and having “the talk.” And no, I don’t mean the sex one where I turn my chair around with my hands on my chin and try to act like a sitcom-dad. I mean the talk where I tell him not to rape anyone.
Bet you didn’t think I was going to go there did you?
I know the internet and our culture has spoken greatly, but never enough, about sexual assault. We live in a time where more people are discussing the crime that statistically men mostly impose on women. There are think pieces after think pieces about the ramifications of rape, from those who have been raped to even those who have been a bystander to a rape. There’s a dialogue about what is happening at parties, college campuses, in relationships, and with random people who exert their power to commit one of the most significant crimes one can commit. And this is good, this dialogue, I never doubt that for a second.
I even have read one very brief article which is similar to this one, but still it needs to be said.
The biggest part out being a parent is instilling values and a sense of morality and responsibility in your children. I wish it was sarcasm and good taste and a thirst for news, but at the end of the day if my kid never has a subscription to the New York Times I need to remember that what is really important is that he is a good human being, that morality can indeed be taught the way we teach manners, and that he as a man is responsible for the well-being of women when he is not only alone with them but in the company of them with other men.
He is responsible for not raping women and he is responsible for not letting men rape and talk casually about rape, which in itself can be a harder thing than not participating in the act.
That is because no parent I know ever thinks their son will grow up to be a rapist just as no parents live their lives believing that their sons will commit grand theft auto, battery, or even murder. The conversation of parents even allowing themselves to say the words to their (otherwise responsible smart funny and charming middle/upper middle class) sons “don’t murder anyone” is such an insane and frankly ridiculous idea no one would think twice about it.
Rape is not the same. Rape is not the same as the above mentioned crimes, because rape is grey where rape should not be. Rape is coercion. Rape is when your son is very drunk and he wants to “get it in”, and he decides that if he persists enough with the drunker girl that she will go back to bed with him and then he will have earned his sex the way his parents and teachers would be proud of him earning his grades. Enough dedication and a hell of a lot of wanting.
Except sex involves someone else, and as said before it lives in that area that is too often murky when it need not be. But who are the men raping women? I’ll tell you this, it’s not the same five men who hang out in dark corners waiting for women to come home so they can overpower them with a knife. Yet again, statistically, it is the sons of all the people commenting on Brock Turner’s early prison release with “I hope he rots in hell one day.” “He didn’t get enough time for this crime.” “What a shitty human.” I guarantee you that these people are fueled (justifiably) with their anger, and are expressing it in the most sincere ways. I never doubt this for a second. I do doubt however that if they themselves have a son of Brock’s age that they have ever uttered the words: Don’t rape a woman. Don’t take advantage of a woman. Don’t let a woman be raped and do nothing about it.
Because it goes against the core being of a parent that a child of theirs could do something they themselves would never do while simultaneously feeding the false idea that if a parent loves their kid enough than that kid would never do anything that would ruin themselves, their family, or another family.
But once we start believing and implementing the idea that children can learn that assault, rape, is something bad that they can do themselves than we can eliminate the idea of a rapist as “another” and not one of our own, as rapists are brothers, friends, and relatives. In turn this will allow us to treat assault and rape as something that is yes, damaging, but also something that can be discussed the way that stealing from a candy store is. It is of course in no way the same severity of a crime but it is a learning lesson that does not make the parent’s feel as if they are having a conversation that does not need to be had because “their kid would never do that.”
Which is why I will show the infamous video of the Steubenville rape case to my son, as there is not a single piece of “appropriate” video which so perfectly encapsulates what exactly rape culture is while also highlighting how men who feel uncomfortable with a reported rape still fall victim to a toxic culture. And this toxic culture is of men who dismiss their concern with laughs, disgruntled looks, and removal from something they know is wrong but feel they can do nothing about.
For those unaware, the Steubenville rape case occurred in Steubenville, Ohio on the night of August 11th, 2012. Making national headlines, the case involved a high school girl who had become unconscious after attending a party where alcohol was present. She was repeatedly sexually assaulted by fellow high school men that she knew who took to documenting the event via photographs posted on Twitter and Instagram. These shared photos and videos included the offenders digitally penetrating the victim and attempting to get her to perform oral sex on them without her consent. When she woke up the next morning she was completely unware of what had transpired the night before, and it was not until she discovered her own body being dragged around like a doll on social media that she realized the severity of the crime inflicted upon her.
The men involved were sixteen year olds Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays who were found guilty and sentenced to one/two years behind bars in juvenile detention (they have since been released.)
The video I mentioned that was posted by group Anonymous online does not include the perpetrators. And that is the most important part of this piece.
The video instead includes Michael Nodianos as the star of the twelve minute buzzed tangent his friend records on his phone at a house in the early morning hours of that same day.
In a video that is so disturbing I watched it the way one watches a disgusting horror film (one hand covering my eyes unsuccessfully, me grimacing), I still attempted to power through. I was in the first few minutes curious about Nodianos and his involvement in the crime, as there are those who have said that he was responsible for a sexual assault the year before (although there is nothing to definitively prove this.) After minute two I changed my tune. I was hoping for Nodianos to recognize just how horrifying his words sounded. I ended with hoping that someone, anyone, would tell him to stop whatever he decided was a funny comedy sketch. Because it was not funny. And it was not drunk talk. It was a promotion of rape that started before the video itself.
By all accounts Nodianos was present at the party where the assault occurred. Posting one of the photos of victim Jane Doe, he captioned his Instagram with “some people deserve to be peed on.” He, concernedly, received many re-tweets within the next few hours of that photo. After he left Doe, or the party she was incapacitated at, he sat down and vented to his filming friend about what he had witnessed.
As the twelve minute video stretches on he makes comments about how “raped” the victim is.
“”She is so raped,” he says. “Her puss is about as dry as the sun right now” and then “they raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction.” He continues speaking, fully believing that she might be dead. “She’s so dead, she’s so raped” he proclaims almost with glee, never once feeling any remorse for his, at very least, callous remarks as he sits comfortably in a chair looking at the camera like he is auditioning for a reality TV show.
And he might as well be, because as much sincerity he does possess he is also performing. It’s not an “out” or excuse to what he said but it is evident. You can see it when he asks his friend if he is still filming. And that same person affirming him, recording his monologue, asks for more. He begs for it with his giggle every time Nodianos makes a new statement about how much she was raped that night, laughing hysterically after as if he is the over-enthusiastic audience member of an improve group.
Is this your son? Is this my son one day? Is Noadianos with his generic pale skin, brown hair, and sports t-shirt my son? I sure to hell hope not. I hope that more than anything I have ever hoped.
But Nadianos never went to trial. Nadianos never actually did anything illegal, or at least nothing he was charged for. He might have been there and displayed tasteful photos and vulgar language but he was never in a court of law defending his video, and to this day the court of public opinion might hate him but as far as the records show Ohio State did accept him into their school on an academic scholarship in 2013, although he did leave after a semester (but whether or not it was of his own accord is still not known).
Nadianos does however represent the relative we could all one day have, a relative who lives in a world (further implemented by his closer circle) that understand the concept of human dignity enough to not rape but not enough to not joke about it. And this is troubling because it belittles the assault in every which way, blames the victim for drinking too much, contributing to her own “dead” and wiping away any agency that the women has in life because she had no physical agency at that moment. It’s shocking and revolting and a thought further drilled into your brain that people will find any common interest and unify around it the more you watch the unfortunate video.
In fact I could not get that hypothesis and this video out my head for hours after I stopped watching it, an appalling truth for someone who watches true crime murder documentaries like their favorite sitcom before going to their bed alone.
It’s important to mention Nadianos is a waiting predator. You get the feeling that he would have done something to if he had the time and opportunity and ironically maybe not a camera filming him. You get the idea that as much as he liked documenting the assault he might also like to be one of the “stars” of it.
But somewhere close to the 4:15 mark of the infamous video someone we recognize enters the narrative. A voice from outside the film (we never see him/them.) He’s all of us, and he’s the son that everyone wants if he, for any unfortunate reason, had to be one of the characters occupying this terrible night.
The male voice off camera states, as Nadianos is still laughing, “”That’s not cool bro” and “That’s like rape. It is rape. They raped her.”
Nadianos has a moment to understand what exactly he has been joking about for the past four minutes, a moment where he could recant and turn a new leaf. Instead he turns it into a joke. “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!”
The “voice of reason” (unseen) tries again. “”What if that was your daughter?”
“But it isn’t,” Nodianos replies “shutting him down” for good.
And just like that you hear with half-hearted sighs the distaste in the other men’s demeanor off screen. They are the ones who realize how sickening these statements are, but who have “done enough.”
They mentioned how it was “not cool” and then tried to appeal to a more realistic side of how men in our culture view rape, the familiar but misguided idea: what if that was someone who was close to you. They mention the daughter he does not have, even his sister. But Nodianos ignores them all because he has a person behind the camera (phone) validating him in every way he wants. He continues filming and continues laughing and Nadianos is unaware that what he is doing is wrong because those reprimanding him are not standing up any more than if he had cheated in a game of beer pong. In all honesty, they might be more upset about an unfair game of beer pong. Their anger about the assault, warranted, was most likely forgotten in conversation as they ate whatever they could to soak up their alcohol.
But those teenagers off camera, the ones who objected and went on to live their lives never once in the following months hunted by media, those boys are my son. They are probably most people’s sons. They know something is wrong, they understand a crime has been committed that goes beyond something as trivial as property damage, they feel it within the depths of the person that they are. Whether they have realized the legal ramifications of what has occurred or whether or not they believe anyone will be held to that crime is insignificant. Yes it might be possible they are “saving skin” so to speak, because being witness to someone saying something so irresponsible they were fearful it might come back to bight them in the ass, but in reality they felt that incredible uncomfortable feeling that boils down to knowing they are witness to something wrong but they feel completely lost as to what to do next.
Everyone has been there in life. I have to. But I haven’t been there for a case like this because as a woman my chances of being in this situation dramatically decrease based solely on my sex. That being said, the real person who we have to worry about to make the greatest change in this case might be the one capable of the greatest change at this point. The off-screen anonymous teenager who does not want to get involved and be perceived as “sell-out” if he calls the police and tells them he believes a rape occurred.
This is our son who will do nothing wrong but not do anything right either. Is it good that he stuck up to the Nadianos (whoever that might be in the future)? Yes. But it is not enough. And it’s our fault that rape continues to be an unsolvable problem because we believe that our children are not a part of it, even the ones who “just” hear about it.
We must give them the tools to talk about rape and expose rape to those who have the power associated with their employment to legally stop it and charge those responsible. We must form a union of those who speak to their sons so that rape and assault is “uncool.” So that people like Nadianos find no joy in making videos because they will have no audience that finds disappointing fulfillment in it. More importantly, we must tell our sons that their voice is capable of reaching further if it continues to speak, speak, speak against.
The alternate video would be our sons off screen who take it further, who confront Nadianos on-screen (unable to confront the convicted rapists themselves) and who ask him straight to his face the questions that they asked before. It’s not that the questions themselves do not have merit, rather that they are dismissively thrown around without true conviction because “keeping the peace” is still a background priority (whether they realize it or not.)
Once we change the narrative in “the talk” that rapists can possibly be our son’s very good friends and that the responsibility of stopping that falls to friends then the narrative of preventing rape changes from “others” being accountable to young men being accountable. Because if young men can rape then young men can stop rape. All of this would stop the casual conversation and humor around rape that contributes to a rape culture.
And so I will never be that person who thinks to myself “my son would never rape someone” if I do not tell him that having sex with a girl while she is conscious and not saying no but not saying yes is rape. If I do not tell him that if he is in a relationship he is not owed sex. If I do not tell him that alerting someone to rape is absolutely required.
Too often parent’s worry about what a talk like this would say to their world, how it would show that their sons are full of aggression and debauchery and that this is in their genetic makeup or inevitable life plan to assault someone. But in ignoring the problem we contribute to it.
The Steubenville rape case is a story about how football players in a small town are favored, women are chastised for drinking too much and sadly called sluts because of it, but it is also a strong story of the bystanders that mocked but also those that tried and who, because of us, did not try enough.
I challenge you to make it through the entire fourteen minute video without once attempting to turn it off because you want to believe it does not exist. The wonderful thing is that we can fix it. Slowly. It will start with some talks. It’s going to be awkward for sure, but we will get through it. I will get through it. The birds and the bees talk will seem like a piece of cake.