Don’t get drunk or you could get raped: What do we tell our daughters after Steubenville?

By now we all know the horrific details of how they moved her limp and ravaged body from party to party, how they tweeted and texted, recorded and uploaded, and, how in graphic detail, they described to their friends what they were doing to the girl who was “like dead.” We also know that in the morning, Trent Mays, fearing he would be caught, called the girl’s father and explained, “That it was all a misunderstanding. I just took care of your daughter when she was drunk and made sure she was safe.” Then he texted his friends and asked for “as much help as [he] could get.” After that, he probably went home and passed out, secure in his thinking that he was a part of the invincible Big Red football team and that his coach, who had already seen the video and said nothing, would make it okay.

While these particular events read like a cyber-horror novel, the truth is that what happened to Jane Doe, as she’s come to be known, occurs with alarmingly regularity in the United States—every 1.3 minutes a girl is raped. We just don’t hear about it, because most rapists don’t stop to send text messages. But, there is something about this event, like the December rape in New Delhi, that is different, something that goes beyond the sheer stupidity of rapists tweeting their hatred for this unresponsive girl. Perhaps, it was the complete lack of empathy on the part of all the participants; perhaps it was Michael Nodianos’ youtube mockery of his friends raping “dead girl”; maybe it was the reprehensible sexual fantasy being played out by Trent and Ma’lik on every form of social media, the fantasy of having dominion over an incapacitated girl while the world tuned in; or, it could simply be that I have a daughter, and I know that there is a very real possibility that my daughter could be that young girl. Right now, the shadow of that possibility lurks in the depths of my consciousness, and I can’t sit with it for more than a nano-second because I am strangled by its realness.

But it’s there and it’s palpable and it’s not going away. 

And you know what, neither are the teenage parties where kids drink too much, or the boys who think that girls in shorts skirts “want it,” or the shows like Toddlers & Tiaras that sexualize 3-year olds, or the mob of bystanders who think that humiliating a young girl is the  party. To think that these things and ideas will magically disappear and we will suddenly eradicate the perception of masculinity that includes violence against women, is naïve and dangerous, and it does nothing more than force us into ignoring the very real possibility that each of our daughters could be that young Steubenville girl.

Since the verdict, I’ve read an abundance of article on our need to raise kind, brave, and strong boys; many of these pieces were written by mothers of boys, mothers who want to raise sons who will respect women and who will not stand by idly if another man defiles and humiliates a woman, mothers who do not want their sons to rape. Please, ladies raise these boys; we need more men like them. But what about our girls?

I’ve yet to read anything that discusses how girls could express their sexuality in a culture that many are now calling “a rape culture,” a culture that repeatedly degrades women whether it’s through obnoxious glossy ads or on Hollywood award shows. I’ve yet to hear any honest and legitimate ideas on what we’re supposed to tell our daughters when they hear middle-aged men declaring that there are varying degrees of rape—“legitimate,” “forcible,” “consensual,” and, Richard Mourdock’s reprehensible “God’s gift” rape. And I’ve yet to read how we’re supposed to explain to our daughters the outrageous ideology that there is a right way to say “no,” and if their “no” doesn’t resonate clearly with the rapist, well then they “really wanted it.” How, as parents of girls, are we supposed to navigate a landscape brimming with 3-year olds in heels and lipstick and tweens in lacey thongs that read, “Call Me” and “I Dare You.”

Maybe, I’ve yet to read anything because, short of telling our daughters the one harrowing truth, “don’t get drunk or you could get raped,” nothing else seems to makes sense. Unless of course we continue to raise our daughters under the umbrella of what they shouldn’t be doing: don’t wear provocative clothing—short skirts, tight jeans, tight tops—don’t leave your group, especially to go to the bathroom, don’t make your lips too glossy or your hair too shiny, and the cache of other negatives that we imbue in our girls, so the misguided men of this society won’t be tempted to rape them. But even this umbrella of negatives doesn’t keep them safe anymore.

At two, my daughter is too young to know or understand anything about this event, and when she becomes old enough to understand, sadly, this event will have played out a hundred more times in a hundred more places in America. There are days when I look at my little girl, and I shudder at the world in which she will enter; I shudder that its beauty and wonder are so often compromised and undermined; I shudder that events such as these take place and that each one creates another fissure in a world that seems to have one too many cracks. If Steubenville was not a clarion call that we need to begin unstitching cultural mythologies such as “boys will be boys,” and we need to stop playing linguistic gymnastics—there is NO such thing as maybe-rape or a non-rape or consensual rape—then I shudder to think of what the next Trent and Ma’lik will be broadcasting over social media.

Maria Smilios





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