Thursday, March 21, 2013


Edgar Gonzalez, 18 (left) and John Toribio, 18
At first glance, Torrington, CT could be anytown USA. It’s so “anytownish” that a drive through town reveals a mix of neatly manicured lawns, nicely rehabbed old buildings mixed with environmentally-correct newer architecture. With a population of under 40,000 people, (over 90 percent white), the town is reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s enduring drama, “Our Town,” except a century later. The big difference? In Torrington, two high school football players are currently charged with forcibly raping a 13-year-old girl. That did not happen in Wilder’s Grovers Corner.

Trent Mays, 16 (l) and Ma'Lik Richmond, 17
Coming on the heels of the highly-publicized case of two footballers being convicted of rape in Steubenville, OH, the case seems eerily similar. According to published reports, Edgar Gonzalez and John Toribio were charged with felony second-degree sexual assault and other crimes last month in cases involving different 13-year-old girls. Toribio also was charged two weeks ago in another second-degree sexual assault. Not guilty pleas have been entered on behalf of both. Similarly, in Steubenville, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond answered charges of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl. Since they were minors at the time of the crime, they were sentenced as juveniles. It is likely one of them will spend a year in juvenile jail, while the other may spend two years.

There are two issues that jump off the page in both of these cases. First, via these two cases we are witnessing the extreme downside of social media. In both towns, other teens have taken to Twitter to express their anger at the victims of these assaults. The unidentified 13-year-old girl in Torrington has been called all the predictable names – snitch, bitch, slut, whore, hoe, etc. Very few Tweets have been reported that are directed at the alleged attackers. The same thing happened in Ohio. Such is the duplicitous nature of our collective morality. Some Tweets asked why a 13-year-old girl was hanging out with 18-year-old boys. One Tweet admonished the victim for “ruining two people’s lives.” Another Tweeted, “young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment, young men acting like boys that’s a sentence.” Have we not yet moved past or evolved up from the “boys will be boys” argument?

Blaming women for being raped is nothing new, but here in the early 21st century one might believe we’d be a bit more enlightened than to perpetuate such ignorant admonishments. By now, you have no doubt heard the intense criticism leveled at CNN’s anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow for their post-Steubenville sentencing coverage. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition criticizing the two reporters for allegedly sympathizing on-air with the convicted rapists rather than the young victim. Both have publicly denied that their reporting was skewed toward the boys, but the proof is in the video. Watch: A tip of the socially-conscious hat to those 200,000 plus people who signed the petition asking why the reporters never saw fit to even mention the plight of the young woman who was raped. The petition demands an on-air apology from CNN. Oh, and it gets worse: Shame, shame on CNN for airing a courtroom clip in which the name of the 16-year-old victim was said out loud. Come on CNN. What the hell is going on?

Beyond the clear sexism in the public’s and the media’s response to these types of cases is the issue of obvious negligence on the part of adults. Is no one teaching teens the necessity of social consciousness, respect for fellow human beings and the importance of behavioral boundaries? We all know that left to their own devices, some young teenage girls will recklessly flirt with older boys, and those older boys will most often be ruled by their own raging testosterone levels. Put those two combustible agents together and poof – teen rape in Anytown, USA. Don’t misinterpret this: I place the blame for these sexual assaults directly on the boys who perpetrated the crimes. But I have to wonder why we adults are not working a bit harder to properly socialize kids.

As mentioned above, there is nothing new about any of this. When I was in high school in what seems about 100 years ago, a young male teacher told one of my horny male classmates this, when pointing out a particularly big-breasted teenage girl: “See? That’s the kind of shit you go after and you don’t stop until you get it.” I never forgot that moment. How many other teachers and coaches are counseling their randy young male students or athletes to pursue that “kind of shit” even today? I daresay it’s pretty widespread. As usual, the numbers tell the story: 10.5 percent of all American high school-age girls have been forced into sexual intercourse, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is conservative, based on the CDC’s further finding that up to 50 percent of sexual assaults against women are never reported. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 2007 that one in two rape victims was under age 18; one in six was under age twelve.

Often the perpetrators simply continue their daily lives, uninterrupted. Why weren’t any of these boys suspended from their football teams when the formal accusations were made? In Steubenville, Gonzalez had already been charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery after he and three others allegedly jumped three 14-year-olds in search of money, yet he was allowed to play in the 2012 football season anyway.

These incidents are hard reminders that we are still a paternalistic society; that we still give our young athletes a pass when it comes to their blatantly bad – and sometimes felonious – behavior; that victims of sexual crimes are often further victimized by onlookers and even Tweeters; and most importantly, that the grownups have fallen way down on the job of teaching kids right from wrong. When two grown, educated, successful women broadcast their extreme compassion for two rapists on national television, something is way, way off. When high school football coaches attempt to cover up the criminal actions of their players, the entire community suffers. It all serves only to perpetuate the myth that “it’s just sex.” It’s not just sex. It’s about power and violence and every time we protect or sympathize with a boy who rapes a girl we put another ethical dent in an already damaged culture.

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