What’s difficult about communication is that most of the messages we receive are delivered through the words we do not speak. Passivity is an invisible and pervasive thief, which robs us of a direct route to progress. Sometimes, no- I think most of the time, we leave information out of our dialogue on purpose because we think that the omission of information is in some way beneficial to someone. We are trying to protect someone. But what if this omission is doing the opposite?
The language we use, our dialect, our vocabulary, our tone, inflection, accent, or voice; is what we use to give meaning to a thought or concept. We then pass this meaning along through words, to our friends, neighbors, children, and so on. In this way, we create a culture. In my opinion, the way to address a problem (in society, in our relationships, at work, in politics) is to start by examining the language we use. It seems to me that most frequently the problem is that we are lacking an effective way to describe a concept; we are missing some words. We are lacking in our ability to pass along meaning behind an idea.
The Steubenville Rape Case has inspired me to give a great deal of thought to the root of the problem we face, together, as a society- when it comes to sexual assault crimes. First off, this is our problem. Not her problem or their problem. In addressing our problem of sexual assault in our country, what can we do? Can we influence the media to identify the occurrence of sexual assault as a national tragedy? Can we ask our newscasters to speak of the victim with honor and integrity- to sympathize with the violation of their own body, with what has really been taken from them? Can we encourage dialogue and behavior that supports the victim in their after-care and healing process? Can we expose the courage and bravery it takes for a victim to stand trial and speak of what its like to participate in the process of prosecuting their assailants? Are they not heroes who give other woman the courage to tell their story? Can we question whether or not it is beneficial to hide the identity of a victim, when in their own town their identity and reputation is already clearly under threat, or is it more beneficial to give them a voice, to give them their identity back?
We might discourage a dynamic of retaliation and demonizing which passively suggests that sex crimes exist in a vacuum, by instead asking our reporters and our citizens to look for the answer in the root of the problem. We should speak of the messages we send, and concepts we participate in, that create these circumstances. We should examine the parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and other adults who enable this type of behavior by idolizing certain types of young men, say football players, as infallible and less deserving of punishment. How did young girls conceive of the idea that it is okay to further aid in abuse of the victim by using slanderous, obtrusive language to degrade her instead of siding with her and lending their support? How did these young men decide that a young woman’s body was public property, and not a privately owned entity to be valued, treasured, and earned- not taken? This meaning was passed along to these children somehow.
We can take a stand, and look at the dialogue we haven’t been having with our friends and family about how and why these crimes happen, and who is at fault. We can effectively change our culture by giving a meaning to the horrific consequences these acts have on the victims, by speaking with thoughtfulness and integrity when it comes to these crimes. We can. And I think it starts today.
I do not know why the Steubenville Rape Case has stirred in me such a drive to pursue change like no other case I’ve heard of. I am not a rape victim. I can’t even imagine the horror and challenges victims of sexual assault bare. Maybe It’s just the right place and the right time. Maybe, just maybe, this sliver of awareness is enough to generate a crack in the collective psyche of our nation.
-Lacy O’Brien – ReVoice