What I wish, and what's reality, after Steubenville

Reuters/Drew Singer

This past weekend, protestors lined up outside Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville to voice their displeasure of the county sheriff's handling of the rape investigation.

During my first week of college, I had my second alcoholic drink. Or, to be perfectly honest, I had my second, third and fourth drinks -- and I pretty much lost count after that.

I barely had any experience with alcohol. The only time I drank in high school was during my senior year, when one of my softball teammates bought some cheap wine at a nearby liquor store, and a few of my teammates and I shared swigs before practice one day.

I went to my first college party the third day I was at school. I felt like an adult, even though I was just 17 years old and hardly behaved like one. I didn't have to answer to anyone. Certainly no one at the party -- people I barely knew -- was going to tell me to stop drinking.

The only consequences I suffered from that night were a massive headache, a mutinous stomach and severe dehydration. I'd walked to the party, and my then-college boyfriend returned me to my dorm room without incident.

I was lucky, but so many other women who drink too much and find themselves in vulnerable, unpredictable situations are not.

I know I'm not the only woman to drink too much in the company of relative strangers, but after reading about the explosive situation in Steubenville, Ohio, I am that much more grateful that the worst thing that ever happened to me when too much alcohol was involved was a bad hangover.

On a night in Steubenville in August, a 16-year-old girl allegedly suffered far worse consequences. Two high school football players are accused of raping the girl, taking her to several different parties and sexually assaulting and humiliating her in front of others, all while she was reportedly so intoxicated she was potentially unconscious. The two 16-year-old boys -- Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond -- are currently under house arrest on rape charges with a trial date set for Feb. 13.


Two Steubenville football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, are currently under house arrest on rape charges with a trial date set for Feb. 13.

The emotional case hasn't just played out before the public, but also online. Some of the Steubenville students who witnessed the alleged acts reportedly took to Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets, detailing what they had seen with inappropriate commentary and photos. Some of them seemed more delighted than disgusted, as evidenced by a video from one Steubenville student who joked about the alleged rape. Online activist groups, Anonymous and KnightSec, have accused local authorities in Steubenville of a cover-up because of the city's perceived loyalty to the football team and countered by leaking video and information online about people they believe witnessed the reported assault.

Last Saturday, a rally called "Occupy Steubenville" took place in the divided city of 18,000. Among the thousands of demonstrators were rape victims, many of whom publicly recounted the difficulties they had been through.

I wish I could tell women that if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation -- whether it's drinking too much or trusting someone they shouldn't -- that the law will protect them if something bad happens. I wish I could tell them someone else would speak up or come to their aid if they are in a dangerous situation. I wish I could assure them that if they are the victim of a sex crime, they shouldn't feel scared to come forward, or think that it's their fault.

But that's not the real world.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 97 percent of rapists never receive jail time, 54 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police, and approximately 75 percent of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. These are cold statistics about how we deal with sexual crimes in this country and how much of a burden women face in protecting themselves.

If I had a daughter, here is what I would tell her:

• Don't trust easily.

• Never leave any of your friends behind, especially not in the company of someone you don't know.

• Fight back. Always.

• Don't be afraid to call if you're worried or afraid. I don't care where you are. I'll come get you.

• If you feel uncomfortable, it's your intuition. Get out of there.

• You'll probably drink, even if I don't want you to. If you leave your drink somewhere, don't pick it back up. Don't drink excessively just to prove something or fit in. In fact, don't drink excessively period. More often than not, you won't like the decisions you make when you do.

It would sicken me to say those things, because it's a poor reflection of our world, but it's no different than what my mother taught me. I was a tomboy growing up and, at times, it made my mother uncomfortable. I always was hanging out with boys, and while the interactions were all innocent (usually, we were playing sports), there were a few occasions when my mother would see me playing with them and call me home for no apparent reason. When I would ask why, she would say she just didn't feel comfortable seeing me around so many boys.

I used to think she was being paranoid, but when I look at what happened in Steubenville, I understand. My mother, like any mother, just wanted me to develop the habit of always having my guard up and recognizing situations.

My mother knew she couldn't protect me from everything and everyone. No parent can. All they can do is hope their children learn without ever having to experience hardships for themselves.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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