Steubenville wasn’t an isolated incident

If anyone doubted it before, there is no doubting it now. The sexual abuse case in Steubenville, Ohio was not an isolated incident. Just this week, information regarding the sexual assault of two teen girls, both of whom took their own lives, has come to light.

One case dates back to 2011 while the other occurred in 2012. In the first case, a Canadian teenager, Rehtaeh Parsons, was allegedly gang raped at a party by four boys in November of 2011, when she was just 15 years old. After the attack, a photo of the assault was circulated on the boys’ cell phones, and Rehtaeh was bullied and tormented for a year. While posting such a photo, even if the sex had been consensual, is considered to be child pornography under Canadian law, no charges were ever filed. According to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman, “There are factors in determining other than the picture itself; ages, who sent the material, computers, so it’s complex. We do understand people want the answers, and the big question here is why was it done or why weren’t there charges, and we understand that. We’re not trying to deflect blame or not be accountable” (CNN). The shame, humiliation, and lack of accountability proved to be too much for Rehtaeh to endure. Last week, at the age of 17, she hanged herself (CNN).

The second case occurred in California in September of 2012, but is only making national news this week after three arrests were finally made. Audrie Pott, a 15 year old Saratoga high school student, was allegedly gang raped after passing out at a party. The alleged attackers took photos, posted them online, and showed them around the school. Following the attack and distribution of the photos, Pott posted on her Facebook page: “The whole school knows… My life is ruined” (NBC). Eight days after the attack, she took her own life. Her parents never knew of the alleged rape until after their daughter’s death. Just this week, three juveniles were arrested and charged with sexual battery (NBC).

If these tragedies do not spark a larger conversation about what kids are being taught regarding how to treat one another, I don’t know what will. What is the tipping point that will lead us to action? How many more lives will be lost before we stop blaming victims and start addressing the root cause of violence against women? One is too many.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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