THE BLOG

Steubenville and Beyond

Mar 20, 2013 | Updated May 20, 2013

The life of a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio was forever changed by rape a year ago. Rape should never, ever happen. Sadly it did in Steubenville and according to numbers from statistic brain.com, it happens nearly 90,000 more times each year in the U.S. The Steubenville rape and the national stats prove we need to do whatever we can to make sure that rape doesn't happen.

To that end, sex education in this country doesn't go far enough. We are missing an extremely vital component and if we don't rectify it we will continue to suffer as individuals and as a society.

A judge found two young men guilty of raping that 16-year-old Ohio girl by digital penetration. Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, will likely spend the rest of their lives as registered sex offenders and spend the next four to five years in a juvenile detention center. At the trial, the girl said she has no memory of the attack because she was passed out from heavy drinking. The boys said the sex was consensual.

The victim's mother gave a statement after the judge found Mays and Richmond guilty, according to cnn.com:
"Human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us... You displayed not only a lack of this compassion, but a lack of any moral code."

Make no mistake, the boys actions are reprehensible, immoral and unconscionable. Their punishment is appropriate. But this crime and others raise serious questions about what and when we teach our sons and daughters beyond "no means no."

Sexologist Dr. Rachael Ross told Fox News in Chicago, the average urban child starts having sex at age 13. And a Chicago Public Schools risk behavior survey found more than half of high school students have had sex -- 12 percent of them before they were 13 years old.

With those statistics in mind, Chicago Public Schools recently announced it will start a new sex education program that begins with, what it says is age-appropriate information, in kindergarten. Currently sex ed is taught beginning in 5th grade. The new plan should be fully implemented by 2016 and parents can decide to have their children opt out of the program.

To be fair, a CPS spokesperson said they will teach what it calls refusal skills and delay tactics in the 8th grade. In high schools they talk about teen dating violence, respect in relationships self respect and dating responsibilities, according to a spokesperson.

But as soon as we start teaching our children about the body's role in sex we should teach them about the role of the mind in sex. The decision making process. It's not enough to arm them with simply no means no or refusal skills. That is as naïve as believing they will wait until marriage to have sex -- the statistics say otherwise.

Our children need guidelines to help them navigate the 50-shades-of-grey areas. Should a young man know when a young woman has had too much to drink and therefore cannot make a decision to have consensual sex? What are the legal and moral lines that cannot be crossed? Most importantly, how are we getting this vital information to our children before they need it?

To go along with the CPS classes and sex education classes around the country, there is a wealth of materials available to parents to help them have "the sex talk" with their children and to tell kids how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, but if there is anything available to help parents talk about how to read the signals from potential sex partners, most parents don't know about it and don't have that talk.

For most young adults the first formal education they get in sex versus sexual harassment and sexual assault comes when they get into college. Along with educating them about the dangers of drinking and drugs, colleges now require incoming students to take online courses educating them about right and wrong when it comes to sexual conduct.

But why wait until then? If we need to educate elementary school students about sex, we also need to educate them about their moral, legal and ethical rights when it comes to the conduct that goes with it.

Would it have changed the situation in Steubenville? Of course not. This young woman was victimized and she had no way to defend herself. Will it keep other young people from making a mistake that could change their lives forever? We have to give it a try.