Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Monsters

October 29, 2009

A few weeks ago, I said this about Hollywood’s defense of Roman Polanski:

What message does it send to our sons when the rape of a young girl is dismissed as something that is not that bad? What message does it send to the would-be Donalds of the world? To the would-be Roman Polanskis? To all the boys and men (and, yes, perhaps, women) who would grab and grope and hurt and rape, and to all the boys and men who wouldn’t? That sometimes, it’s okay? And that even if you wouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t necessarily condemn someone who does grab or grope or rape… who? Your sister, your mother, your wife, your lover, your daughter, your child?

I could not have imagined, when I wrote those words, that one might also have added this suggestion: that it’s okay to stand by and watch as a young girl gets gang-raped.

I don’t know if the boys who stood around and cheered while their schoolmate was gang-raped this past weekend were paying attention when the glitterati lined up to defend Roman Polanski for anally raping a thirteen year old, but in a way, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether one can point to a causal relation between the Polanski case and the terrible story of a homecoming celebration gone horrifically wrong, they both stand as evidence of the same thing: ours is a culture that has not done enough to demonize rape. A culture that refuses to fully deplore child-rape, a culture in which people make apologies for ‘misunderstood’ rapists, a culture in which teenage boys think that it is entertaining to participate in gang-rape: this is rape-culture, people, and it is sickening. Sickening.

As I said a few weeks ago, raising a daughter in such a culture – a culture that does not take the exploitation and abuse of women and children seriously (need more proof? Check out Gore Vidal’s comments on the Polanski case) – is a terrifying thing. But what is equally terrifying is the prospect of raising a boy in this culture. How do I explain to my son – how do I get him to really, really understand – that sexual aggression toward or sexual exploitation of women is deplorable when so much in our culture asserts that it is not? When women regularly appear in music videos and movies and video games as sexual playthings? When sexual conquest is presented, in the same media, as an enterprise that is by turns cool or funny but almost never troubling or problematic? When people still whisper and chuckle about assaulted women ‘asking for it’? When violence against women is a regular occurrence on primetime television? When leading figures in pop culture dismiss the seriousness of the rape of a thirteen year old? When a group of boys (and girls?) think it’s okay – fun? awesome? cool? – to stand around and watch a girl get gang-raped?

How does a mother fight against these messages? How does she assert – against the onslaught of visual and aural media telling a different story – that these things are horrible, terrible, wrong? How does she raise her son to respect women, and to deplore disrespect toward women in all of its forms, when so much of popular culture seems to snicker at the very idea behind her back, when it nudges and winks and whispers to boys, to her boy, that this whole thing about respecting women and girls, this whole story about how it’s wrong to make them do those things you want to do, this big idea that they don’t want it and it’s bad to force it and it hurts them and it’s wrong blah blah blah? Is just a bunch of crap. How?

How do we fight this? How? How do we stop this, here, now? How do we raise our own sons to be warriors against this? How do we make sure that they never, ever, ever stand in such a crowd?


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    Jennifer October 29, 2009 at 12:53 am

    I have no answers, only thoughts…and my thoughts are that fathers/male role models are so important in this fight. As a liberal thinker, there were things I deplored about living in the south and about the church culture there. BUT so many of their families had strong fatherly presence and those boys/teenaged boys/men knew how to treat women. More than just opening doors and carrying heavy items, they never expected a kiss on the third or fourth date, much less the first. They never expected anything physically from a date, but rather found it a privilege to take a girl out.

    I know I’m making generalizations, but I think it comes down to the everyday things that are taught to our children and the men they see modeling behavior. Do we really think it’s just as important to teach our sons to carry heavy things for women as it is to teach our daughters to keep their legs closed when they have a dress on? Are we modeling that respect for women is important on an everyday basis?

    Alex October 29, 2009 at 1:36 am

    I completely agree that fathers are the best role models for young boys, and in the absence of a father, another trusted, respected male.

    If their main role model is a beer swilling, chauvinistic, woman objectifier….then the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    And these things have to be discussed openly.
    .-= Alex´s last blog ..Are you a yeller? =-.

    Neen October 29, 2009 at 3:18 am

    TALK to your boys! Sorry to shout, but you have to talk to them about it! Point it ALL out, as often as it comes up. Comment on how sexist that commercial is and explain why. How you despise the women in their video games, because really, could they see any of their female friends or their Mom, or any woman they know, just standing around waiting to be saved by the big strong man! Explain that porn is to real sex what action movies are to real life. (You’d be amazed how soon after starting Junior High they get exposed to it.) Ask if they call their friends on sexist behaviour. Then ask them why they don’t for crying out loud. Raise them to be their own person, and not look to their wingnut teenage friends for validation.

    It’s a constant battle, one I’ve been fighting for 17 years, but my teenage boys go to the “gang-central” school in “crime central” Winnipeg, and when they told me about what happened to that poor girl they were ENRAGED! They said if they’d been there they wouldn’t have been spectating they’d have been breaking heads. (Did I mention, tough school… and yeah, I told them, “NO, you go inside and get the COPS who were supervising the dance!” The goober is a straight A Senior, and this shorted our even his reasoning skills. His grade 11 brother is more emotional and impulse driven, I did expect it from him.)
    So, hopefully, I’ve managed to do something right, but I’m not quitting yet. They have a little sister and a little brother to role model for, and I want them to be good examples, not horrible warnings.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 8:52 am

    You’re absolutely right. TALK TALK TALK. Or shout, if you have to.

    I totally agree. And you should be so proud of your boys.

    pixielation October 29, 2009 at 5:53 am

    I have daughters, and the fear that some day, some boy might hurt them so badly is one of those many nameless fears that reside in the back of the mind.

    I think your son will grow up to be a respectful human being, with integrity and honour – because you’re going to teach him those qualities. And he will be just as shocked and horrified by the actions of others are all normal and well adjusted people are.

    The 20 participants of this disgraceful attack cannot possibly have been brought up by attentive, involved or moral parents. As already said by Alex, the male role model in a family is the absolute focus for a son. It would be far better to have a strong single mother than a bad father role model.

    The only thing to do is keep talking, and keep acting – keep open communication lines with your son. Let him see everyday the right way to treat people – both men and women. Let him grow up in a world that is full of respect. He will be confident in his own skin, and certainly protective of others. To be the superhero is far better than being the villain.
    .-= pixielation´s last blog ..Chinese for one =-.

    Boy Crazy (@claritychaos) October 29, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    I have to respectfully pipe in regarding your third paragraph. I’m hesitant to jump in blaming the parents off all of the onlooking boys. Without knowing all the details, it’s hard to know what took over there clarity, their morals, their convictions here. Drugs? Alcohol? Mob mentality? All of those things and more? I’m NOT excusing any of these boys, just trying to slow down a jump on their parents over the limited info we have about this incident.
    .-= Boy Crazy (@claritychaos)´s last blog ..On regrets (and not having them) =-.

    Another Suburban Mom October 29, 2009 at 6:40 am

    This just sickens me. I think that the bystanders should be punished as well. And that poor girl, my heart is breaking for her.

    But what to do? I am not sure.
    .-= Another Suburban Mom´s last blog ..HNT Viva Las Vegas Edition-Grand Finale =-.

    andrea October 29, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I have twin daughters – 2.5 years old. I cannot imagine anything like this happening to them. How do I protect them from something like this, though?

    A similarly horrific situation has emerged here (Melbourne, Australia) over the past few weeks. During an unofficial end-of-season football trip, members of an under-19s local footy team allegedly gang-raped two 18-year-old women/girls. They met the girls at a pub and invited them back to a “party”. When they arrived at the rented holiday house, the girls found that there were no other women there. The boys/men (some were 17 years old) whisked them upstairs, put them in separate rooms and pushed wardrobes against the doors to trap the girls. Over the course of several hours, one girl was allegedly raped by eight guys and the other by five. The second girl has withdrawn her charges, but will be a key witness in the prosecution of the first girl’s rapists.

    The boys/men had apparently been drinking a lot and watching pornography in the hours leading up to them going to the pub and meeting these girls.

    In a way, these young men are imitating professional football players. Several scandals have emerged here over the past few years about groups of players having “group sex” with individual women (I put it in quotes because whether it is group sex or gang rape is up for question in all cases). Alcohol played a big part in these cases, too. At least one big football league here now has a Respect for Women program that all its players must go through. How bloody sad is it that such a course is even necessary, though?

    I don’t know. It’s horrifying.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 11:37 am

    So horrifying. How many stories like these do we have to endure?

    A October 29, 2009 at 7:37 am

    I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly. And I don’t have any answers. Just one question. Why do you assume all bystanders were boys? You mention it twice and both times say ‘boys’. I would not assume there were no girls witnessing that, as horrible as that seems

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Very good point – I may go in and change that.

    Mandy October 29, 2009 at 9:18 am

    The original report said it was all boys (I checked when I read it originally); however, I don’tknow if that was accurate.
    .-= Mandy´s last blog ..PSA =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    That’s what I’ve seen today, too.

    CaroLyn October 29, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Indeed. I’ve also known too many men who have been sexually abused – largely by other men when they were children, but one by a woman. Women as rape victims experience a huge amount of shame and pain, but I think in some ways, it’s harder for men to admit they’ve been victimized.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how this horrifying piece of news intersects with your parenting. As a new mom of a little girlbaby, I hope to figure out how to walk the balance of ensuring she’s neither a victim, nor a victimizer.

    Funny that Firefox doesn’t think victimizer is a word.

    .-= CaroLyn´s last blog ..Hypnobabies Review =-.

    Boy Crazy (@claritychaos) October 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    I’ve been thinking the same thing regarding boys. We must must MUST be advocates for our daughters, but that doesn’t mean (and I do not think HBM is implying this either) that we do this at the neglect of our sons. (full disclosure: I am a mother to three boys)
    .-= Boy Crazy (@claritychaos)´s last blog ..On regrets (and not having them) =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 31, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    It’s a boy thing, a girl thing, an EVERYBODY thing.

    Amanda October 29, 2009 at 7:38 am

    This is something I fear for my boys. My husband does his best to provide them an example in the home of how to treat women. We both take EVERY opportunity we can to talk to them about those situations and that girls and women are to be treated with respect. We also discuss how forcing ANYONE to do anything they don’t want to is wrong. As a child of domestic violence it’s not a subject I take lightly.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Kids on Age =-.

    Hollee October 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Being a mom of boys is a huge responsibility. When do you start to explain this? How? I think the example in the home is key. If boys see dad honoring and cherishing mom, that has to sow some seeds. Even so, as they get older, we are going to talk their ears off about this topic. It has to be done, and my boys are not going to be bystanders. I want them to be the ones to jump in and stop the nefarious activity. It’s a really tall order, but it’s our responsibility as enlightened moms of boys.

    Melia October 29, 2009 at 8:58 am

    The rape culture we face is horrible, and has such gripping societal roots… the only way to change it is to talk, yell and tell the world that it is NOT okay to rape. To stand up, even in a crowd, and make it stop.

    Rape is not okay, and standing by, doing nothing, is not any better.
    .-= Melia´s last blog ..Cheese Straws and Tofu Bites?!? =-.

    Diane October 29, 2009 at 9:08 am

    When I googled “Richmond Cailfornia” I came across and article that says the High School is accepting cards and donations for the rape victim. If you like to send a card the address is;

    Richmond High
    1250 23rd St
    Richmond CA

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks so much for this – I tweeted it.

    Mandy October 29, 2009 at 9:17 am

    As a mother of two young boys, this thought went through my head too. What would I do if I knew one of the boys, if, God forbid that was EVER one of MY boys that stood and watched?

    I have to believe based on David’s and my behaviour over the years that they would step in.

    But mob mentality is a strange thing. I remember all those case studies in psychology class where yelling FIRE was about the only thing that compelled people to act. And the bigger the crowd, the more likely the inaction.
    .-= Mandy´s last blog ..PSA =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    This where cultural messages are so important – if the mob thinks rape is okay, and that mob grows… horror. We have to get to a place where rape is viewed as abhorrent in the way that murder is, such that it is almost inconceivable that a mob can form around such an action.

    Boy Crazy (@claritychaos) October 29, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Exactly. This is what is so horrifying to me.
    .-= Boy Crazy (@claritychaos)´s last blog ..On regrets (and not having them) =-.

    red pen mama October 29, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Let’s not forget, we have to teach our girls that they are worthy of respect. That’s NOT a blame the victim argument — this poor 15-year-old girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Boy or girl, the lessons are: Respect others; respect yourself. I agree with a lot of other commenters here: It’s horrifying and strong male role models are important, again, for boys AND girls. I knew from day one that I was worthy of love and respect because my father gave me love and respect and affection and strength. He didn’t hurt me; he didn’t treat me in any inferior way to my brother; and his love and treatment of my mother was of the utmost love and respect.

    Jasper and Emilia have such amazing role models in your and your husband, and beyond. I think you will have to fight less than you think. That doesn’t mean your shouldn’t constantly talk about it (respecting others, saying “that’s wrong” when you see another person mistreated in popular culture or at your neighbor’s house). The very fact that you are aware gives your children an advantage.


    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Absolutely. There’s a whole ‘nother post there, about raising girls to recognize this as abhorrent, too. For their own sakes, for all our sakes.

    Mamalooper October 29, 2009 at 9:52 am

    My daughter is almost 4 and I can’t tell you the number of times that mothers of sons have said to me “glad that I don’t have a daughter and have to deal with all that”. Um,…yes you DO have to deal with it because it might be YOUR son that MY daughter has to fend off.

    That “boys will be boys” attitude is definitely on the spectrum that includes the apologists for Polanski.

    And with our culture so sexualized in a negative way, I don’t know how I’d talk to boys about it – so so hard to go against the tide.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Oh, dude, I KNOW. I’ve thought exactly the same thing when people have said that to me with Emilia – dealing with ‘all that’ is just as important with boys, as all this stuff demonstrates. That people don’t get that: UGH.

    pkzcass October 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I have two boys, and I admit, I once thought that about not having girls and “dealing with all that.” But you’re absolutely right…I still have to deal with that; teaching my sons to respect women and treat them accordingly is more important than ever these days, not only because of the rape culture, but also because of what we see/hear about other countries/cultures that treat women as second- class citizens. My husband is a terrific role model for them and I think that you need to remember that your husband will be too. It’s not just your responsibility to teach your son how to be a good man; your husband already is one and can teach from experience.

    liz October 29, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Here’s a comment I left on Shakespeare’s Sister:

    “Driving my 7 year-old son to school today, I said, “I read an article in a newspaper today about something that happened in California, and I’d like to talk to you about it, okay?”
    Him: “Okay”
    Me: “Some high school students in California badly hurt someone while some other people were watching, and the people who were hurting this person didn’t stop and the people who were watching didn’t go get help for the person they were hurting.”
    Him: “That’s bad”
    Me: “I know that if someone tells you that they don’t like what you’re doing, or to stop touching them, or just plain ‘no’ that you know to stop what you’re doing, right?”
    Him: “Right”
    Me: “And if you ever see anyone being hurt by someone else, what do you do?”
    Him: “I run and get help”
    Me: “That’s right.”
    Him: “This was a true story? These people really hurt someone? And noone got help?”
    Me: “That’s right.”
    Him: “So how did the newspaper find out?”
    Me: “Someone who wasn’t there heard someone who was watching it say something about it and SHE called the police and the police found the girl who was hurt and arrested one of the people who hurt her.”
    Him: “Oh.”
    Me: “So whenever you see someone in trouble, please be the person who gets help. Ok?”
    Him: “I will.”"

    Another commenter, IrishUp gave some more good ideas of things to teach your sons (and daughters)
    .-= liz´s last blog ..It’s a BUY-cott! =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    That’s awesome. Be proud.

    LAVENDULA October 29, 2009 at 11:53 am

    where do i start? I have a 19 year old son he is a kind and gentle child.and I HAVE NEVER BOUGHT INTO THAT BOYS WILL BE BOYS SHITE. his father loves me and always shows kindness towards me and my daughters,even when hes cranky or we are disagreeing about something.I am of strong opinions and my children all know how i feel about everyhting.all i can do is hope that my husband and i have provided the kind of influence that would make my children always do whats right.
    when i read your blog this morning for some reason i was brought to mind of a book i have read and re-read over the years called THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE by riane eisler. in it something she says is that in times of war that there is alays more violent crimes against women committed. any how sorry to get off point here my heart is breaking for that poor child for shame all of tjose other children just standing by and watching it frightens me that mob mentality and not one child having the balls to step in and do the right thing.HBM you and your husband seem like such kind and awesome parents that i don’t think you need to fear that jasper will ever do something so horrible.xo

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read that – will have to pull it out again.

    I have much faith in mine and my husband’s ability to model the right attitudes for Jasper and Emilia – I just worry about how strong the pull of popular culture (and the influence of friends) is. Uphill battle, I think.

    LAVENDULA November 2, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    catherine it may well be an uphill battle but in the end all we can rely on is the job we have done as parents and hope we have done it well enough to provide our children with healthy self-esteem compassion and kindness and strenghth of will and moral values that will encourage them to make the right choices for themselves and others i can say this as i have a 19 year old boy and 17 year old daughter as well as my 2 youngest that i hope and pray am doing as good a job with xo

    Alison October 29, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    It’s more, I don’t know, comforting in a way to assume that none of those 20 boys had parents who brought them up right, who taught them that even to see a fraction of what was happening and not get help was just as bad as actually participating. But I doubt it’s true. As someone said earlier, the mob mentality is frightening, and even “good” people can get swept up in it, especially at that age. I bet at least some of the parents of those kids who stood by are wondering what happened to the boys they loved and trusted that night. I wish I could believe it was as simple as “bad parenting”, but I don’t.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Meme of the Day =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Neither do I. I worked for a while in a treatment center for teens with addictions, and while many came from so-called broken or troubled homes, many did not – many had loving and devoted parents, but got pulled into drugs or alcohol by peer pressure, etc.

    Nurture is no guarantee, I don’t think. Which is what scares me.

    Megs October 29, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I am raising a boy, and I worry about this often. One of my major fears about having children (besides the very notion that I would bring someone into the world only to force them to go to MIDDLE SCHOOL, that horrible, horrible place) was less that they would be harmed but that they would be those who harmed. A weird inversion, I guess.

    But then again, we need to also recognize how other messages that are reaching our boys complicate the message that rape=unacceptable. I’m talking about societal attitudes toward male-male rape, particularly in prison.

    I brought this up in the comments on your post on Polanski, where another commenter (whose main points were right on) called for Polanski’s incarceration and hoped/joked about his being raped himself in prison.

    We have got to stop laughing at prison rape. And male-male anal rape in general (think about cartoons after 9/11 that featured American soldiers anally raping Osama Bin Laden, etc.).

    When we start designating some rape as funny and some rape as not, we’re leaving the door open for rapists, courts, governments, culture to decide that some actions are rape and some actions are not, some No’s are Yes’s, some victims are accomplices, etc.

    It seems overly dramatic but I really mean it; no crime should mean signing over the right to one’s body. Incarcerated and free men in the US are dying of AIDS because our country turns a blind eye to prison rape.

    When jokes about prison rape are made in movies and on TV and in everyday exchanges *every day* (just watch a few crime dramas) we are making it that much easier to not do anything about it.

    And we are teaching our boys that their bodies are not as protected as those of our girls. And that (on this continent at least) we’ve decided that any crime merits sexual abuse.

    Sorry for the rant, it’s important to me to point this out whenever I get the chance. I’ve got to start somewhere.
    .-= Megs´s last blog ..Jana’s also onto something in that she doesn’t use titles. =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I appreciate the rant. I totally agree. Joking about any kind of rape, of anyone, just hurts further.

    Boy Crazy (@claritychaos) October 29, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you for this rant. This has been tugging at me and you just put it into words. Also, I fear my sons very nature of being boys paints them as potential perpetrators in the eyes of many. I don’t want my sons to grow up thinking boys like those in that crowd are the norm and they have to fight against that current.
    .-= Boy Crazy (@claritychaos)´s last blog ..On regrets (and not having them) =-.

    Colleen October 29, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I agree that male role models are hugely important in all of this, but that’s not to discount the importance of mothers, of female role models as well. There are plenty of young men raised without fathers in their lives who would NEVER stand for such behavior because, despite the lack of a consistent father figure, they’re taught to respect and stand up for their mother, their sisters, their girlfriends, etc. I’m not arguing with anyone’s argument above, just saying that you can’t simply say that a father figure is more crucial in this equation than a maternal figure.

    My parents both taught us respect as kids and they’re still teaching that to us now. I guess the idea of respect has sort of changed over the years. Now that we’re grown and out of the house, my mother and I trade f-bombs like they’re going out of style, but those core lessons of how you treat people–regardless of their gender–have stayed with us through the years.

    My baby brother (he’s 18 now) can be the most ornery, argumentative s.o.b. you’ve ever met, but when his roommate at school decided it was okay to take an 11 minute video up a female friends dress? You can bet that argumentative, cranky, ornery kid stood up for what he was taught when we were little. And I’ve never been more proud of him. :)
    .-= Colleen ´s last blog ..The Story of Woody =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Both figures are important, you’re right. And a strong figure on one side CAN make up for a lack on another. As can strong community support, family, etc.

    Karen October 29, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    In addition to talking, I let them SEE.

    I let them see my pain when I am treated disrespectfully. I let them see me stand up for myself and demand the respect that I’m entitled to. I let them see my horror when we watch the news together and I don’t hide my anger at mistreatment on television or in other media.

    I’ve shared my story with them (edited to suit their ages) and I let them see when it affects me even now. When we hear or see something (a “domestic dispute” next door, a young man shouting obcenities at a passing girl, a teacher dismissing a girls objections to where a class discussion had gone) I let them see me react and DO something about it – call the police, correct the young man, make calls to the teacher. I shine a bright shining light on it instead of letting it thrive in the shadows.

    I hope that letting them see these things teaches both my sons and my daughter that it’s NEVER OK to just stand by while someone is hurt and that it’s NEVER OK for someone to hurt them.

    cagey October 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Great writing, per usual, Catherine. And yes, as mothers of sons, we have a responsibility.

    This story is heartbreaking and so very complicated because of the community involved. It seems there was a real fear amongst some of the bystanders. Does that make it right for someone to do nothing? No. But how wrenching a society to live in where a person might be afraid to do the right thing. It makes my head spin.

    An article on CNN raised some valid concerns about the role of bystanders and bystander effect (where the size of a group helps others relinquish a sense of responsibility):

    In Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin says he believes the California gang rape was too violent — and lasted too long — to be the result of the bystander effect alone.

    Levin, who specializes in hate crime research, says the male witnesses may have kept quiet out of fear of retaliation. In his research, witnesses who live in violent communities often fear stepping forward because snitching isn’t tolerated.

    Snitching could also bring dangerous consequences to their friends and family. “They don’t believe the system will protect them from the offender,” he said. “They think the offender will find out their name.”
    .-= cagey´s last blog ..OCD Babies Wear Garanimals =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 29, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Ugh. But what about stepping away? That so many stayed to watch – and that others joined them…


    cagey October 29, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    No, don’t misunderstand. I was not defending them or justifying their actions. I was just pointing out the bystander effect and its complications. I have seen so many posts on this recent crime, but not many have talked about the bystander effect.

    No, the bystander effect IS hideous, but it is there and we need to talk about it. Thank you for providing a forum where we can talk about this.
    .-= cagey´s last blog ..OCD Babies Wear Garanimals =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 30, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I do agree with you. Am just sorting through my own questions about what that means.

    anymommy October 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I have three, sweet, caring boys, but they are all under four and I fear my own failure to bring them up to be the kind of man that will not tolerate any hurt or denigration of another human being. I know their father is a huge factor – and he’s an awesome one.

    I have two thoughts. One is that I agree that we (and law enforcement) need to be careful about the condemnation and punishment of bystanders. It’s awful and you can’t help but be outraged that no one acted, but bystander apathy is a documented psychological phenomenon. It sometimes borders on impossible to speak up/stand up/ in the face of a rabid crowd. Fear, horror, shock, mob mentality, we don’t know what these onlookers were feeling. Some might have felt that drawing attention to themselves would put them in danger. I can not understand why they couldn’t step away and make a phone call, but I wasn’t there. Responsible adults have been caught up in bystander apathy, so underdeveloped teen age brains, I just don’t know.

    Second, I think the best thing we can do as parents is commit (and recommit and commit again and screw up and start over and commit again, because oh my god I do know how hard it is) not to denigrate other human beings ourselves, so that we are a constant model for our kids. We need to treat our children, ourselves, our neighbors, that asshole that cut us off in traffic, the annoying sales call during dinner, the homeless man on the corner, the loud preschool lady we don’t like, our spouse, other bloggers, people on twitter, people whose politics we disagree with, celebrities, oh, you know everyone, with basic respect. We need to acknowledge the humanity in every situation, big or small, and point it out to our children. That way our kids see it every single day.

    I find this really hard because I am a naturally, snarky, sarcastic person. I find humor in mockery. But, I really, really believe that respect for everyone starts at a very small level. It starts with me being respectful in my daily encounters. And, hopefully, I don’t sound like I’m judgy or on a soap box here because I screw this up so much. You’ve reminded me why it’s so very, very important.
    .-= anymommy´s last blog ..Clowning Around =-.

    Maureen@IslandRoar October 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I have no answers either. I’ve always told my son it’s not enough to just not be involved. You have to stand up and do something. That others will follow if you are brave enough to lead.
    .-= Maureen@IslandRoar´s last blog ..Sibling Sleepover =-.

    Molly Isola October 29, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    There is something seriously wrong with our society that finds sexual assault “not that bad” or even worse, entertaining.

    One of the campus newspapers at my alma mater effectively condoned the entertainment value of sexual assault in print yesterday, briefly summarized by my cousin here:

    Thank you for continuing to confront this topic. We need this change.

    Her Bad Mother October 31, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Oh, my god. UGH.

    Danielle October 29, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    As the mother to a boy and a girl… this frightens me so deeply. To reiterate what’s been said above, I think we need to shout and show our kids. We need to remember that we are still the most important role models in their lives and that violence against anyone is not acceptable. And that it is not acceptable to stand by and watch as it happens. It is all too easy to be swept up and frightened. I’m not sure how. I believe that my children will learn from me (and their wonderful wonderful father)that it is NOT okay to stand by. That someone needs to be the voice of reason or at least the person that runs for help.

    Your writing is beautiful and moving and says so many things that I would love to present but cannot find the sound. Thank you for keeping up the discussion and putting it out there. Kudos.

    carrien (she laughs at the days) October 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I think one of the big factors is what we teach at home about respect. Do mothers expect their sons and daughter to treat them respectfully, obediently? Or do they allow them to talk back, argue, and say mean things in the heat of temper? Do fathers insist that their children give their wives respect? Do parents insist that boys treat their sisters respectfully, take care of them and defend them, rather than teasing and tormenting?

    Because if respect for others, esp. women/sisters isn’t taught at home how can we expect them to respect any other woman?

    The thing about demanding that our children are always respectful is that we are sending the message that we expect, and believe they are capable of self control, of checking their behavior, of moderating their tone of voice and actions. If they can do that at home they can probably do it elsewhere as well.

    I see so many sons yelling and talking back to their mothers without consequence and I don’t think it’s any surprise if that is permitted that some of them will grow up disrespecting women.

    robin October 29, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I remember a story a number of years ago in Vancouver of a group of schoolkids who were taken to the theater and cheered at a rape scene there. Anyway, basically, I think that it is *not* the case that people behave badly simply because of bad parents, and that they if they had had good parents they would have stepped in. Basically, too many bad things happen far too often for that to make any sense, in my opinion. Besides, I think that parents just don’t have as much control over these things as they’d like to believe. Mothers talking to their sons? No such luck. People develop in large part against or at least away from their parents, and that’s especially going to be true with respect to sex. That’s most true precisely at the time when sex becomes most relevant, i.e., the teen years. Male role models can be more important, but that depends a lot: there’s a big difference between what adults see as a good role model and what kids are going to see (once they’re in their teens or early twenties) as a loser. Personally, I do think that the culture is the main issue, although I also think there’s just a big difficulty with the statement “sexual aggression toward or sexual exploitation of women is deplorable”, because while that’s true in a certain sense, I doubt that you’ll ever be able to convince most people most of the time that its true in an absolute sense. So basically I think that there has to be a middle ground, but the middle ground is precisely what parents can’t easily talk about with their children, and so we’re back to culture. Call me crazy if you want.

    verybadcat October 29, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Having both men and women acting as proper role models for both boys and girls, as everyone else points out, is crucial…

    I’m reminded, though, of a lesson my Daddy taught me over and over and over growing up. He called it the “sleeping at night” factor.

    I make decisions based on what I need to do to be able to go to sleep at night. When it’s just me and my thoughts and my deeds, will my decision comfort me, or cause me distress.

    A friend from high school treated me horribly the spring and summer of our senior year. She went from being my best friend to my biggest detractor and then to nothing at all.

    It was almost a year later when she called me, her car having broken down in a VERY DANGEROUS part of town, and she had no one else to help her.

    I woke my Dad up and we went and took care of her. When I told him what I needed his help with, he asked me why I wanted to go get her. I just told him that I couldn’t sleep at night if we left her there, no matter how she treated me before. That wasn’t life and death, this very well could be. So we went.

    We still do that. We stop and ask people who seem distressed if we can help. Even if I am by myself, I will at least offer a phone call to a strange man who is in trouble.

    We have to teach our kids that we are all obligated to take care of each other, and to make decisions that we can be PROUD of.

    If only it were just that simple, though.


    Pooba~ October 29, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    HOW? ? ? by making the parents responsible for what their children do!

    By making the fathers/husbands RESPECT their wives, their daughters, their kids,,, THEMSELVES.

    By calling to task the child and letting them take the fall for doing wrong! Letting them be responsible for their actions !


    Wonder which one of those boys would like THAT done to their mother while they were made to stand there and watch…? An eye for an eye! ! !

    Sugared Harpy October 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    You talk candidly to your son as you would your daughter. You tell him when he’s little about not hurting anyone, as most parents do. You teach him the girls/women are people. When he’s bigger and has an interest in girls, you speak very openly to him that the behaviors he’s seeing are hurtful to girls, they are dehumanizing, and you tell him how YOU felt when a boy grabbed you in the lunchroom or when they commented on your bra size, etc. You make it personal.

    No woman I know has escaped sexual violence in some form and I told my older son this. He has the chance to be a good man, a good person in girls’ lives instead of another rapist, attacker, or person who hurts her in any way.

    You put him in the position of being wrong, or doing the human thing, and never make it about a girl being female in public as society does. Society not only doesn’t do enough, they glorify it, celebrate rape culture. It’s sick.
    .-= Sugared Harpy´s last blog ..O. m. g. =-.

    Karen October 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    hey sweetie –
    I’m a mom of three boys. It just sucks to think of how to talk to them about violence and sexuality. Obviously I need to because our culture is sending its own message, so I never to have my own counter-message be even strong, more compelling and more poignant. I try to be a strong mom, not to take any crap from them, not to let them throw their penis weight around the house – and we all know that boys and men do try that on for size – but, God the very thought of teaching them that men rape, that it is wrong bad, as bad as murder, I truly feel but somehow so much more difficult to voice that.
    That being said, long before they ever have a chance to stand by and watch a girl, a woman, a peer be raped, they will have learned not to stand by and let anyone weaker than them be harmed without at minimum reporting it to a safe a adult & at maximum – as they grow older – they will put their own bodies in between the abuser and victim. I want my sons to know that they can be dangerous on behalf of someone, not to someone. I try to teach them now just about playground rough-housing, bullying and craziness that walking away is not enough. If they can stand up for each other (And they do), then they must stand up for anyone receiving poor treatment. Right now all they see is the occasional shove or push, or more often kids being left out or called names….
    Anyone see some girl vengeance for sexual violence? I promise the art is hot, the women are powerful & you can get the rage out. It’s my husband’s comic:

    Julie @ The Mom Slant October 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Thanks for taking this on. You done good.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..To sleep, perchance to learn =-.

    Maya October 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I agree, this needs to be an ongoing dialogue with our children. We need to surround our children (well, when we’re young and we have control over it!) with people who think likewise, who act likewise, whether that’s a church group, or neighbors, or family, to show them we’re not the only people who think this way. When we make lessons like this a part of daily conversation rather than a once in awhile occurrence, our kids are more likely to take these lessons to heart.

    I live near where this happened, so it’s all over our local news, and I agree with the other posters who have cautioned to not automatically condemn every bystander. An outrageous tragedy occurred but we don’t know if bystanders were threatened or if they were unable to move out of shock.

    The whole situation is just abhorrent and makes me sick. I pray I can teach my son to stand up for those who can not stand up for themselves, and that he himself is worthy of respect just for being a person on this earth.
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..A Halloween Past =-.

    jennifer October 30, 2009 at 12:22 am

    This is going to come off elitist, but whatever. The high school in our school district pulls from many different neighborhoods in our city, ranging from the poorest of the poor to stinking filthy rich. We are somewhere in the middle. My plan is to to try and talk to my son about how some folks live in the moment, and don’t think about their future (or think they even have one). Other folks can afford to pay off their mistakes. I just want my son to know he can choose to make the right decision, be it drugs, or sex, or watching an illegal activity. He has his whole life ahead of him (and we can’t afford to hide any skeletons).

    With regards to the bystanders, the article I read said that it was not one of them that finally called the cops, but somebody they told after leaving the scene. So, even if they were threatened or immobile during the event (of course the ones videotaping/taking pics were apparently not in shock), nobody seemed too quick to respond once the deed was done. I can’t imagine that so many pieces of sh*t all managed to find themselves in the same place at the same time.

    Erik October 30, 2009 at 1:48 am

    I am the single father of two daughters. You got a lot of answers here and I agree with a lot of what they have to say. I read your RP piece and went out and read the background on it and as a result totally agree with you. Now let me say this. You need to start with you. There is a lot of “us” and “them” in your writing. Something every boy comes to realize is that there is a monster in us all which we hope we will never need to access. Our culture whether we like it or not teaches boys to be more in touch with it (but we all have it). Your “monster” approach, in my opinion, has a greater likelihood of alienating your boys from you than it does teaching them the fundamental morals they will need to temper it. This is the thing that all those male role models are supposed to be providing. If you want to play a part in that dialog then you need to forgive the monsters and find the little boys underneath. It starts with you.

    Her Bad Mother October 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

    You make a good point, Erik. I’ve actually worked with troubled youth in the past, and so I know well, too well, that these were all (once) innocents.

    But the horror overcomes, you know? It’s a struggle to maintain perspective in the face of that.

    Erik November 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    You asked at the end of your entry how you prevent your son from ever being a part of this kind of mob and then answered that question in your response.

    Share the struggle with him! (start with us)

    You cannot prevent him from being exposed to this kind of tragedy or these kinds of people, but by showing him how to embrace the struggle you teach him both that it is okay to struggle and how it is done. It is the best thing we do as parents.

    For myself, I wish your writing demonstrated more of your own struggle to find the tolerance. You have a gift for words; I wish you used it to find our humanity, not rage so much against our inhumanity.

    Her Bad Mother November 5, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I like to think that my love for humanity comes through in the posts about my love for my kids, and in the posts about fearlessness and finding hope/faith in the face of adversity. But those aren’t every day, no, and recently there’s been a fair amount of outrage. But, too, I think that inhumanity DOES need to be raged against. Loving humanity doesn’t mean accepting inhumanity. It means demanding better of our humanity.
    .-= Her Bad Mother´s last blog ..The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can =-.

    Saisquoi October 30, 2009 at 10:01 am

    This is really interesting, and something that I’ve been struggling with since I heard this story.

    I remember hearing in a priest discuss in a sermon many, many years ago the idea that we all contain the possibility for the ultimate good and the ultimate evil. Basically, we all have to potential to be Hitler or Jesus. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

    But because of this shared potential–because of our underlying humanity, even in the face of something so dark and terrible–we have the power to heal and to forgive. It’s not easy. But it’s there, and it’s important.
    .-= Saisquoi´s last blog ..Sweet Pea for my Sweet Pea =-.

    Casey October 30, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Parenting is hard and scary. I have two boys (4 and 2). Each day I think about how I want them to grow up. What do I want them to know? How can I put them on the path to respect, empathy, and thinking for themselves? How do I avoid teaching them that the bigger person is the one who gets to make the decisions and have the power? How do I avoid THIS?

    What I’ve come to realize (at this point, and it may very well change over the years) is that I can model respect. I can work with them when they are playing together and have a conflict. I can talk with them. I can love them. I can listen to them. I can teach them that no matter the reason (playing, aggression, hugging, whatever) if someone is touching them and they say stop, that person should stop. I can do those things, but in the end, there are also things I cannot control.

    The other thing that I think is important is that we don’t write off the people who committed this crime. They are teenagers. Chances are most of them will live another 30, 40, 50, or more years. If we send them the message that they are worthless and society has no hope whatsoever for them, it seems likely to me they will simply continue on the path they are currently on.

    Her Bad Mother October 30, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Erik said something similar, above. I think you both have a good point.

    Bobbie Sue October 30, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    My kids SEE ME stand up for others. They SEE ME intervene. They SEE ME get involved.

    I stop the car, roll down my window and talk to the little boy who dashes out in front of my car without looking.

    I stop and offer a ride to the schizophrenic woman who walks a mile to the bus stop each day.

    I stop and help the elderly woman who is carrying her groceries up her snowy steps.

    I stop and talk to the little boys at the store who are goading another child by chanting “retard, retard, you’re just a retard.”

    Because my kids need to SEE ME stand up for what is right. They need to know that no matter how many times they complain that I embarrass them, no matter how many times someone gives me stink-eye for reprimanding (or educating) kids who aren’t mine…I will STILL ALWAYS stand up for what is right.

    My kids need to SEE ME, unafraid of social repercussions, ALWAYS get involved.

    Her Bad Mother November 5, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Bravo to you. Really. BRAVO.
    .-= Her Bad Mother´s last blog ..The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can =-.

    Christina October 30, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I hope to teach my children (boys and girls) respect for others and personal responsibility. Girls, women, everybody should be taught to be aware of their surrounding and not to put themselves in danger. By drinking (illegally) she allowed herself to lose control. This horrible crime could have happened drunk or sober. I’m not saying this is in any way her fault. However, she has some responsibility for putting herself in this situation.

    “Police said the girl left the dance and was walking to meet her father for a ride home when a classmate invited her to join a group drinking in the courtyard. The victim had drank a large amount of alcohol by the time the assault began, police said.”

    Rachel October 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    “I’m not saying this is in any way her fault”

    “she has some responsibility”

    Those 2 statements are blatantly condradictory. Victim-blaming. Classy. Getting drunk does not equal getting raped. Those boys chose to force themselves on her in front of a crowd, putting ANY of the responsibility on the VICTIM is just plain disgusting.

    Lisa October 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I don’t understand why people share/spread stories like this. I don’t need any more horror stories about man’s inhumanity to man. I would have appreciated your commentary without the added details of horror.

    Her Bad Mother October 31, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I just stated what happened, with really no added details. It was a gang-rape. There were bystanders. Both facts are what drive my outrage. I think that it is very, very important – critically important – that we face this kind of thing head on and make clear that it is, in fact, horrific. Keeping our heads in the sand is, in a way, no better than being bystanders who do nothing to act against this kind of thing. Sure, maybe they were immobilized by fear, maybe so horrified they couldn’t act – but they, and we, need to overcome this dynamic. And the first step is facing this as what it is.

    LAVENDULA November 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    HBM i have been reading other comments and sure they (the bystanders) were afraid of retaliation,to horrified to move, etc etc,but ultimately in the end not one of them had a cell phone not one of them could have quietly stepped away and called for help not one of them could have left and went into the school and told a teacher,no one said to themself hey i’m not going to watch this hey that could be my sister ….yes they are children but it is still fricking WRONG what they did and did not do

    Karen October 30, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Oh honey. So sad… and I live in the Bay Area. This breaks my heart.
    I have only one answer. Love your boy. Promote him in loving his family. Allow him to show and participate in the softer side of love. Never tell him to just “be a big boy” when you want him to stop crying, or to let go of your leg. Never laugh at him for wanting the Littlest Pet Shop toys, or a doll, or something pink or “girlish.”
    One of the most wonderful moments of my entire life was when my son, 7 years old, asked me what the word “Fuck” written in graffiti on the side of a building meant.
    I told him it referred to the act of making a baby (we’d already discussed that), but in a way that was disrespectful, and especially disrespectful to the mom.
    He looked at me with big, sad eyes. “Oh mommy,” he said. “Now I think I’m going to cry.”

    Sarcastica October 30, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    It’s one of my biggest fears.
    I don’t know how, but I hope I figure it out.
    .-= Sarcastica´s last blog ..I’m In The Mood To Rant =-.

    trisha October 31, 2009 at 9:34 am

    man, all of this makes me scared.


    .-= trisha´s last blog ..Small Talk Six: You Tarzan . . . Me Jane =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 31, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Scarier than zombies and ghosts and witches and anything Halloween has to offer, that’s for sure.

    Sigh, indeed.

    Lippy November 1, 2009 at 1:25 am

    This story has really stuck with me for a few reasons. First, as a mother to a son and two daughters. My kids are all very young, but I question how to raise them to stand up for themselves and their values. I think part of that is having a plan in place. Knowing who to inform if they see someone being hurt, when to jump in and when to get help. But I am also a high school teacher, I have chaperoned dances. I wonder what was going on that none of the adults sensed something off. The purpose of chaperones is to keep your ear to the ground and sniff out issues. These kids apparently felt no fear of being discovered. How do educators use this as a lesson to keep students safe? This story haunts me.
    .-= Lippy´s last blog ..Trick or Treat Fail =-.

    Cameramom November 4, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    There was an incident around here last year where several boys followed a 12 year old girl and her boyfriend to a baseball dugout (where she and the boyfriend were planning to have sex)and raped the girl. The boyfriend had left (she was uncomfortable with the other boys around so no sex) and some of the other boys trapped her in the dugout and raped her. Charges against some of the boys were dropped because it was determined that they had served as look outs and didn’t rape her. My problem is that while they didn’t rape her, they didn’t help her either. The boyfriend left her there and didn’t call for help or anything either. Why stand around and not do anything? Why run off knowing something is happening and not help? I think all of them, including the boyfriend should face charges. standing around and watching makes you an accessory to the crime even if you didn’t commit it, especially if you did nothing to help.

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