Steubenville, Ohio is a small, mid-west town of about 18,000 on the banks of the Ohio River. When it receives media attention, it is usually focused on Steubenville’s 10,000-seat high school football stadium. The Big Red (as the team is known) is one of the most storied programs in the state, boasting nine state championships. But as football season was getting underway in the fall of 2012, the program was once again in the news, but not because of a victory over a rival team. Two of their players had been charged with sexually assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl. But there was so much more to the story.
The victim was so drunk she was hardly conscious during the assault. The crime took place at a party. Other teenagers were present. But no one did anything to help her. Instead, several of the witnesses chose to take pictures and shoot videos with their cell phones. They shared the pictures with friends and then posted them on social media sites. Immediately after the assault there were numerous celebratory texts exchanged between the two boys and their friends. Their casualness about their crime and contempt for the victim was horrific. In the aftermath, there were rumors of a cover up by adults loyal to the football team. Death threats were made against the victim.
It was such an awful story that I regretted even reading about it. But at the same time, there are some important lessons to be learned from what happened in Steubenville, Ohio. I want to break the story down to its most basic dimensions and ask you to consider a few of these.
So, what happened in Steubenville, Ohio?
A teenage girl got drunk…
I am reluctant to say that. I would not want anyone to conclude that I’m blaming the victim, or suggesting that her mistake in any way mitigates what these boys did. It does not! But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore this dimension of the story. Her intoxication was at the core of the legal case. She was so drunk that she could not consent; she could not protest or resist. This fact makes the actions of the boys all the more reprehensible.
But at the same time, it exposes a grave danger. The problem with alcohol is that it messes with the mind. It impacts our ability think straight and make sound decisions. This impact begins early in the process of drinking. With just a couple of beers there is a loss of shyness, lower inhibitions and reasoning begins to be impaired. God warned us about this. He urged us to live sensibly (Titus 2:12); to live disciplined lives, to restrain our passions and submit them to His will. From early on in the process, alcohol hampers our ability to do this (Proverbs 23:31-34).
So what do we want to say to kids about this stuff? I will tell you what I’m going to say: DON’T EVER DRINK ALCOHOL! There just isn’t anything good that comes from it. When is it good for a disciple to have “lower inhibitions” or “lower caution” or “impaired judgment” – even a little bit impaired? For a disciple, alcohol works against the very thing we are trying to do – to live a sensible life. Leave it alone.
Two teenage boys did a terrible thing…
I know little about the boys who committed this crime. I know they are teenagers. They play football. They grew up in a small town. I don’t know about their home life, about their parents, about their upbringing. But there are some things beyond dispute. These two boys were criminally immoral. They were unashamed of their actions. They had nothing but contempt for the young woman they assaulted. They were young men without a moral compass.
For parents, this story underscores the vital work we do. These boys lacked what Joseph had at a key turning point in his life (Genesis 39:7-9). Joseph did not have the greatest family life, but somewhere along the way he learned that to have sex with another man’s wife was a “great evil.” Joseph possessed a moral compass. When he faced a critical moment where he had to decide how to behave, he knew the right way to go.
This is what we need to give our kids. It disturbs me when parents talk about letting their kids figure out life on their own. Our God-given task is the opposite. We are to train them (Ephesians 6:4). We need to talk to them about God, about who He is, about what He expects of us (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). We need to walk them through specific moral challenges they will face and clearly explain what God would want them to do. When our kids face their “moment with Potiphar’s wife,” we want them to know exactly what God expects of them. Our kids need a moral compass.
A lot of people thought little of it.
The community of Steubenville reacted in very different ways to this crime. Some were outraged. Others thought it was no big deal, just boys being boys. Some were angry with the victim. But without question, the worst reaction came from the teenagers at the scene. This assault did not take place in some back alley. It happened at a party. There were others present who saw what was happening. And yet, no one spoke up and protested. No one summoned an adult. What they did was pull out their cell phones and take pictures, and then shared those pictures with their friends and posted them to the Internet. Evidently the two boys who committed the crime were not the only ones lacking a moral compass.
I fear that what we see in these kids are the debilitating effects of pornography. One witness commented that he did not try to help the victim because he did not know that a crime was being committed. We have a problem! Our culture is saturated with sensual images. Kids can easily access the worst filth our society manufactures through the Internet. Their hearts are being corrupted (Matthew 5:27-28, Proverbs 4:23). Studies indicate that teenage boys are among the largest consumers of Internet pornography. Is this awful crime merely an indicator of what happens when young men’s brains are saturated with pornography during their formative years? And if it is, what does that say about our future as a nation when we have a whole generation of boys raised this way?
We must protect our kids from this grave danger. We need to talk about it at our house. We need to keep computers out of their bedroom. Only allow your kids to access the Internet in a public place in the house and at times when you’re around. We need to hold our kids accountable. Check periodically to see what websites they have been visiting (and also note when their web history has been deleted). Have your kids leave their cell phones on the kitchen counter when they go to bed. Nothing good is going to happen with that cell phone in their bedroom after everyone has gone to sleep. We need to install filtering software on the computers…whatever we can do to protect them from this danger.
But even more important, we need to engrain truth on their hearts (Ephesians 6:4). We need to get the book open at our house and talk to our kids about moral purity (Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 5:27-28), respect the opposite sex, valuing other people, behaving like gentlemen and ladies, and keeping our hearts pure. We need to give our kids that moral compass so that they know how God expects them to behave.
This is an ugly story that will wear us out mentally and emotionally. It makes us feel like the world is falling apart. So we need a little good news here at the end. To that end, let me leave you with four points from Psalm 11:1-7. When the foundations seem to be collapsing before our eyes, we need to remember that (1) God is on His throne. He is still in charge, no matter how things appear down here. (2) God sees what is going on. Nothing escapes His notice. (3) He judges the wicked. Everyone is held accountable for their actions. (4) He rewards the righteous.
– David Banning