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Compassionately Confronting Rape Culture: Steubenville, Ohio

By now you’ve probably heard about the high school football rape scandal in Steubenville, Ohio.  The case garnered national and international attention when hacktivist group Anonymous interceded in what appeared to be a cover-up: leaking horrifying Twitter posts and video created by current and former football players the night of the alleged rape.

Demonstrations in Steubenville have since drawn thousands of protestors (impressive, though nowhere near the numbers in India).  Pundits from Nicholas Kristof to the Youtuber above have also weighed in.  And in an unexpected and welcome turn of events, no doubt ascribable (at least in part) to the cringeworthy pro-rape video leaked by Anonymous, public scrutiny seems to be focused more on the deplorable behavior of the students and school authorities involved, rather than the actions of the survivor, Jane Doe.  (That may change, though, in typical victim-blaming fashion, once the juvenile-court trial begins on February 12th.)

What we have, then, may be a rare opportunity.  An opportunity for compassionate confrontation against rape culture, institutionalized in the form of Steubenville High, and pervasive in all corners of our society.  (Yes, even our sanghas.)

From a dharma standpoint, I’m reminded of a line from Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Five Precepts: “The Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings.”

I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Michael Nodianos made a video on the night of the alleged rape, laughing and bragging about harm being done to the victim.

I love the active stance of this translation, and the ways it encourages us to intervene, to support, to protect, to COMPASSIONATELY CONFRONT sexual misconduct not only in ourselves, but in the institutions of our larger society.

How can we do this?

Here’s a proposal I support: a demand letter to Steubenville High School, with a promise to mobilize if the demands are not met.  Can we think of others good approaches?

If you support the above letter, too, follow the directions there and leave a comment.  Let’s show our solidarity as Buddhists working to challenge and heal sexual misconduct, in Steubenville and where we live!

And whether you agree or disagree with the letter, feel free to share your thoughts here.


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Comments (3)

  • Tabitha Fronk

    Absolutely I support the actions proposed in your letter. Thank you! I would only add that, while we are actively seeking justice and societal transformation, we don’t lose sight of our identity as Buddhists (and peacemakers), practicing awareness of non-duality, interconnectedness, infinite compassion which seeks to prtoect and heal each sentient being, including those who are guilty of sexual misconduct. Remember that Thich Nhat Hahn poem, “Please call me by my true names”? (paraphrasing here) “I am the 12 yr old girl raped by sea pirates who throws herself overboard, and I am the sea pirates, not yet capable of love”. I think our unique perspective as Buddhists is largley missing (or is not as overtly apparent as I would like) from the content of the letter. For me, as a Buddhist, rape survivor, and clinician working in the field of mental health for the past twenty years or so, with addicts, offenders, traumatized children…what can I say? I deeply believe in our interbeing, and in every person’s potential for rehabilitation, for Buddhahood. My heart breaks with each comment stuck in the shenpa of divisiveness/fear/anger/revenge/retribution. I know we can do better.

  • Tabitha Fronk

    I love the video. The man exudes compassion.

  • Rachel

    On February 14 this year (hopefully) one billion people will rise worldwide to raise awareness about the extend of violence against women by coming together to dance: . The event was the idea of Eve Ensler and it looks like it’s pretty much taken off as a combination of consciousness raising and empowerment. Why one billion? According to UN numbers, 1 in 3 women have experienced rape or other forms of physical violence. This translates to one billion women. (Sadly, this is actually the lower end of their estimate…).

    To me, this event represents one way for us to counteract rape culture because one important ingredient is the empowerment of women. When we have the courage to say ‘no’ because we know that others have our back and will defend us (rather than blame us!), change can happen.

© 2017 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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