Recipe for Disaster

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

3/21/2013 12:01:00 AM - Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Imagine you are a 16-year-old girl, waking up in another person's house, unclothed and unable to find your underwear or earrings after a night of drinking. Unsure of what happened, you go home and go on, but in the days that follow, you see on social media photos of yourself drunk and unresponsive.

Eventually you piece together that while you were highly intoxicated, you had been violated by two teenage boys. Not only had you been violated, but they had shared pictures and information with other people through social media, and it had spread like wildfire.

What a sad story to share, conquests of a girl too drunk to remember what happened or able to put up a fight.

Tragic, horrific, too terrible for most to imagine.

Last August, this happened to a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. The trial of the accused rapists, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma'lik Richardson, was held this past week.

Mays initially convinced the victim that he had watched out for her while she was intoxicated, but she later found out that he took advantage of her instead. She was lied to about what happened.

Violated about being violated.

Based on the testimony that came out during the trial, it appeared that the town was not unfamiliar with teenage binge drinking and teenagers who were making less than optimal choices. The town is known for its high school football team (both boys were football players).

"The boys drank. They drove around. They went to each other's houses until 2, 3, 4 in the morning," Daniel Wetzel wrote on Yahoo Sports Sunday morning. "They exploited permissive parents who let the party continue." In the community, there were "adults that would look the other way."

As a parent, it makes me wonder: What were their parents thinking? I grew up in a small town, and my life revolved around band, football and church. When I came home (before curfew), my mother would call out from her bedroom to make sure it was me. She never went to sleep, at least not fully, before I was home.

I came home on time because I understood her expectations and what the consequences of my actions would have been.

Even while testifying about the incident, town teenagers appeared not to understand the gravity of what had happened to the girl while she was too intoxicated to resist. Both teen boys were accused of digitally raping the girl.

When asked during the trial why he did not stop his teammates, Evan Westlake, who had walked in on the two teens with the girl, replied: "It wasn't violent. I always pictured it as violent."

It was not violent because she was too intoxicated to put up a fight.

The crime was brought to light through social media, and much of the trial focused on the trail of text messages between cellphones.

Judge Thomas Lipps commented after sentencing Mays and Richardson to a minimum of two and one year, respectively, for the rape that "it provides great incentive to do well." Both teenagers broke into tears after the verdict was read.

Ma'lik's father, Nathaniel Richardson, spoke in the courtroom after the sentencing, placing part of the blame on himself. "Everyone knows I wasn't there for my son," he said. "I feel responsible for his actions. I feel highly responsible for his actions."

A permissive environment for teenagers, a large amount of alcohol, minimal if any supervision from the parents -- a recipe for disaster.

Monitoring the Future, a long-term study of American adolescents, has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research since its inception in 1975.

The peak in binge drinking according to the survey was in 1981, when "41 percent of 12th-graders reported having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the two weeks prior to the survey." This past year, it was 24 percent.

While the results have dramatically declined, a quarter of the high school seniors still reported that they had been involved in binge drinking in the past two weeks.

How vulnerable to bad decisions, either theirs or someone else's, did that leave them?