TW: sexual assault on a minor, bullying, small town sports culture
You can tell when an author has made an effort with their writing to shock. This is not to say that is their only goal, but the slow, persistent build up of horror is distinctive.
It is with that in mind that I read the following article and my thoughts kept recoiling from the parade of awful that is this small Colorado town where a 13 year old boy was raped as part of a hazing ritual.
But it doesn’t stop there. It turns out after having objects stuck up his ass against his will, he was the victim of bullying due to the incident.
But it doesn’t stop there, either. After he got tired of the bullying, the boy went to the authorities, and now he and his father, the former principal of the school that serves all 300 students in town have been the subject of harassment for pursuing legal options with the state police because the local authorities hardly did anything.
Let’s see some quotes from residents of Norwood, Colorado where this took place. Emphasis mine.
“When I was in school there might have been bullying, but there was none of this crap about telling the school,” said Jennifer Long, a waitress at the Hitchin’ Post Cowboy Bar, a popular eatery on the town’s main street. “How you going to be tough if you don’t get bullied sometimes?” she said.
“I got bullied as a kid because I had long hair and earrings,” said Eilmann, a 45-year-old carpenter. “I played football, baseball and soccer and the older kids bullied me. But we always shook hands and it would be over with. But today, you can get prosecuted. It has all gone too far.”
“It should have been left alone,” said Sheldon Cline, a 54-year-old electrician. “It should have been handled through the system here. If you publicize it, it gets blown out of proportion.”
Shall we enumerate everything wrong with this story?
1. The use of coded gay acts to degrade kids. Apparently, in this town and the ones like it that are mentioned, actions that are thought of as being homosexual (specifically oral and anal sex) are considered humiliating enough to serve as some sick bonding ritual.When they’re looking to break your spirit, nothing serves better than trying to “make” you gay, it seems, and the bullying from the other kids that we’re given a glimpse of supports this.
2. The casual way that teachers, including the damn former president of the school board (who is also the coach), seem to accept this as just a natural part of their culture. What kind of sick, twisted town sees rape as a normal, character building activity? Let’s not forget that the school Superintendent, David Crews, thought that binding a boy with tape and sticking pencils up his ass should be punished with a one day in school suspension after avoiding reporting the incident for a month.
3. The tacit, if not active support of the residents of this town. I hate to be the smug, coastal liberal, but when we express our fear of flyover country, we’re not talking about the millions of good, decent, hardworking people who live there (or the few that supported the victim here). We’re talking about the ignorant creatures who, with casual cruelty, subject children to this sort of thing, under the mistaken impression that it’s the best way to teach them to stand up for themselves. Ironically, to stand up to monsters like them.
4. I’m even going to take issue with the author for buying into the Paradise Lost myth with this line, “High-school hazing and bullying used to involve name- calling, towel-snapping and stuffing boys into lockers.” First of all, all those things? Still not ok. Secondly, I find it hard to believe a town of parents went from acceptance of towel snapping to rape apology in one generation. I would be willing to bet several of them were subjected to the same treatment. At least I hope that they have mentally normalized the idea (as bad as that also is) rather than that there are potentially hundreds of parents who, for reasons unknown, have no problem with their children being raped so long as its in service to local sports.
What we have here is a score of problems, beginning with the lionization of high school sports. Any time when authoritarianism supplants compassion you end up with situations like this. We saw it in Stubbenville (by the way, go support the whistleblower who actually publicized it). We saw it at Sovereign Grace Ministries. We see it at big name colleges with strong football programs. We saw it with Joshu Sasaki. We see it in the Catholic Church over and over again. If the safety and well being of other human beings becomes less important than the defense and glory of an institution, this kind of thing becomes much more likely.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done.
1. Publicize the hell out of this. Let people know that Norwood, Colorado is a town that not only doesn’t care about sexual assault of minors, they encourage it. More to the point, let people know that it’s near the Telluride ski resort. I suspect that wealthy people traveling through don’t hurt this little town, and there is a good chance that a highly publicized story might dry up that resource.
2. You can contact members of the Norwood School Board, or email Mr. David Crews directly to express your displeasure at their handling of this situation, from only punishing the abusers for a day to re-hiring the coach that didn’t report this incident to police for a month (though he resigned as school board president). You can let him know that empty words about respect are meaningless compared to his lackluster initial response and apparent desire to do absolutely nothing at all. Be polite, but be firm, and make it clear that he has no business working with children if he doesn’t feel that reporting their rape to police is a priority.
3. We can be honest about what happened here. This was not “bullying” and it was not “hazing.” It was rape. It was rape that was encouraged and covered up. It was rape that these nauseating townspeople were so blithely dismissing, then vigorously defending. The three boys are rapists and, according to Bloomberg News, “They [only] received varied sentences that included probation, community service and restitution of about $2,500 apiece.”
4. We can make it known, shout it from the rooftops, that consensual anal or oral (or any kind of) sex is nothing to be ashamed of. Being queer is nothing to be ashamed of. And going to police may be very hard, but if you are non-consensually involved in any sort of sex act, you are not wrong or bad for going there, no matter the circumstances that brought you to that point. We can support victims and we can speak out, even if it’s anonymously on the internet, to let people know when we live in a culture that victimizes people to support their power structures.
I will never understand a culture that develops like this. I’m not frightened by people who do harm consciously. I’m not frightened by the malicious, or even the ones who genuinely think they’re doing the right thing, despite the effects. It’s the people who don’t realize the depth of their cruelty, but will defend it tirelessly, even if they have to make monsters out of 13 year old rape survivors for having the temerity to demand justice. Those are the ones who absolutely terrify me because you can only guess at the horrors they’ve permitted before.