According to the arrest warrants, a 13-year-old girl said “no.” Not just once. Multiple times. But an 18-year-old football player had sex with her anyway.

By the law, by any normal, decent person’s standards, that’s called rape. It doesn’t matter if she snuck out of her house at 3 a.m.; it doesn’t matter if she smoked pot for the first time; it doesn’t matter if that 18-year-old football player plied her with alcohol first. She said “no.” More than once. And when a girl says “No, I don’t want to have sex,” then a man is supposed to respect that.

Otherwise, there’s a term for him: Rapist.

Not “promising football player with scholarship to college.”

And there’s a term for her: Rape Victim.

Not “whore” or “snitch.” Not someone who has “ruined a promising young life.”

And there’s a term for what happened: Rape.

Not “tryst,” the gobsmackingly offensive and misleading term used by the Waterbury Republican-American to describe the Torrington case.

The Republican-American published a whiny editorial after being criticized for their coverage of the case. “Unfortunately, it’s considered bad form in today’s social climate to “blame the victim . . .” they complained. 

Really? Because blaming a 13-year-old girl for her own rape after she said “no” multiple times is something you guys miss from the Good Old Days?

The Republican-American is a perfect example of why I, as the mother of a teenage daughter who is not far off from leaving for college, am both terrified that I have not prepared her well enough to protect herself and enraged that rape culture remains so firmly entrenched despite all the progress women have made since I left for college.

When I was a teen, my father warned me to drink slowly on dates to make sure that I never consumed more alcohol than the guy taking me out. Dad knew that folks like the Republican-American editorial board would blame me if something happened and I’d had a few too many.

Likewise it’s become somewhat of a joke in our house that I’ve been giving my daughter the “Roofie talk” (never accept drinks from strangers or leave her drink unattended) since she was in elementary school, when she would look at me and say “Mom, I’m too young to even GO TO A BAR!”

But it’s not a joke. Parents of girls have these talks, starting even before we think our girls are going to be exposed to the dangers, because we have to prepare our daughters for a world in which know they will be blamed and judged, even if they are the victim of a crime.

Or even if they aren’t. A guy who works at the neighborhood deli, the one where all the kids from the local middle school go after school, called out “Walk of Shame” to my daughter one morning when she was walking home from a sleepover at friend’s house around the corner in our quiet, family neighborhood. She took it in stride. “If he knew anything about me, he’d know how wrong he is.”  I was furious. I wanted to go over and beat the bejesus out of him. What kind of man thinks he has the right to say that to a teenage girl? Too many men, obviously — just look at the Republican-American editorial board or sign in to your Twitter account and check out #streetharassment.

What I want to know is: where are the parents of boys in all this? I have a son, and I have lengthy conversations with him about relationships and how to treat women.

Where were the parents of the Yale fraternity students who marched through the freshman quad shouting “No means yes, yes means anal?” Those Ivy League Yale boys are supposed to be the future leaders of America. The thought makes me shudder.

Where were the parents of the boys who found a drunk girl in Steubenville, Ohio? Instead of looking after her or finding her a safe ride home like I would expect my son to do, they thought it would be funny to urinate on her, rape her, and take pictures of the whole thing instead. What sorts of conversations were happening (or not happening) in those homes and in that community?

And in Torrington: what would lead the police to initially lead the public to believe it was consensual when it’s clear from the arrest warrant the girl said “no” multiple times and the accused already had an previous assault charge. Really? This surely exacerbated the cyberbullying that the victim experienced, blaming her for her own rape.

{media_3}Which leads me to another thing — where are the parents of those “nice kids” who were writing such vile things about a 13-year-old child online?

These incidents highlight the importance of many conversations we need to have in this country — about rape culture and how the news media covers rape, about online behavior, about common decency. But the most important conversations are the ones parents must have with their sons about respecting women. If you see a drunk girl, picture your sister, your mother, your cousin. Treat her with respect and get her home safely.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

Avatar photo

Sarah Darer Littman

Sarah Darer Littman is a critically-acclaimed author of books for young people. Her latest novel, Some Kind of Hate, comes out Nov. 1 from Scholastic Press.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.