We are all fully aware that when someone is raped there is a tendency to place blame on the victim. We, as humans, have gotten a bit better about this, but sadly a lot of people still believe that when a person is raped, they are at least somewhat responsible for the crime. When the individual raped or murdered or kidnapped is a minor, we tend to place the blame on the parents, which is what is going on in the article I posted yesterday about the Texas girl who was gang-raped by a pack of 20 men and young men. The Texas case is just a small example, but how many times have we read a news story or seen something awful that happened on Dateline involving a minor and our first inclination is to think “Where were the parents?” In a lot of cases, I would even say the majority of cases, the parents were right there. They were good parents. They were just like you and me.
There are many cases where we can blame a parents for a crime committed against a child. If a child is being sexually abused, informs a parent about this, and the parent ignores the child, we can place some blame here. If a parent trades her 5-year-old daughter for sex in order to settle a drug debt, it is partially this parents fault (and also the fault of the adult who accepted the trade and raped and murdered the child.) When a parents leaves a baby in a car so they can go to a bar and drink and the baby dies, the parent is to blame. I’m sure we can think of many more examples where full or partial blame can be attributed to the parents, but in some many cases, it wasn’t the parent’s fault at all.
If we let our daughters wear shorts to school and they are raped it is not our fault. People should be able to wear whatever they want without being afraid of having a crime committed against them. If we let our kids ride a bike after school alone, and the kid is old enough to be riding a bike alone (I’m talking about a 10 or 11-year-old) and they are kidnapped it is not the parent’s fault. If our daughter is tall for her age, or has developed breasts, or looks older than she appears and she is raped, it is not the parent’s fault. If our teens go to parties and get drunk (and, as much as I talk to my own kids about this, it will happen. Teenagers get drunk at parties) and are raped it is not our fault, and it is not their fault either. We need to start blaming the perpetrators of crimes and stop blaming the victims and the victim’s parents.
My teenage son goes running in the morning. He wears reflective clothing. He knows to stay on the sidewalks. He knows I expect him home after 30 minutes and he knows to never accept a ride from a stranger. If something terrible happens to him, he is snatched off the side of the road and taken by a stranger, it will not be my fault. Nor will it be his. Our children have a right to go for runs, to play in our yards, to wear bikinis in the summer, to sleep over at friends’ houses, to wait alone for the school bus when they are at a certain age, and to live their lives without being raped or murdered. But sadly, sometimes things like this just happen, and it’s because there are terrible people in the world, and not because we are negligent parents.
I believe that the majority of parents teach their kids how to be safe. We explain about stranger danger. We tell them to tell us if any adult acts inappropriately to them. We check on them playing in the yard, or we sit outside with them. We hold their hands when they cross the street. We ask if the parents of arranged play-dates keep guns in the home. We talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. We talk to them about rape. But sadly, sometimes awful things still happen. And it’s all too easy for those of us not involved reading about these awful things from a safe distance to ask “Where were the parents?” Blaming parents when a child is raped or murdered is something that criminals want us to do. It takes the focus off them for committing these crimes and places the blame on the parents.
In the case in Texas, we only have circumstantial evidence and heresy regarding the victim’s parents and their parenting skills and whether or not they were aware of the crimes perpetrated against this little 11-year-old girl. We need to focus our anger on what we do know, that close to 20 men and young men brutally raped her in an abandoned trailer and filmed it. I can’t imagine being the parent of a child who has been raped or murdered. I don’t know how these people live their lives and simply remember to breathe each day after having their child subjected to terrible acts of violence. It’s a horrible thing that I hope none of us ever have to encounter, but if we ever should, I hope that we are never blamed for these things happening that we usually have no control over.
I think in this great big world that parents sort of belong to one another, in the sense that we all rely on each other for support and advice and sharing our collective wisdom and angst and troubles and joys at being parents. No one will ever be able to fully understand what raising humans is like except for other parents. It makes me sad when something terrible happens to one of “ours” that we are so quick to assume it could have been prevented by the parent. In the majority of cases, the only person to blame is the monster who commits an act of violence against a child. It’s time we start focusing on that.