What Exactly Is Happening, And Why?

Two things. Seemingly unrelated. Totally related.

In the wake of the news of Rehtaeh Parsons’s death, comes another horrifying case. Audrie Pott, a young woman who was assaulted by three peers, photographed and cyber bullied, committed suicide and now those young men have been charged with sexual battery.

Three teens charged in sexual battery of California girl who later committed suicide.

What is happening here?

A man was arrested for attempting to stay by his husband’s side in the hospital at his partner’s request. The brother of the ill man didn’t want the husband there. The history of paperwork involving powers of attorney, history at the hospital with staff were ignored. The husband was treated exceptionally terribly by police and by hospital staff.

What is happening here?

I’m struggling with questions and feelings. I assume that assaults like this happen with regularity, but that taking images and sharing them openly on social media is relatively new. The news is picking up on the events more and more and bringing them to light. I get that.

I also understand that bigotry against gays and lesbians exists, and how. And I understand that without full marriage equality (and perhaps even then) couples will face heavy discrimination. I get that, too.

The what is pretty well explainable, but the why of the what is the same question I’ve been asking for months. Why can people be so horrible to each other?

Why do they bully? What allows people to treat each other this way? What casts that young woman (or young man as in the case in Toronto) as an object to be used for entertainment without a thought to their actual humanity? What allows for the group decision making process, certainly lead by one but accepted by the rest, which results in a group sexual attack?

Why override your brother’s life choices and wishes, why act with extreme force and harm a person who had legal right to be in the room. Why, when you’ve known the couple for a long time, do you side with the brother, even when you know there is paperwork and documentation allowing for the presence of the husband?


I spent a great deal of time watching Brene Brown last night. She has a course on The Power of Vulnerability that I’m taking online, and in the first segment, she digs into the toxicity of a culture of scarcity and shame. We are a fearful and angry nation. We are a nation of competitiveness, greed, and efficiency. We have become even more so after 9/11, prone to militarism, nationalism, and revengeful acts, combined with a consumeristic sensibility-buy more, look better, watch reality TV instead of living in reality, gossip and tear down celebrities, fight online and more. We reject vulnerability, softness, compassion and empathy, peace-work.

We hold shame about sexuality to the extreme. The gendered roles are in such conflict and toxic myths about rape, assault, what it means to be a man or a woman are holding sway. Why these things are happening is because we are ill, as a culture. Because we allow for it at some level. We are taught that it is the right way. Dominance. Status. Individualism. These cases are symptoms of the deeper illness, from rape to bullying to use of force against family members, they are like the canary in the coal mine.

Something much more dangerous in us as a people and as a nation is happening. What we are to do about it is up to us, and it’s important. If we go with business as usual?

In the case of the three young men charged, they’ll be charged as adults. That means, if convicted, they’ll be in a prison setting that will likely destroy whatever is left of their psyches through physical altercations and yes rape. This is unlikely to heal them or help them turn into peaceful people. As with the other articles, there are calls for them to be killed, raped, maimed. Vengeance.

For the husband arrested at the hospital, they’ll likely be a huge lawsuit that might well be settled out of court leading to higher liability costs and lots of lawyers and divisiveness in the community. It might lead to a push for marriage equality, but depending on the type of hospital there could also be new conscience clauses put into place, instead of trainings on how to deal effectively with different types of families.

I don’t see that as helpful. It’s the same old same old cycle of passing on blame, using courts to manage deep emotional wounds through money and settlements, and old testament eye for an eye type of cruelty on yes, perpetrators of violence.

It can seem daunting to want and change culture. But as Brene Brown has said it’s simply a million voices saying something slightly different. Doing things a little differently. Making new, if not subversive and radical, choices about love and patience and having an open heart. It can be as simple as more and more of us calling for calm during horrifying cases like Ms. Parsons. Her mother called out to cease any vigilante action. That’s the work of peace even in the face of such pain.

What else?

  • We can not write comments calling for the rape of those young boys in prison.
  • We can write letters to judges calling for humane sentencing and better training for guards to prevent sexual assault.
  • We can lobby against prisons for profit.
  • We can speak up when we hear bigotry and any of the “isms” being lobbed about.
  • Sign up on your PTA to talk about empathy, promote sex ed, and consent.
  • Fight for equity for the LGBT community by voting, getting involved with Equality non profits in your state.
  • We can share positive articles of change and hope.
  • We can risk being earnest and “uncool” to our friends when we do share those positive articles.
  • Form a book club to read works on empathy.
  • Avoid media that is mean, snarky, gossipy and focuses on disengagement.
  • Have a lunch bunch or something to talk about these things.

There are loads of online courses such as the one I’m taking through Sounds True that are reasonably affordable and offer lots of insight. We are so creative, we humans, so I have no doubt that there are a hundred other ideas out there for how to move towards the wholeheartedness, Brene Brown writes about.
At the very least, we can listen more to our friends and families and even people we don’t agree with, and practice, practice, practice, empathy and compassion, even when we fail, even when it’s hard.

And it will feel hard, no doubt.

It’s been pretty damn hard as of late, indeed. Why not try something new for a change and give vulnerability more of a chance? What exactly is happening isn’t working so well for us, is it? When things don’t work, change them.



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5 responses to “What Exactly Is Happening, And Why?

  1. I think what is happening is people do give vulnerability a chance and all they get in return is pain. At that point they conclude that that is the way things are.

    For a lot of people it’s not they should give vulnerability a chance but a second, fifth, thousandth chance.

  2. We should indeed. I feel pretty vulnerable even answering this comment. 🙂

  3. Julian Praxis

    Julie, Thank you for your deep thinking and powerful writing. With regard to rape of young females by young males, I would make two observations. First, teaching boys to respect the bodily integrity and personal dignity of girls is work that must start very early–sometime around kindergarten (?). In my opinion this requires being very explicit about the ethics of sexual interactions between people (of whatever gender identity and sexual orientation). I believe that the generally Puritanical nature of American culture makes it nearly impossible to have this kind of sexual literacy from early on. Second, I wonder (without coming to any conclusions) to what extent boys are taking their cues from media like Girls Gone Wild and other “bad” porn on the Web. In the absence of humane sexuality education in the life of a boy, does he turn to soft-porn and hard-core porn materials on the Web that he interprets as “reality” and the provide the guides by which he will treat girls? I am not a porn basher, and I am a staunch supporter of freedom of expression. However, I do wonder if there is a need to take a close look at how a boy’s ignorance of sexual ethics is being compounded by access to materials that are likely to provide a distorted presentation of how girls want to or ought to be treated.

  4. Pingback: Changing The Trajectory | Julie Gillis

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