The sexual assault of a young woman known only as Emily Doe at the hands of a former Stanford swimming star has stirred up a rather passionate conversation about taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Now convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault and sentenced to an absurdly short six months in jail — not prison — the young man (I use the word “man” only as a gender identity) who assaulted Emily Doe while she was unconscious has thus far refused to own up to his actions.

42676273_sHe seems to believe he is guilty only of drinking alcohol. He blames the alcohol and the “party culture” of college for what happened behind a Dumpster that night. What happened. Not what he did.

It might sound like semantics, but it’s not.

He  — I refuse to use his name anymore because he’s just not worth it — seems to see himself as the injured party here. It’s true that his life will never be the same. In addition to spending six months in jail, less if he behaves himself, he also must serve three years’ probation and register as a sex offender.

But really, all he did was drink alcohol.

His attitude and refusal to take responsibility for his actions — hitching up Emily Doe’s skirt, removing her panties, fingering her and grinding against her as she lay unconscious and helpless on the ground behind a Dumpster — are indicative of something seriously wrong with our society. He is why we live in a rape culture.

Rape Culture

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(Source: UltraViolet)

What is rape culture? It’s the pervasive belief that a man can do what he likes to a woman, help himself to her body without her consent. Should a woman step forward and make an accusation, she will often be blamed. What’s more the assault on her and the subsequent damage — physical and psychological — are trivialized. Rape is not a big deal. Sometimes women, particularly those in college, find themselves in “bad situations.” Rape is just something that sometimes happens. Get over it and move on.

Except it’s not something that just happens. Rape is something that somebody, usually a male, decides to do. Maybe he thinks he is “owed” sex. Maybe his victim was willing on another occasion. Maybe he simply needs to teach the bitch a lesson, show her who is boss, who has the power.

That’s what rape and sexual assault are usually about — power.

When the victim is blamed, the perpetrator does not have to take responsibility for his actions. That is what Emily Doe’s assaulter is doing. Or rather, not doing.

Taking ownership of the good things we do is easy.

Emily Doe’s assaulter was an Olympic prospect and not shy about sharing that information. Of course, it was something of which he was proud.

ResponsibilityOwning the bad things? That, of course, is much more difficult. Who wants to say, “I did something completely reprehensible and made somebody’s life miserable.”?

Yeah. I get it. But…

Let me tell you something about taking responsibility for one’s actions. It is a learned behavior, something parents teach — or should teach — their children.

But not all parents do. Clearly the convicted sex offender in the Stanford rape case was not taught it. The letter his father wrote, asking the judge to be lenient in sentencing, illustrates the attitude of entitlement with which he raised his son.

Taking responsibility for my actions and dealing with the consequences is something I learned when I was 8 or 9, and I learned it the hard way. I told a stupid lie and nearly cost a hard-working man — somebody I didn’t even know — his job.

It started out innocently enough, I suppose.

44352408_mThe bus that was supposed to take us home from school broke down one day. It took some time to find a replacement and get it to the school. When the school finally got another bus, it was a smaller one. For a full load of kids.

I remember it was crowded, and the kids were a little extra rowdy. It was expectedly chaotic. Somebody standing in the parking lot threw an orange through an open window to a friend on the bus. I can see it in my head like it was yesterday.

Frustrated at not being able to find a seat, I got off. After the bus left, I went to the office and called my mom to come and get me.

Naturally she was somewhat annoyed and curious as to how I had managed to miss a bus that had been late to arrive.

“I didn’t miss it. The bus driver kicked me off,” I said.

How could she blame me for something that wasn’t my fault? I’ve always been a quick thinker.

Before she could ask why I told her the bus driver accused me of throwing an orange out the window and told me to get off his bus.

Mom seemed to be mollified if a bit confused. Rather pleased with myself, I didn’t think any more about it.

4765007_sMom told Dad, and together they asked me for more information. I, being the creative type (and a future writer), gave it to them, never once thinking about the consequences. I don’t even remember now how I embellished the story.

Again, I thought that would be that.

I didn’t really realize it at the time, but my father can be quite the force to be reckoned with, particularly in defense of his daughters.

He called the district office. He wanted the driver’s head on a platter. He wanted the driver fired, and it was going to happen.

I had not seen that one coming.

Somebody was going to lose his job because I chose to get off the bus and then lie about it.

Once I tumbled to that — the cause (me) and the effect (somebody losing his job) — I went to my parents, a mess of tears, and came clean.

They were predictably furious.

My dad had to make an embarrassing call to the district to set everything right.

I got a very stern talking to about choices and consequences. Disappointed and angry that I lied, my parents were also proud that I came forward when it mattered. Sure, I let it go way too far, but I did not let the bus driver get fired.

No harm, no foul. Right?

I'm sorryNope. While a simple “I’m sorry” is part of taking responsibility for one’s actions, it doesn’t magically make everything OK. Life would be easier for everyone if it did.

There was never any question that I would be punished for my actions.

I got a spanking and was grounded, which for a kid in the early ’80s year old means no TV and no playing with friends. Seeing that it was Christmastime, no TV meant no Christmas specials. My favorite stuffed animal, Easter, was taken away and put on the mantle, out of my reach. Harsh (for a kid) but appropriate. I also had to write a letter of apology to the bus driver and his supervisor.

My family is the kind that knowing I disappointed my parents was probably the worse than the punishment. Well, except for maybe being separated from Easter. Hey, I was 8!

My point is this. I once made a decision that reverberated through somebody’s life, putting his very livelihood at risk, and I owned up to it.

I was 8. Maybe 9.

Own itThe convicted sex offender whose actions tore apart Emily Doe’s life is 20. He was 19 when he assaulted her, legally an adult.

Now obviously the nature of the crimes here is very different, but if a kid can learn to own up to her actions and take the punishment meted out, why can’t an adult do the same?