That case revealed what we've long known, that something is going awfully awry in our society. One writer called it our rape culture's "Abu Ghraib moment" because of the damning photographic evidence. Not only did two teen boys sexually assault their drunken victim, but they and friends took nude pictures of her which they traded via text message.
Their instinct was never "Let's help her." Instead it was "Let's victimize her, let's photograph her, let's joke about urinating on her."
I liken that night to a plane crash caused by a colossal series of errors. It was a total collapse of the healthy behaviors that should guard a community. It wouldn't have happened if parents had refused to let their children drive around partying all night. Or if the attackers had possessed the decency to respect an unconscious teen girl. Or if the victim had not drunk herself into a stupor. Or if bystanders had stepped in to stop it.
Are we having a total social breakdown here? I ask because it's not unusual for me to meet a high school student who tells me he or she has been raped or molested. A national survey says that one in four girls and one in six boys has been sexually abused before age 18. There's so much wrong with that statistic that it's hard to know where to even start to clean things up.
Who is ready to tackle this issue? Frankly I don't see much action from parents, but this week I did find some high school students taking it on.
At the Cleveland International Film Festival, I found a team of students called Youth 360 passing out fliers to fellow teens after they watched "Speechless," a film written by Cleveland School of the Arts student Roxanne Lasker-Hall.
Roxy's film is about a teen boy who feels compelled to stay silent after he is raped by a fellow student. To maximize its impact, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's Youth 360 group has launched an accompanying social media campaign.
Their fliers urge people to go online to their Tumblr page and post their answers to a critical question: What are you willing to do to end sexual violence?
In other words: What are you willing to do when your male friends use demeaning terms when describing girls? When a friend says they were taken advantage of sexually and they're afraid to say anything?
"We as young people have a voice and I'm going to use my voice to try to stop and change what's going on," 16-year-old Autumn Nalls told me with conviction. She's a Youth 360 participant who goes to John Hay High School in Cleveland.
A national survey says that one in four girls and one in six boys hasbeen sexually abused before age 18.Said Amanda Miller, 14, a Bay High School student, "The reason I'm involved is because it's so common now. In movies, rape and sexual violence can be taken lightly. I don't think it's something that should be joked about."
A key part of the Youth 360 initiative has been to educate Cleveland-area youngsters about being a responsible bystander. Studies have shown that bystander education is an effective way to get people to stop being silent.
Nexus Academy student Phillip Williams, 17, of Lakewood, calls it being an "upstander," someone who knows how to draw the line and stand up when a person is being wronged.
Yet the Youth 360 program is running low on funding and is set to be discontinued next year. If you're looking for a way to have an impact, consider sending a donation to the Rape Crisis Center to keep it alive.
What else can you do? Easy answer: Educators, parents and mentors all need to encourage youths to talk more about this hyper-sexed culture that envelopes them.
At Palo Alto High School in California, student journalists this week published a package of news stories that pointedly explores how rampant sexual abuse has become at their school.
Their well-reported news magazine sheds light on how confused teens are dressing skimpily and drinking heavily because they've been told that's what fun is, which has caused more young people to begin to see rape as an inevitable consequence of the party lifestyle. As a result, it's given rise to a culture where many victims feel like they shouldn't report a rape, that they should just accept it.
This isn't going to be easy to fix, but awareness starts when youths and their schools and families engage in this kind of tough self-scrutiny.
It's what the specter of Steubenville demands