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After Steubenville: We must address binge drinking among teenagers

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By Sandy Banks
Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.


It would be easy to close the book and say justice has been served in the Steubenville rape case.

Two high school football stars were found guilty last Sunday of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old at a party in a case that became a national scandal after videos and photos of the assault wound up on YouTube and Instagram.

The text messages, pictures and jokey tweets that teenagers from the party shared online suggest a communal lack of conscience. That made it easy to blame locals so enamored of their football team that jocks thought they could get away with just about anything.

But this isn't just about the athletes and small-town ennui.

We've had similar episodes here: Ten years ago, an Orange County girl was raped and sodomized with a bottle, cigarette and pool cue by three 17-year-olds who turned the attack into a homemade porn video. In 2009, a girl was gang-raped for hours outside a homecoming dance in Northern California while young people watching sent text messages inviting their friends to join them.

All three victims were 16-year-old girls who were so intoxicated during the assaults they could not remember what happened. That doesn't excuse the conduct of the young men. But it is an ingredient in this toxic stew that we can't afford to keep ignoring.

One in five teenage girls today goes on regular drinking binges. I'm not talking about college students, but 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds who down four drinks or more in a single session at least once a month.

I've always tried to remind my girls, now grown, about choices that might make them vulnerable: how they dress, whom they hang out with, how much alcohol they drink. But conversations like that are hard to have without sounding like you're blaming the victim.

I know whose side I'm on. But I'm also worried about teenage girls who wake up in the morning and don't know what happened while they were blacked out from drinking.

According to testimony at the trial, the Steubenville victim had been so intoxicated the night before, she fought her friends when they tried to get her to leave the party. She was so drunk she could barely speak, stumbled when she tried to walk and sank to her knees in the middle of the street to vomit ... en route to a second party.

The two boys convicted of rape told the court their sexual encounters were consensual. The videos, texts and tweets told another story. The girl testified, tearfully, for hours. But she had to rely on texts and videos — of boys manhandling her naked — because she had no memory of what happened.

We have to impress upon our sons and daughters the dangers of binge drinking, which has become the norm at too many high school parties. But first we have to face the reality that these are not the keggers of our youth. There are more ways than before to get wasted.

And dozens of people with cellphones ready to record it.

We need to make this an object lesson — and not just about what happens when you cross the line and sex becomes a crime. But what can happen when you get so drunk that you have to rely on texts and tweets to know what happened to you the night before.

Sandy Banks is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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