It will take time to change attitudes

The weight of the Steubenville juvenile rape trial rests on three young lives that were irrevocably changed in a night of out-of-control teen partying last August.

The impact should be much deeper, and hopefully much farther reaching in terms of attitudes and time, yet only time will tell.

When two Steubenville High School football stars chose rape as a party action, they doubtlessly didn’t think of the long-term impact, one which will reach into infinity for them from the pronouncement of sentence in the Jefferson County juvenile court on Sunday. And they certainly could not have known how their actions would lead to their community to be portrayed in the harshest possible light across countless mainstream media outlets and the Internet.

We’d like to hold out some kind of hope that the sheer awfulness of the past seven months might bring about the opportunity for some kind of change. We’d like to join the chorus of experts, commentators and common folks who say the case should be a wake-up call for parents to recognize that they are in danger of an absolute loss of control over a generation of children.

We’d like to think that the case, the national attention, the role of social networks and the impact of Internet activists in the streets and across the Web will force everyone far and wide, from Steubenville to the remotest outpost with cell phone service to consider the changed world we’re living in.

The reality is that the mistakes of youth no longer allow for parents giving children enough room to make a mistake or two before reeling them back in. Instead, the electronic interconnected world of today drags kids away, beyond their parents’ influence, often before the parents have any clue of what is happening. It is why seemingly a vast swath of youth in town knew about the rape, shared pictures and texts about it and sadly didn’t quite see it as a crime that happened.

That’s why our hope actually rests with a strong message to be sent by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. We can only hope the hammer of justice continues to fall as the fallout from this case continues to descend. Kids witnessed a crime and didn’t recognize it as such. Parents didn’t know their kids were out all night. Somebody supplied alcohol. Houses hosted the traveling drinking show. And if it happened once, we can only wonder how many more times it occurred before the situation exploded and the harsh spotlight fell on Steubenville.

No, Steubenville isn’t the only place with such problems. For instance, Monday was a deadline in one New Jersey school district for kids to get rid of nude photos of each other from their cell phones or face charges.

But we are at the forefront of negativity now. Our best hope for the future is that when the grim anniversaries of this case occur, our area has a positive story to tell, one in which programs and parenting have taken over, where discipline and the end of idolization of teen football players has occurred.

We’d like to see all of that. But first, we have to see how to get beyond the day after the trial, when two more teens were charged, this time with making threats against the rape victim.

Change cannot happen in one day, we know. But it has to happen.