The Vanderbilt rape case provides a disturbing reminder that college students are not children. These are adults that have full access to an assortment of “grown-up” things like sex, automobiles, firearms, credit cards, voting, and contracts. While they cannot do so legally, they also have ready access to alcohol, which clearly played a major role in this case for both the victim and the perpetrators of the crime. They face very real dangers and they are capable of truly horrific things with the freedom they are given.
One has to wonder whether our culture that treats young adults as children, where adult freedoms are given but adult responsibility is not expected, contributed to this event occurring. Certainly the convicted assailants, looking at mandatory sentences of at least 15 years in prison, now realize that their actions have real consequences. Hopefully they also now realize the tremendous impact their actions had and will continue to have on the life of their victim. However, they were probably thinking of themselves as being free from adult-level consequences during the period before the assault where the young men made the bad decision to drink large quantities of alcohol and possibly even during the assault itself. They were probably thinking that it was all a funny game that was a consequence of the girl’s drunkenness. That it really wasn’t a rape at all because they were just a bunch of kids having a good time, kind of like few middle-schoolers think of a schoolyard fight as an assault and battery.
It is time to stop treating young adults leaving our homes for college dormitories and fraternity houses like children and impress upon them that they are entering a world where they will have great freedom, but that all freedom comes with great dangers and great responsibility.
The experience of the victim in this case shows that there are monsters in this world and young adults need to guard against them. There are monsters on the streets that will mug them, assault them, and possibly even kill them. There are also monsters in their classes and on their campuses who will do the same things. Young people need to keep themselves always vigilant and not leave themselves vulnerable to be the prey of these monsters. Certainly no one deserves to be the victim of such a crime, no matter their actions, but that won’t protect them if they are in vulnerable situations any more than being in a cross walk will protect a pedestrian from a speeding car with an inattentive driver.
There are also monsters beyond those who commit physical violence in the world. We also need to teach young adults that there are monsters in the financial world that will destroy their lives with credit cards and other life-damaging loans. There are monsters who are outright con-artists that will take their money. There are monsters in political office who will abuse their trust if given power through their vote. There are monsters in relationships who will manipulate and control them. There are monsters who form cults that will take their money, their futures, and even their lives.
The experience of the perpetrators in the case shows that there is also great responsibility in entering the world. Young adults must be taught that if they engage in a crime and hurt someone, or hurt someone through their negligence, being a student at a college or simply being a 19 year-old is no excuse and will not absolve them of consequences. Being drunk will not undo the damage they do if they rape someone. Being young will not bring back the people they kill when they are driving recklessly down the highway. Being a student will not erase the loans they pile up living the high life in college or the credit card balances amassed through overspending. Being young will not bring back the years lost when young adults choose to live in a state of perpetual adolescence rather than gaining the skills and experience needed to move into careers and build a solid financial future.
It wasn’t too long ago that we expected young men to leave home and start their lives at 15 or 16. Young women might leave and start a household even younger. It was expected from a very young age that individuals would move beyond childish things and much was expected even of relatively young children. Today many parents don’t expect their children to become independent before the age of 25 to 27. Many young adults don’t expect to become fully independent before the age of 30 or even 35. Maybe if we expected more from our young adults right from the age of 16 or 18; if we expected college students to be there to study and better themselves rather than party and socialize; if colleges had no tolerance for alcohol and non-professionalism among its student body, we’d get better results. This is a tragic case that shows the extremes of the consequences that result when we treat our young adults like children, but there are consequences that are less severe but still damaging to the students and society that occur far more often.
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