Sexual assault is a horrific crime. Sexual assault against a child is even more so.
In Idaho, another story of assault comes forth, but this time, saturated with the dynamics of race, school bullying, hazing, football, small town politics, and “boys will be boys.”
For the uninitiated, the assault in question took place in the small town of Dietrich, Idaho. According to reports, three high school football players assaulted their developmentally disabled black teammate with a coat hanger. They held him down, likely laughing the entire time, and sodomized this poor kid for being different.
I am from a small town. Things operate differently there. The portrayal of rural life in movies is usually pretty good. For example, I’m originally from a small town in Texas. In it, football is life. If you are not a Cowboys fan, you get the side eye. If you don’t have a son on the football team, you are “lesser.” The driveways of Varsity athletes are decorated with a paw print, symbolizing the school’s mascot, and showing off to everyone in the neighborhood. Yes, it is usually the kids with money that get the most recognition on these things. They are usually the more attractive, more well-off, more confident people who get that recognition, but in terms of standing in the community, there is no better tool than being a football player.
Even racism is different in small towns. It is certainly there, but it is a different kind of THERE. It is less overt, but it still hangs over like a thick fog. You see Confederate flags around, you see the looks POC get from the good ole boys sitting in their pickup truck at the stoplight, but it isn’t a bunch of people walking around calling people racist names. Granted, that does happen (and likely will happen/is happening more now that He Who Must Not Be President has made it much more acceptable), but those aren’t the norm. In the South, and in a small town, POC and poor whites are taught to just keep your head down and don’t cause trouble. When the white kids with money do something bad, it is usually swept under the rug, or at a minimum, downplayed so as not to besmirch the family name.
That is what happened here. The assault of this child and the preceding escalation of bullying was never addressed. It occurred back in October, and the media only recently picked the story up. Certain coaches, school administrators, and parents didn’t want to hear that these predators had done something bad; and if they did, it was just “15-, 16-, and 17-year old boys doing what boys do.”
The flaws in this logic are tremendous, but they really show the state of mind of a system that allows this to happen. Sodomy is not “boys being boys.” Attacking a developmentally disabled child is not “what boys do.” Bullying DOES occur, hazing DOES occur, but one of the biggest ways it continues to be a defining characteristic of an institution is to go unpunished and unaddressed. Who knows what would have happened if the national media hadn’t picked it up. Granted, their motivation for doing so is more likely guided by ratings than to tell the story of this poor victim, but still.
The small town is shaken up and frustrated by accusations that they are racist or backward. It goes without saying, #notallDietrichans are racist, or prejudiced, or elitist, or guilty to a conspiracy; but some are, and those that are should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Rather than getting defensive about what people are saying about your town, perhaps your energy would be better spent trying to protect your citizens from sexual assault, and ensuring that this doesn’t happen again.
As I said earlier, I’m from Texas. I’m from a small town. I know what it feels like to feel threatened by the liberal world outside. It sucks to think that the way you live is ridiculed by others, and that they think you are a terrible person who is either racist, or at a minimum, protecting these monsters. You aren’t, and while the expected response is to keep your head down and not make waves, the best way to handle bad PR is to support the victim. Not saying you need to stage a protest, but make it known to your community leaders, school officials and others, that this sort of behavior is not “what boys do,” and it will not be tolerated.