Roll Red Roll: Sexual Assault Does Not Just Go Away, Neither Should This Story

June 16, 2019 “I can’t wait for this story to go away…” is uttered by a radio personality towards the end of the film Roll Red Roll, the true crime documentary exposing over 400 texts and digital data loops of evidence in the 2012 rape case involving small town football all-stars amidst the “Go Red” fan furor Steubenville, Ohio.

As much as this very human reaction to trauma is relatable, this story does NOT need to go away, on the contrary, Roll Red Roll needs watched and shared in every locker room, frat house, classroom and living room. Yesterday.

Roll Red Roll Airs On PBS June 17, 2019 

On Monday, 10pm/9 central, streaming on PBS’ Point of View platform, POV Docs, Roll Red Roll has the opportunity to reach and entirely new audience and crack open the topic anew, expanding overseas to BBC Three in the UK shortly thereafter in the hopes of uncorking fresh dialogue that confronts important conversations about what constitutes consent and how we got to this craven cultural inertia consistently enabling a ‘boys will be boys’ version of toxic masculinity that remains largely unchecked.

How apt that our ostrich-style “head in the sand” societal norms enable a populace to wince at the squirm-worthy topic of rape, while simultaneously wishing it away like blowing dandelion dust. Meanwhile, it’s all still happening…

It’s as if one heinous sexual assault case sunsets and another one arises…

As I wrote in this piece PRE-Steubenville, “A Thin Line of Depravity” it seems like minimal accountability and maximum victim blaming has become the outcome du jour, though I take some hope in the POST-Steubenville case of the Brock Turner fiasco when voters had the judge removed from the bench for his lenient wrist-slap of a sexual assault sentence.

It all starts with the tone and tenor of what we value in our culture…and in this case, it’s not a pretty sight.

Grab ‘Em By the Pussy Cultural Tone Continues

Right now, as a nation, we’re seeing an undeniable and unseemly aptitude for cluck-clucking and tsk-tsking about the depravity of criminal behavior while doing absolutely nothing about it.

Look no further than the current predator and misogynist in chief occupying our country’s highest office, who treats women with dismissive disdain, boasting about “grabbing them by the pussy” with the opportunistic justification that when you’re powerful enough or wield enough influence or celebrity, you simply “can.”

The Steubenville football boys operated on the same premise of small town sports hero celebrity, largely unaware that their indelible digital tattoos would surface data to hold key players accountable through investigative journalism and social media storytelling, despite leadership in an entire town being knowingly complicit in dismissive deflection.

That said, Roll Red Roll is not a finger wag or ‘where are they now’ story of the players, nor an exploitive rehash documenting the gruesome crime of a young girl violated…

…This is a film that has the vision to turn up the volume and demand that whispers and silence need exchanged for mass scale systemic change, starting with prevention, peer to peer personal accountability and consent that ensures ‘ostriching’ is not an option and victim blaming is a tired trope that will NOT be accepted without challenge.

“IF TEACHERS KNEW ABOUT IT, IF COACHES KNEW ABOUT IT, IF THE PRINCIPAL KNEW ABOUT IT, IF PARENTS KNEW ABOUT IT, WHY WAS NOTHING DONE ABOUT THAT?” the trailer implores.

Magnitude of “Me Too” Helps Turn Up the Volume

The tone of our times reflects an indifference that’s in dire need of a film like this that ignites conversation and turns up the volume on solution-based education.

Roll Red Roll and the magnitude of the Me Too movement both shine a media spotlight on rape culture where victims have been hushed, blamed, tamped down, paid off, socially shunned, sloughed off, dismissed, denied or violently threatened…That is the very definition of “rape culture” acceptance in our everyday lives and the taboo topic that Roll Red Roll refuses to look away from…

Steubenville clearly needs to be seen not as a ‘one off’ case that happened in one town but as a deeply entrenched societal norm that provides empathy, understanding and aid to the perpetrators and the powerful for their ‘reputations at risk’ or coverage of accusations ‘destroying young men’s lives’ instead of bringing sexual assault and this persistent air of gender entitlement to the forefront.

Dismissed as locker room talk, and walked back as ‘joking,’ these consistent cues have been presented as get away with it guidelines turned into actionable antics in case after case of ‘catch me if you can’ mode of conduct unbecoming, shielded by denial, rhetoric, power and circumstance.

It’s way past time to halt the victim blaming and accusatory tenor of “putting ourselves at risk” and instead look at WHY we’re at risk, by who, and bring those voices into the mix for building societal solutions that stick.

How can we make taboo topics relatable?

Without a doubt, the strength of Roll Red Roll is in the measured, almost clinical reporting of facts and the raw, real interviews gleaned from townspeople as trusted sources in a community upended. While the viewer absorbs the depth of the Steubenville case, they can’t help but link the trickle down trauma and public health outcomes that are in ongoing alignment…from suicide prevention, relational aggression, clinical depression, substance abuse, survivor guilt and PTSD to the very different ways hushed or vulnerable populations navigate through the world.

We NEED to talk about this and NOT have these stories go away, to begin the hard work of training, talking and triage of real life experiences so humans can relate to one another more effectively and PREVENT lines being crossed for the mental health and wellness of all parties. But how?

How can we force an understanding of objectification and the depth of the threats, the fears and the angst to make it a firsthand ‘aha’ moment beyond the “put your mother or sister in this picture” approach to instilling social conscience?

Passed out men vs passed out women 

If a guy were drunk and passed out at a high school party, I dare say the surreal threat of being stripped naked and defiled on camera in mass social media circulation might be limited to a drawing on a forehead.

Maybe the chats need to be more graphic and grisly to break through the desensitization?

If gender roles were switched and a boy was knocked out or impaired, the threat of having cucumbers or beer bottles stuffed up his bum, tearing apart his membranes and scarring him mentally and physically for life with people laughing about it is not even in his mental relay…

It’s not a foreseeable threat much less a constant. (Unless he’s perhaps from another vulnerable population or carries a gender identity regularly subjected to abhorrent threats with the same eggshell walking awareness of one’s environs…)

Sure, “not all guys” yadayada, but the point is, en masse, how do we drive this point home that women face every dang day, watching their reflections in store windows to see who’s walking behind them, exiting elevators last to keep an eye on who’s in front of them, this is the predator/prey vulnerability our culture has instilled…

How can we impart relatable empathy to halt gender violence in its tracks and skew away from the deflect and diminish mindset of over-stepping boundaries and enhance a healthy, respectful relationship norm?

How can we open conversations and storytelling about the interconnectedness of the mental health fallout and future forward lens from those whose lives will never be the same again?

How can we use the Roll Red Roll talking points to look into large issues like legal machinations, law enforcement and leadership failures? How can we best amplify and collaborate with others in this field doing amazing work, like Men Can Stop Rape and It’s On Us or Jackson Katz’ amazing films and curriculum with Media Education Foundation and his newest film the Bystander Moment addressing toxic masculinity head on? How can we be aware of and then reverse The Bro Code of media, masculinity and misogynistic misfires most effectively?

We can start by tuning in, not tuning out

…Even if there’s wince-worthy discomfort.

Use the site’s resources and discussion guide to engage the community. Look around with your own lens at the cultural cues being sent to kids. Be a part of the solution with men and boys working to end gender violence and don’t be afraid to tackle taboo topics, even when some schools may not want to ‘allow’ the conversations.

Look at the role of bystanders and upstanders in peer to peer coaching…Host a Roll Red Roll viewing party and open up a youth panel to share their own firsthand experiences with what’s working and what’s not.

Most of all..Make sure stories like this just don’t ‘go away.’

As parents, educators and youth advocates, we can’t just put on protective pads and helmets and pretend sexual assault doesn’t exist. Or simply ‘see red,’ be outraged and drift safely back into “but not my child” prioritization.

This is a systemic, societal problem that Roll Red Roll is ready to tackle head on…

So let’s roll.

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