How Much Should a Drunk Teenage Boy Be Held Accountable for His Behavior?
September 18, 2018
I am ashamed of my 17-year-old behavior. By God’s grace I have matured into a 42-year-old with a godly understanding of holiness and identity. By God’s grace, I have repented of my wayward behavior and his righteousness has covered me and the sanctifying work of his Spirit is transforming me more and more into the likeness of Christ. That doesn't mean that there are no consequences for my actions.
Criminal behavior certainly has consequences---especially criminal behavior of the nature of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outspoken people are taking sides commenting about whether or not these allegations are true. That isn’t what I want to address. What I am shocked over is what I am seeing regarding whether or not it even matters now, even if it is true. I would agree with Rachael Denhollander’s assessment that “hasn't committed a morally repugnant felony" should be on the list of qualifications for leaders holding some of the highest offices in the land. So let’s evaluate these allegations.”
The court of Twitter is all over this. I've tried to stay out of online political conversations. But it gets extremely disheartening to see more and more comments like this from people whom I’d otherwise respect:
I do not understand why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell about the character of a 53 year old judge. By God’s grace (literally), I am not the same person I was at 17. This is a terrible standard to establish in public life.
I’ve seen and heard this sentiment a lot over the last couple of days---by Christians. I have a 16-year-old and an 19-year-old daughter. And I hate the message this kind of reaction sends to them---boys will be boys. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I hope you aren’t the one in their path when they get that sexual urge and want to have a little fun. Oh, and by the way, if you speak up about it, you are going to be ruining their lives. I also hate the message it sends to my 13-year-old son---look, you’re a guy and sometimes you just can’t control yourself. And if you’re drinking, then it’s not really even you. I mean, 17-year-old you isn’t really the you who you are going to be anyway. You have an excuse.
I grew up in a family that was obsessed with self-defense. So I received some training that many children did not. There’s a self-defense mentality that goes along with the physical training. That’s no guarantee against assault. I still could have been shoved into a bedroom, powerless against two older strong young men. And there are more instances in my life than I can count where I was assaulted by what would be considered a lesser charge, a misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature. Women and teenage girls often do not speak up when this happens, because it’s often received as “no big deal.” We are just supposed to take it. Well, that is not the mentality I was taught. And yet the consequences of doing something about it are often just as demeaning, or could even be dangerous.
One time this escalated for me in a traumatizing way. I was 18 years old at a crowded party in college. I felt someone grab my backside. I turned around and saw that it was a tall guy with a proud smile on his face, beaming while all his friends were laughing that he did it and that he got caught. My response was something like, “What is your problem?” and he acted like it was there for the taking. I warned him not to do it again. He did it again. It was even more humiliating the second time, as he clearly was enjoying the attention this was bringing him from all his buds. I warned him again and the look on his face communicated, “What are you going to do about it?” So I said, “If you do it again, I will have to defend myself.”
Here is where a million scenarios run through your head because you know he’s going to do it again. There is a sense of powerlessness. He’s going to do it because he can. I should just get my friends to leave the party with me. But, a) I don’t know if I could talk them into leaving, and b) that might be even less safe if he and his friends followed us out. Maybe I can just move further away from these guys. Too late, he did it again, before I even had time to move. Those scenarios never had the time to play out because I literally just turned back away from him and towards my girlfriends. And without even processing what I was going to do, I defended my honor and I spun around with a right hook that nailed him in the chin and caused him to fall flat to the floor.
Doesn’t that sound so empowering?
Well, it wasn’t. It’s not like he was just going to take it and move on, (you know, like I was supposed to do when he assaulted me). Everyone was now looking. He was just clocked by a girl. Immediately he yelled, “what the hell is your problem, bitch?!” I was portrayed as a hysterical "B" as he continued to berate me. Things could have gone from bad to worse here. Maybe I could knock him down when he wasn’t expecting it, but now I’m standing there with his whole group of buddies who could have all tore me up. Thankfully, my friends sought out the person whose house it was, and he was a stand up guy. I really was at the mercy of this guy’s judgment. Did it matter that I was being continually groped in his house, or was I being hysterical? He said it mattered. He kicked out the perpetrator and his friends. With that, he sent a message to everyone watching. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It was such a vulnerable moment in my life.
Now this was a much smaller offense than what Ford is accusing Kavanaugh of. It’s not the kind of offense, even if charged, that would affect his career at 53. But it is still seared into my mind at 43. I wish 18-year-old me didn’t go to parties. But I am grateful that the young man who threw the party thought what was done to me mattered. In this situation, we probably had a drunk teenager telling another drunk teenager that he crossed the line. Not only that, he assured me that I would not have to endure the humiliation of dealing with that guy any more in his home. He made him and his friends leave his house.
I wasn’t shoved into a room and pinned on the bed while someone stronger and older than me tried to rip off my clothes, laughing while grinding himself on me and grabbing me. My mouth wasn’t covered so that I could not call for help. I was a little scared for my safety, but I wasn’t in a position where it was very likely two guys would rape me if I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have to lock myself in a bathroom terrified, wondering if I could escape. I didn’t have to run out of the house and then decide whether or not I would ever tell anyone. For now these are all public accusations that have not gone through due process. But they are very serious ones. The way we respond matters. Our teenagers are watching.
If my daughters were ever assaulted---even by drunk teenage boys---I would hope that the message that we have continually sent them is that it matters. I would want them to know that they can speak up and that we would be their advocates. I would hope that no matter where they were, there would be other decent people who also know that it matters. I expect, and train, all of my children to be one of those decent people if they have the chance.
The thing is, this doesn’t just happen to teenagers at parties. These teenagers grow up internalizing the messages they have been receiving all around them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo testimonies have revealed the consequences. I’ve kept this particular misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature and others to myself because I didn’t want my personal history posted on social media. But I have brought it up twice in conversation with others this week regarding the Kavanaugh accusations precisely because they weren’t talking about whether or not they were true. They were talking about whether or not it even matters. “That’s just the way things were” or “why are we surprised that a teenage boy tried to make a move on a girl at a party”? It doesn’t matter; they were teenagers. “We were stupid teenagers too. By God’s grace we aren’t like that anymore.” How long are we going to continue to downplay abuse?
My question is (besides the obvious one regarding whether you’ve committed a felony sexual assault as Kavanaugh is being accused), has God’s grace matured us merely to have better adult behavior or to also care about all who are made in his image?