Steubenville Rape Case and Manhood: Christian Author and Mother of 6 Pens Letter to Son

Ann Voskamp of 'One Thousand Gifts' Identifies With Ohio Moms, Tells of Similar Crimes in Church

Trent Mays, left, and Ma'lik Richmond, right, sit in juvenile court during a recess in Steubenville, Ohio, on March 14, 2013.
Trent Mays, left, and Ma'lik Richmond, right, sit in juvenile court during a recess in Steubenville, Ohio, on March 14, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Keith Srakocic/Pool)

In an open letter that has hit home with online readers and been shared thousands of times, Ann Voskamp, best-selling author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are and a mother of four sons, writes how the attitudes surrounding the Steubenville rape case go beyond sports and alcohol and are present even in churches.

Voskamp writes in a letter addressed to her eldest son on her A Holy Experience blog how the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case makes it necessary to have "a conversation with sons about hard things and asking you to do holy things." The blog, titled "After Steubenville: 25 Things Our Sons need to know about Manhood," has resonated with many readers, including spoken word artist Jefferson Bethke, who called the letter "heartwrenching but beautiful" and "powerful."

On Sunday, a judge found Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, both high school football players, guilty of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old with much of the evidence in the case coming from texts messages and cell phone pictures, including one showing the victim naked, shared by Steubenville High School students who essentially documented the crime.

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Photos from the court room on the day of the verdict show the boys, 16 and 17, weeping upon hearing the verdicts and their sentence to a minimum of one year in a youth correctional facility (Mays was given an additional year, to be served separately, for sharing nude photos). Both teens apologized to the victim and her family, with Nathaniel Richmond, Ma'lik's father, expressing remorse, both for the crime and for being an absent father.

"Everyone knows I wasn't there for my son. I feel responsible for his actions. I feel highly responsible for his actions," Nathaniel Richmond said, according to Dan Wetzel in his report for Yahoo! Sports.

Wetzel observed throughout the case how the defendants and their friends who testified against them "expressed little understanding of rape – let alone common decency or respect for women." He also noted that there was arrogance: "Arrogance from the defendants. Arrogance from the friends. Arrogance within the culture."

"A culture of arrogance created a group mindset of debauchery and disrespect, of misplaced manhood and lost morality," Wetzel concluded in his report.

It is that lack of respect for women and arrogance that Voskamp partly addresses in her letter on manhood to her teen son.

The Christian author reveals in the letter that she witnessed such arrogance and lack of respect for women as a youth in church, and that as a 19-year-old she saw in the backseat of her car "how a 20-something man reached over and started fondling a terrified 14-year-old sleeping girl." When confronted, Voskamp writes, he shrugged it off, "like he was brushing away an annoying fly."

She adds: "How there were girls that whispered that he'd grabbed them too in the dark of a car when he drove them home from youth group, how there were all these shy and ashamed girls who were violated and forced and indifferently robbed.

"I want to tell you, son – we were all church kids. There was no alcohol. There were no parties. There were no football teams.

"There were young men who opened their Bibles and didn't value the worth of a God-fashioned woman made for glory, young men who sang worship songs and satiated their lust by ripping off the dignity of a sacred human being, young men who said women were the weaker vessel meant let's drink them dry and be merry."

Voskamp, who also has two daughters, goes on to share that when the violations were brought to the attention of church elders by a handful of girls accompanied by one "brave" teen boy, they were told, "Boys will be boys."

"Son," Voskamp writes, "when the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys – girls will be garbage. And that is never the heart of God. That's what you have to get, Son – Real Manhood knows the heart of God for the daughters of His heart."

Among the 25 things Voskamp advises for her sons to learn about manhood are: "To stay silent is to let perpetrators perpetuate;" "Unless a man looks to Jesus, a man doesn't know how to treat a woman;" and "Real Manhood means you take responsibility for your body."

The blog post, which does not allow commenting, was published March 20 and has been shared more than 23,000 times on Facebook and tweeted nearly 1,800 times by readers. Voskamp's letter on manhood is among numerous responses from Christians questioning troublesome issues surrounding the Steubenville rape case.

Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are was wildly popular upon its release in 2011 and appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list for more than a year. The Canadian farmer's wife and homeschooling mother was listed last year among "50 Women You Should Know" by Christianity Today.

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