American teens gripped by epidemic that crushes empathy

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In Steubenville, Ohio two teenage boys— a 17-year-old and 16-year-old—are on trial for allegedly stripping a very inebriated and nearly unconscious 16-year-old girl naked, attempting to make her perform oral sex on them (although she could not even open her mouth), urinating on her, using their fingers to penetrate her and carrying her from one location to another, to continue sexually violating her.

The texts they allegedly sent one another when the girl heard rumors from friends about what happened to her while she was too drunk to be aware of it, or even remember it, are chilling.  They refer to her as a dead body, gleefully recall humiliating her and contain degrading statements about all females being worthy of sexual degradation.

In one text, the 17-year-old, knowing he has been identified as a possible assailant, tells a friend that he might as well have raped the girl (not just digitally, but using his penis), given the possible consequences he could face:

17-year-old: 10.50.24pm 'I should have raped her now cos everyone thinks I did.

Friend: Yeh you should.'

Equally heartbreaking is the fact that no one helped the alleged victim, despite the fact that her plight was obvious to many people at the party where she was publicly stripped naked, before being carried away to the house where she was then allegedly brutally assaulted.  Here are the texts where she seems incredulous that one “friend” did nothing to help her:

August 12, 5.45pm
Male friend: Are you all right? (Sent repeatedly until 6.37pm)
Victim: I’m good I need to find my phone tho and (the accused) went through my phone and looked at all our sh*t but what happened last night?
F: You were like dead. Then they took you to (another teen's house). I went there and left when I saw you naked on the ground. I seriously felt so bad for you and I couldn’t do sh*t about it. I’m so sorry.

V: WTF? Who was there? Who did that to me?
F: The kids who you woke up with and Idk (I don’t know) you’ll have to ask them.
V: You couldn’t have told them to stop or anything?
F: You don’t think I did? I flipped out on them and they just said they were going to put you to bed and I don’t know what happened after that.
V: Thanks. I hate my life. I don’t even know wtf happened.

How could this happen?  I believe American teens are in the grips of a psychological epidemic that has eroded much of their capacity to connect with genuine emotion and is, therefore, crushing their empathy.

Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having Tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived “Reality TV” programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie.

They are absent from their own lives and those of others.  They are floating free in a virtual world where nothing really matters other than being cool observers of their own detached existence, occasionally alighting on one another’s bodies, in sexual embraces that remind them—for an orgasmic moment—that they are actually alive and actually human.

The psychological epidemic dissolves courage and compassion and is the most virulent and dangerous one our culture and the world has ever faced. It could ruin us.

What was once referred to as “the bystander effect”—a psychological phenomenon in which individuals in a crowd tend not to step forward to save a victim, is now an apt label for a large percentage of teens.  They are bystanders in their own lives.  They are bystanders to the lives of others.  And just as they may stand by as a “friend” of theirs is brutally sexually assaulted, humiliated and degraded, they could stand by as forces of darkness gather to confront the American ideals of liberty and justice.

Editors’ Note: The Associated Press named the minors charged due to the fact they have been identified in other news coverage and their names were used in open court. will not name the defendants as they are being tried in juvenile  court.