Just days after a horrific playground gang rape perpetrated against an 18-year-old woman in New York, four of the five alleged suspects are in custody. Two of those suspects, part of a group ranging in age from just 14 to 17 years of age, were apprehended after their own mothers called the police.
It’s one responsible reaction from a long list of bad ones: The girl’s father, who had been walking with her and was ordered at gunpoint to leave before the rape, was turned away by a bodega clerk when he asked to use the phone. Then, Brooklyn residents were incensed when they only learned about the armed rape in their neighborhood two days after the actual event occurred, fearing for their safety.
A video of the suspects was eventually shared with the public, showing the group of five alleged attackers in a corner store just before the attack, looking jovial and unconcerned. No charges have been pressed yet, and one suspect is still at large, but the two mothers’ decision has been a major break for the cops.
It’s hard to imagine being faced with the knowledge that your child is responsible for a sadistic act of extreme violation and having to decide what to do with that knowledge. We love our children. We don’t imagine them as monsters or capable of such violence. We raise them from babies. We try to teach them right from wrong, and sometimes that lesson, for some reason or another, just won’t stick.
It’s then that you have to decide: Will you choose to do right yourself? Or will you choose to protect your child?
These mothers chose to do right, and while we can’t know if that was an immediate response or something that they agonized over, the fallout is sure to be painful. Knowing your child has victimized another in such a way can be absolutely lacerating. Ensuring that they face the consequences for that carries emotional consequences that have far-reaching effects in the relationship you share.
But there’s no question: It was the right thing to do. Most mothers love their children unconditionally and effortlessly from the moment they hold them in their arms — sometimes even before that. Sometimes you find yourself playing a game of what-if, where you test that love for your children. What if they hurt someone? What if they kill someone? You may love them no matter what, and that won’t change, but how will you react?
Mothers like that of “affluenza teen” Ethan Couch choose one possible path. They shield their children from the consequences of devastating actions and enable them to do further harm, and mistakenly call it love.
Mothers like these two choose another. They recognize that some absolution is not theirs to offer, and they send a clear message to their children that while love may be limitless, it is not a carte blanche to harm others with no consequences.
Many of us will never stand at this particular fork in the road, but the truth is, we can’t ever know for absolute certain that we won’t. We can only do our best to teach kids how to do the most good in the world we live in. We can teach them about violence and how to prevent it. We can teach them about rape culture and what it means to violate someone so completely. We can teach them to be kind to animals and to never steal and to try hard to not lie.
But one day, it will be out of our hands. And if our children do what these kids did, we’ll have to ask ourselves if we’ll be brave enough to respond the way their mothers did.