Youth is no excuse

Illustration by Dan Nacu.

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor 

When discussing the suspension and conviction of the three VCU students who are accused of taking nude pictures of a nonconsenting minor, youth is no excuse. It’s a factor and a fact, but it’s not a legal or moral defense for the act committed. Too often, we allow young adults, particularly young men, free reign to roam as they please, rather than confronting them with reality.

As high school students enroll in college, they tend to romanticize what their time here will be like. There’s an ample amount of material to support this false idealization, ranging from knowledge acquired on message boards, Hollywood movies and stories from siblings and parents. College, in their minds, is a realm unto itself. It’s bound by its own rules, separated from the reality of the more litigious and pedestrian world that defines adulthood.

But that’s all it is — a fantasy. Exiting high school is the entrance into that litigious, pedestrian world and college doesn’t constitute a detour along that path. What happens in college doesn’t stay in college because actions have consequences, even more so once you become a legal adult.

Whether the victim relayed their age, whether they were dating one of the men or whether the incident began in an innocent matter are irrelevant. Violating a person’s privacy and taking unsolicited nude pictures of their body isn’t a prank, whether they are of-age or not. It is a criminal act. By no means is it humorous, light-hearted or otherwise innocent. It is by every means of expression “not OK.” It’s not something to joke about, especially in a culture and society where women are shamed and physically, verbally and sexually assaulted because of their bodies. It’s not a prank when such material can be used as blackmail material or force them out of a job.

Fun does not come from the unwilling exploitation of another person. I do not weep for the loss of those who would pervert the rights and will of others and I do not weep for the matriculating students who find college to be duller than they imagined. Contrary to delusions, every weekend does not involve beer pong, streaking and vandalism. That never has and never will be the image of this university and every mature adult here is thankful for that.

The university provides students with ample resources and programs that relay the seriousness of any criminal acts that take place on- or off-campus. There’s no reason why the students shouldn’t have known the legal extent to what they perceived to be a prank.

It also is odd that an incident that occurred in November is only now being publicly disclosed.

Although the university acted responsibly in pursuing an internal investigation prior to last week’s issued statement, it shouldn’t have taken this long for the wider community to know what had taken place at their school. Even considering the sensitive nature and legal implications of the case, the miniscule amount of information that has been disclosed doesn’t answer why a case that should have been known about since November is only being disclosed now. The administration should be more transparent with us in, at the very least, disclosing why we’re hearing about this matter three months after the fact.

The guise of being young, a college student or a promising athlete should never offer protection. Youth is no excuse. Thousands of young people everyday make decisions that affect their lives; the vast majority of them aren’t making criminal decisions. It’s not just the banality of everyday decisions that keeps us from our more sinister inclinations, but the goodness within us and the inherent knowledge between right and wrong. It’s the common thread pulling on all of humanity. Some, however, are less connected to that thread than others.

While I do not have sympathy for their failings, I do not believe our peers, fallen and flawed, are without redemption. They may serve prison time, but that doesn’t mean the end of their lives. Few of us are so broken by a fall that we are incapable of recovery. The shame of their actions will follow them, but it does not pave their path.

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