my own private steubenville

One fall night, in the early months of my high school freshman year, I went to a small gathering of friends after one of my volleyball games. Actually, the people there weren’t necessarily friends; more like one close girl friend and a bunch of guys from the class above me. I had known them all for a while since we had all attended the same small school of 200 kids, but I did not know them well.

My one vivid memory of that night is of me sitting around a table, playing drinking games with Bartles  & James, and actually feeling pretty “cool” that I was the only freshman hanging out with a bunch of sophomores. And that’s pretty much all I remember from that night, until waking up the next morning, in the guest bedroom of my house, with a murderous headache and a hospital bracelet on my wrist.

I still don’t know the whole truth of that night, of what happened during those twelve hours of blackout; at age fourteen I was too ashamed to ask anyone who was there what really happened. So instead, over the past twenty-some-odd years, I have been left with hazy bits and pieces of that night, recounted to me by my peers (who heard stories second hand), and learned from the whisper-filled school halls.

Basically, according to the whispers, I chased the wine coolers with a mix of all sorts of alcohol, and subsequently started barfing everywhere. Because of all the barfing, my friend, probably with coaxing from the guys, decided to give my limp body a shower, and I was therefore naked, for at least part of the night. For years I was teased, by one of the guys in particular, about being the girl who like to party naked. You can imagine how awesome that made me feel about myself.

Some of the rumors from that night placed me “behind closed doors” with one of the guys who left the room with “a really big smile.” I know that things did not go as far as they did with the victim in Steubenville, but in the same breath, I know that things happened to me and to my body that I was not aware of and certainly did not consent to.

That is all I really know about what happened that night, and truth be told, I don’t want to know any more.

But what I do know is that I thank God for two things:

First of all, I am thankful that I had one girlfriend with me who didn’t leave me there by myself. She had the wherewithal to call her older brother who came to get us and took me home to my parents.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine the shock and disappointment my parents must have felt that night; the thought makes me shudder. Upon seeing me in that condition, nearly lifeless and incoherent, they decided to take me to the emergency room to make sure I had not been given any drugs. My system was clean, except for, of course, the .2 blood alcohol level, so my parents took me back home to sleep it off.

If my girlfriend had not been there that night, I don’t know where I would have woken up.

Secondly, I am beyond grateful that the days of social media and instant image-sharing had not yet begun. Otherwise, I am quite certain there would be photos and/or videos of me being slung around, quite like young lady from Steubenville, circulating the interwebs. I am also pretty certain that there would be video footage of at least one of the guys talking about me, just like Michael Nodianos spoke about the young victim as being “deader than OJ Simpson’s wife.”

Though I like to be very forthcoming on my site, I’m surprised at myself for writing about this incident because it is truly the most degrading, humiliating thing that has ever happened to me. However, ever since learning of the Steubenville incident, I have been unable to shake the similarities to my own story, and also, terrified with the thought that someday one of my daughters could be in the same situation.

I hope we, as parents and as a society, can learn from the countless lessons stirred up by the Steubenville case.

My Own Private Steubenville

1) Respect for women.

It’s not only about how violence towards women (that gets shamelessly glorified in pop music and by the artists themselves) needs to stop, but it’s also, at the most basic level, about how men should treat, talk and think about women with respect. Even after all the progress women have made in our society, on the whole, women are still objectified and degraded down to the basest level in countless ways. Conversations about how to show respect to women, be them young ladies, young women, grown women, or elderly women, need to happen at a young age with our male population, particularly now that pornography is so rampant via the Internet. Young men need to know what is real, what is acceptable and what is humane. They also need to be reminded of the definition of consensual.

2) Teen alcohol and drug use:

Next there is the subject, or rather the epidemic, of alcohol and drug use among minors. I have a lot of thinking to do about this subject before my kids get into their tween/teen years because I, myself, partook in such actions (yes, even after that night) and I just don’t know the answer on how best to approach it with my own kids. It’s an important issue for our society to talk about, an absolutely a topic for another blog post all together.

3) Do the right thing, no matter who is watching.

That is the motto of my Kindergarter’s school, and I love it (there should also be the disclaimer at the end, “whether this is going to get posted on YouTube or not”). Kids can sometimes get a misconception of what is the right thing, especially when their sports heroes and politicians are being exonerated left and right despite their wrong doings. No one is above the law or above social mores. Lance Armstrong is the first one who can talk about that issue. We all make mistakes, but there is always a price to pay.

4) Stand up for yourself!

This may be the most important lesson of all, from the young lady who has been brave enough to come forward against an entire town that is against her. I am inspired and impressed by her courage, despite the horrific scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule she is sure to face. I have been hemming and hahhing about publishing this post because of the negative feedback I might get, and it is NOTHING compared to what she is enduring. I send lots of love and courage to that young lady so that she may stay strong through this fight and come out the other side on her two feet.

I want all stories of this nature to remind us to have open dialogues we need to have with our kids, about having respect for one another and for being careful with drug and alcohol use. Some watch that video or hear the stories and think, “boys will be boys,” or that “well, she deserved what she had coming to her,” and that is precisely the mentality that needs to stop.


After the “party naked” night, I went on to have a wonderful high school experience. I ignored the rumors and pretended that the night never happened. I even became friends with the guys who were there that night because I blamed myself for the incident and wanted to just try to be normal and accepted. I’m even friends with some of them on Facebook, some could be reading this now. Though my story is different from the Steubenville case on many levels, I needed to write this post to ease my own shame I’ve been carrying for years. I have the unnamed 16 year old victim to thank for that.



  1. 1
    Mariana Salerno says:

    Very, very brave of you to write this Mary, I know it is not easy to do. I do know, however, that there there should be no shame in this on your part (easier said than done). You were a young impressionable girl surrounded by a pack of brutes, who unfortunately had no guidance on how to treat women. All of those messages you write about are so important and crucial to get out there! I am very proud of you!!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Mern! You have been the closest person to me all of these years and know more than anyone that it has been a source of shame and unrest for me. I still don’t think of them as brutes (maybe one, but the rest wouldn’t hurt a fly I don’t think), which is probably why I’m in a much luckier position that the gal in Steubenville. Love you!

  2. 2
    Theresa says:

    Mary I am so very proud of you!!! I’m also blessed to have you in my life!!!!

  3. 3
    Sean Harrison says:

    If it means anything to you Mary. I have known you and everyone associated in this story since you were in 1st grade and can say that I have no recollection of this story in any of the remaining brain cells. I’m sure there is a decent percentage of the population that grew up in the 90’s that could share a Bartle’s & James story that ended in a similar fashion. I just wish mine didn’t end in duct tape.

    • Mary says:

      Oh Sean, leave it to you to add some comic relief to this post with your Bartles and James commercial. Now, did you know the irony of this commercial, that it came out in 1986, the very year that the party naked incident occurred and also, March 21st, the vernol equinox is my birthday! You nailed it, so to speak. Thanks for always supporting me in your own special way! xo

  4. 4
    Middle State says:

    I couldn’t finish watching the video. The idea of this happening to any one of our daughters, or the thought of one of our sons doing such a thing to someone’s daughter is going to give me nightmares. I know alcohol played a part, but it can’t be all of it. What is going on with these kids that they think it’s OK to treat another human being like a disposable object? Something is very, very wrong. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry this happened to you as a young woman. Thankfully you rose above it and had a meaningful high school experience. Many girls (and boys) do not, as we are well aware.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks for the comment, MZ (or should I say MS? I’m so used to MZ!?!?). I couldn’t finish watching the video either. So disturbing. And yes, I was lucky that that night didn’t ruin my high school career (which is why I’m so thankful that social media didn’t exist back then!). xo

  5. 5
    Stefanie says:

    I can only imagine how hard it was to write this post as you had to relive the awful feeling of humiliation as if it was happening all over again. I am so sorry this happened to you my friend and yes you are right, there are lessons to be learned. By sharing your story, hopefully you will save young girls from experiencing what you went through.

  6. 6
    Carolyn West says:

    You’re brave to share this. I think we’ve all had incidents in our past that we aren’t proud of but this is a good lesson to all young girls. It doesn’t matter how good a family you come from or how well you do in school, letting yourself lose control (with drugs or alcohol) takes all your power away.

    • Mary says:

      Yes, you’re right. It’s scary how powerless drugs and alcohol can render a person. Especially a young girl. Terrifies me for the future.

  7. 7
    Michele Clutter says:

    I think if you parents had been a little more diligent in checking on where you were this might have not happened. I am glad for you that nothing “happened”, but it disturbed me that, now you are a grown woman and looking back, don’t at least take some responsibility for what happened to you. And the “brutes” Marianna Solerno speaks of? Seems to me they weren’t very brutish even though you laid yourself out there for everyone to take advantage of. We all do stupid things when we are young. I did. But, I will tell you if something had happened,I would have to say I put myself in a position I should not have and accept 50% of the blame. I checked up on my daughter every time she went somewhere. She KNEW I was vigilant and scared to death to go where she had o business.

    • Stefanie says:

      Michelle, I respectfully disagree with your comment. I am not saying it is in whole wrong, however I do think that as teenagers we do things that are stupid and in looking back, while of course she overdrank, she didn’t understand at the time what she was getting herself into. I was once a teenager and did crazy things that landed me in trouble. I didn’t have parents who watched out for me. I now have two teens. I am a diligent parent, most would call me overprotective. I call when my senior stays at someone’s house to confirm with parents that he is indeed staying there. I impose curfews that other parents don’t. I have created a situation in which my boys talk to me and talk to me often about their lives. I am not a friend to my boys, I parent them as a parent. And still I have had a son who ended up in the hospital for drinking. I am grateful his situation didn’t involve someone taking advantage of his teenage recklessness. I thought that if I did everything by the book, my boys would be exempt from these kinds of stories. And then, I was that parent in the ER with a kid, crying and praying and wondering where I failed him.Truth is, you can do your very best and still have a teenager that makes teenager decisions. There is no place to judge here. Just lessons to be learned.

    • Sean Harrison says:

      I may know Mary and her past too well to respond objectively here, but feel like I should. Mary’s parents enrolled her in a school that they thought would be the most protective environment. They were right. They made sure that she made friends with people of the highest moral fiber that made the rights decisions as much as any child could and encouraged her to stay away from those that were the bad element. For the most part, they succeeded.(Jury’s still out on me). Her parents became part of a network composed of all the other intelligent, informed, and watchful parents that worked together beyond the knowledge their children in order to keep as much of a watchful eye on them as possible. They empowered her with the tools that made her a student leader socially, scholastically, and athletically. If you ask me these are the things that “saved” Mary that night. For better or worse, I know the “brutes” in this story and they have lots of stories to tell. Mary’s has never been one of them. And there is no mistaking the fact that they have been involved in some rather distasteful antics.

      Also, I came away from reading this post thinking Mary accepted full responsibility for that night.

      And one more thing. This is a mommy blog, but I’m a dad. So I have to provide a male perspective. I have two friends that awesome fathers and great providers and love their wives dearly. Their wives are super vigilant, task masters, that are constantly reminding them of what they can and cannot do when they are on their own. Just like their mom’s did. Guess who immediately ask to go to a strip joint(#1 on the do not do list) whenever we have a night to ourselves. They were always the 1st to suggest trips to Mexico back in the day too.

      • Mary says:

        Thank you, Sean & Stefanie, for your comments. Both of you “get it” that no matter how hands on and diligent parents can be, there is no way they can be involved in every decision. The commenter who blamed my parents missed the mark entirely.
        Sean, you were also right that I take responsibility for that night. I am glad to hear that I was never part of the stories that you heard and that many of you FWP’ers have no recollection of this event. I think we should all be very thankful that the Internet did not exist back then.

    • Chelsea says:

      Michelle, I always tell my husband that the first mistake we can make is thinking we “know” everything about our kids. I was a straight A student, in AP classes, and my parents were very “vigilant” and knew where I was at all times… or so they thought.

  8. 8
    Denise says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to share. I agree that as a society we must do something so that these stories no longer happen.

  9. 9
    Cindy says:

    I too am proud of you. Like Sean, I don’t recall this story. Part of me wants to know the salacious details so I can be angry at them. Because you’ve forgiven, I suppose I should let go of those thoughts as well.
    I am amazed at the confidence you always exuded and still do. I have not watched the news stories as even reading this gives me flashbacks to the movie, The Accused. I saw it when it came out in 1988, when we were in High School and blossoming in our sexuality, as it were. It shook me to my core because I know it happens and is all too real for too many victims. It scares me to this day.
    I wonder if men fully comprehend that even bright , fit and optimistic women walk around feeling as if we could be a victim at any moment, especially at a time when we are relaxing with some alcohol and our inhibitions are lowered and judgement is compromised. It just takes someone a little stronger than us and we’ve lost a lot of the control of our fate.
    With social media on top of word of mouth gossip, the nightmare would be seemingly never ending. As a woman and mother of three lovely girls, I shudder to think of the possibilities. We will surely have many conversations over the years regarding your “do the right thing, no matter who is watching” line. Missteps will happen… I had my fair share of those, but I will do my best to save them a few mistakes.
    Again, thank you for bravely sharing this.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you, Cindy! So interesting to me to find out all these yeas later that so many people didn’t know or don’t remember. In my mind, at the time, EVERYONE knew and everyone was talking about it. I was so mortified to go to school for the few weeks after, but luckily it died down.
      And yes, we have a lot of talking and parenting to do with our kids in preparation for their teen years.

  10. 10
    Bobbi says:

    You were lucky. I’m going to have my daughter read this. I did the same crazy partying thing,twice, only to have friends drive me home. I am so thankful to them, both of them guys, by the way. Too bad Eric’s no longer with us to thank.

  11. 11
    Nicole says:

    Thank you for writing this because since the story came out I have had my own flashbacks to Halloween night my freshmen year of college atSan Diego State. After leaving a party at a certain fraturnity, ridiculously drunk, I went across the street to pass out in my own dorm room. Later I woke up to find an uninvited guest in my bed with me. I never went I authorities because, like you, I felt I was at fault. I did however tell a close friend of mine in another frat, who went to this boys frat and spoke to the president of the house. Boy was subsequequently kicked out of his pledge class. (Don’t feel too proud of this house. They’ve has issues in the past and couldn’t have any more bad press.) I’ve never told anyone but my husband about this but it’s more common than people think. Thank you for the forum so that maybe my own story will be of some help to the kids out there. Proud of you. Xoxo

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much for that comment, Nicole, though I am sorry that you went through something similar. Yes, I think the frequency of things like this is more than anyone wants to imagine or to talk about. xoxox

  12. 12
    Natalie says:

    You are so brave for putting this out there for all to read. This wasn’t about what your parents did or didn’t do, this was about you raising awareness. I’m sending this to my sister for my high school niece to read. It is amazingly scary some of the situations we put ourselves into trying to be “cool”, isn’t it?

  13. 13

    So brave and beautiful of you to share this story. I can only imagine it wasn’t easy. The story in Ohio has torn at my heart for so many reasons… I worry about children/teens who are being raised without a conscience. How is it possible to treat another human being as such and feel absolutely no remorse? Thank you for sharing. Also? Ignore the one isolated comment above…. at 14, no… you wouldn’t have taken 50% of the responsibility anymore than that CHILD in Steubenville should. Drinking and/or being in an environment that you perceive to be among friends (even though the drinking is NOT the right thing to do) is NEVER an ‘out’ or invitation for that type of behavior.

  14. 14
    Kalpana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It strikes way too close to my current parenting fears. You know we are very involved in raising my now 10th grade sister and brother. When they were here tonight (working on Ms. O’s paper) I was looking at them thinking about the decisions they make that I don’t know about. We are supremely overprotective, but we sure aren’t going to college with them, so we try to allow them as much independence as their responsibility affords them. It terrifies me to think of either of them as predator or prey. I know I was a little ‘preoccupied’ that particular year, but I never heard a thing about the incident you chronicled, so I hope you know that it was a fairly hushed up thing. In a school our size things don’t stay quiet for long, but I really never heard even a whisper. Like you, I hope we will navigate the tricky road to raising young men and women who can make educated decisions about alcohol consumption and personal safety. You are certainly right about one thing (we have learned with some pain). The safety of our living room on movie night can be shattered by a slip of the text or instagram. Social media makes teaching kids how to make decisions and how to exercise judgment even more important than the type of traditional eagle-eyed parenting I was brought up with. We were fortunate to make our mistakes before the era of facebook and youtube. More than anything I hope I am the kids’ constant companion in the form of the voice in their head keeping them from drinking that drink, going home with that guy, or sharing that photo.
    Thanks again for sharing such a personal and important story.

    • Mary says:

      Kalpa, thank you for your comment! Yes, you certainly had other things on your mind at that time, but it still surprises and relieves me to know that you and several of the other FWPers who commented didn’t know or don’t remember it. So strange how all of our realities and perceptions of how things happened back then are different.
      I feel for you that you are entering the high school age with your sis & bro who you’re now essentially parenting. It is a scary age because yes, even though they’ve been raised well, they still have a lot of time on their own and will be making a lot of decisions on their own. In a few years, I’ll be calling you to get advice and help when my girls are teens. xo

  15. 15
    Mariana Salerno says:

    I am completely shocked that the above negative comment seems to highlight the “blame the victim'” mentality. I don’t want to validate the attitude by dwelling too much on it, but it is very smug at best and extremely dangerous at worst. No parent can watch their children at all times, and the best of kids will rebel once in a while. this by no means justifies a brutish treatment of a woman. Elderly women, nuns, babies get raped and molested, and they by no means “laid themselves out there” to be taken advantage of. Missing the point ENTIRELY.

  16. 16
    Mariana Salerno says:

    “Rape preceded miniskirts”. Nuff said

  17. 17

    First of all, I know this story so well. Thank you for writing it. And, please ignore Michele. I’d like to say much more to her for her completely ignorant comments, but I won’t. Instead I will say to you, “I am so sorry this happened.” I hope we are raising a generation of daughters and sons who understand the risks and REAL consequences {following them around won’t do that, Michele} to over-drinking. I am going to book mark this and share it with my son when the time is right. xoxo

  18. 18
    Kat says:

    I have a similar “first drink” story where I ended up getting groped, but was too out of it (puking out a window) to even piece together what was happening. I had no idea what my own limits were for alcohol and gleefully threw back every drink that was handed to me that night. So stupid, but it never crossed my mind someone might try to take advantage of me. And I had lied to my Mom about where I was going that night. She thought I was watching movies at a friends house.

    All that to say, I get it! The current events these days make me sick now that I have kids of my own to worry about. I’m so glad you wrote about this and I’m sick and tired of blame being put on ANYONE other than the perpetrators.

  19. 19


    I thank gawd that social media did not exist when I was in high school. There are times I am not proud of and can say I am incredibly lucky nothing horrible happened to me. Kids now really have to consider the consequences of not just their actions, but those of the other people witnessing and sharing them.

    It is so brave of you to share your experience and I hope somehow you can share it with your girls in a way to prepare them in making smart decisions. I think of different ways every day to prepare Princess D as she gets older.

  20. 20
    Sean Davis says:

    Hey Mary. I also never heard this in high school. I had a crazy experience drinking 10 shots of vodka in 20 minutes and blacking out at that same age. Being a guy is different in terms of the kind of things that can happen to you in this situation. It really is a shame. Some men and boys turn into predators over less strong or impaired people. It’s really sick and disgusting. Sorry this happened to you.It takes a lot of courage to tell this story.I have a daughter entering high school next year and things like this are scary. And they happen. Thanks for sharing, its a sober reminder.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks, Sean! Thinking back to all the crazy things we did in high school, it is terrifying that we have daughters growing up to be teens soon. We were lucky that we had such a close-knit group of friends who looked after one another when things got out of hand back then.

  21. 21
    SurferWife says:

    Mary! You are SO not alone. To a degree, so many of us share your story, but as always YOU are the brave one to acknowledge your feelings and write about them. I really do admire you, girl. You’re an amazing friend, daughter AND mother.

  22. 22
    laura says:

    My heart is tense from reading this.
    I can relate, and I sincerely applaud you for being brave enough for sharing this story. Though I”m sure the memories that surfaced while writing the post, as my own while reading, were painful, this is not something to be swept under the rug and forgotten. Like all of my dumb moves in my younger years, I hope to be able to teach my children to do and be better. Not by shielding them, or by ignoring these possibilities, but by having conversations with them and talking about everything.
    Thank you again for sharing this post. You are a brave woman with a strong heart.

  23. 23
    Chelsea says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. There’s so much going on at that age that we all know parents — no matter how involved and on top of things — had no idea. Very scary to remember as a parent myself. Thank you for posting the lessons — sharing your story makes it all the more powerful of just how important we follow your advice in sharing those lessons. Huge hugs to you!!! XOXO

  24. 24

    The other night I was with some mom friends who admitted for the first time ever that they thought they’d been date raped when they were teens, They’d never said a word to anyone before – including to their very vigilant parents – because they felt ashamed.

    The thing that strikes me is that they phrased it as “I thought I was date raped” as if what happened to them was NOT date rape when upon hearing the details, I know it certainly was.

    The Micheles of this world add to the shame of women too humiliated to admit they “thought” they were date raped, because they know they will be judged and held to an impossible standard of perfection. Even when most women date raped are in their teens and early twenties and are more girls than women.

    I’m sorry this happened to you, Mar. It’s the reason I wish there were time machines so I could be there too to protect you. I’m glad it turned out “ok.”

  25. 25

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. As the mother of two girls, this type of thing is my worst nightmare. When my daughters are a little older I am definitely going to have them read this.

  26. 26
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  27. 27

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