On Monday morning I was invited to appear on two CNN Headline News shows scheduled to air that evening: Prime News with Mike Galanos, and Issues with Jane Valez-Mitchell. Someone at CNN read my post concerning the uptick in sexual assaults during spring break at Daytona Beach and sent a note to True/Slant. Needless to say I was happy to accept the opportunity to appear on both shows, and promptly started scrambling to pull my thoughts together so I’d have something worth contributing.
Since I’m not in Atlanta, the home of CNN, I was piped in from a remote studio. I’ve heard people say that remote interviews are weird because it’s just you staring at a camera in a dark room with a couple of lights–and now, freshly baptized, I wholeheartedly agree. Being on a panel discussion but not being able to see anyone else on the panel, including myself or the host, was strange. I could only hear the other panelists through my earpiece, which made knowing when to break into the conversation challenging.
This was less true on Mike Galanos’ show—Mike cued the panelists for their take on this or that issue and kept the conversation rolling along nicely. But on Issues with Jane Valez-Mitchell—a show I’d never watched–the opportunity to add anything meaningful to the discussion was almost nil. The panelists shouted each other down for most of the show, with Jane slamming her gavel (yelling “Respect the gavel!”) to restore a few seconds of order before the next outburst. Add to that people calling in who droned on and on about the “scantily clad girls on the beach” and it wasn’t exactly educational.
In any case, I was happy to be there and enjoyed the experience. I haven’t located a video of either show yet, so nothing to post, but there should be clips available in the next couple of days and I’ll update this post.
A few crucial points on the subject of sexual assault during spring break did not come across on the shows, so in the interest of providing a more complete picture I’m adding them below.
First, even though the rape victims were never blamed outright for what happened to them, insinuations that they were at least partially to blame floated around the discussions. More than once someone made the statement that the women were “dressed in a provocative way” or similar phrasing, and making themselves targets by getting drunk. My response to this is, last I checked, the penalty for wearing a bikini on a beach is not rape. Nor is the penalty for getting drunk rape. This isn’t the age of Leviticus and we don’t live in Yemen.
Second, while it’s no doubt true that the spring break atmosphere creates opportunities for reckless behavior, I think we should be spending more time talking about who is creating that atmosphere. Daytona Beach, like any other spring break hotspot, relies heavily on the money spring breakers spend one month out of the year. In a down economy, the pressure to get a share of that cash is intensified. That means bars, hotels, and every other place that stands to gain is doing everything possible to keep the crowds coming and spending–mainly on booze. Fort Lauderdale decided years ago that the risks of allowing this to happen were too big, so the city imposed laws that effectively squashed spring break. Will Daytona learn the same lesson? Don’t be fooled. Daytona and other cities in the Volusia/Flagler County area—where all of the busiest spring break beaches are–can do more to limit risk just like Fort Lauderdale did, but big money is on the line if they do.
Finally, when we talk about “spring breakers” we should be clear about who we’re talking about. Many of them are college students, but a large portion are high school students and younger. I interviewed the program director of the Sexual Assault Response Team in Daytona and she said that year after year, most of the rape victims she sees are between the ages of 12 and 18. These are kids, and whether their parents realize it or not, they’re diving into an atmosphere where sexual predators look for easy prey. Kids that age will take offers of alcohol from people old enough to buy it, and they’ll follow the crowd to whichever party is hottest. Rapists know that and they plan for it.
So my point here is, parents (and I’m one of you)—come on, don’t be naïve about this. Would you knowingly send your kids somewhere on their own where the per capita rape stats are almost four times the national average? Where the violent crime stats are three times the national average? Where the chance of being a crime victim is higher than if they were walking the streets of Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles? Then think twice before sending your kids off to spring break in Daytona, because those are the unfortunate facts.