Over the 4th of July holiday the story of McKenzie Lueck was a top headline around the nation but especially in the state of Utah.
A 20-something University student went missing and was found dead several weeks later. Simple case? Not really. A Lyft driver picked her up in the middle of the night from the airport where she flew home from a funeral in her hometown of California. He dropped her off in a park in the middle of the night (close to 3:00am) where she met someone. She then was never seen or heard from again. Her body has since been recovered and a suspect has been identified and is in jail.
It is alleged that McKenzie Lueck was actually meeting a man she met on a sugar daddy dating website she used but those questions still remain.
Once people heard this, they flocked to social media to blame her.
And I'm not going to lie, I found myself going back to college for a second. And then thought of all the things that I did that got me in some close calls:
- After our school repeatedly asked us (women especially) to not run after dark I bought myself some pepper spray, embraced my college feminist side and went for a run in the dark. I only had time that week to run at night because of my work and school schedule. I was an independent college student and I had pepper spray. I'd be fine. I headed out and it would be the one and only time i would EVER do that. I freaked myself out so bad on the run and when I got home my roommates were freaking out as they saw the news of a female student being flashed and then the man attempting to attack her. It was right by where I had run minutes before. I started running in groups from that day forward and I still hate the dark.
- How many, many times my roommates and I would go dancing at clubs or at dances at different colleges and dance until 2 in the morning. I however, would always head back to the car, alone, around eleven to midnight to sleep until they were done in the club as I worked at the hospital...working weekends, holidays and all those other non college student condusive days and would often have to work a shift early in the morning. So I went to the car to sleep since we often went in groups and were half an hour away from our apartments. Looking back I wonder how many times might I have missed someone following me? How many times did I get close to someone breaking into the car? I don't know. It wasn't smart.
- Dates...need any of us expound on all the crazy, weird and wacky dates we've been on?
I'm sure everyone here could think of a time where they did something like that. I think of how many times I felt invinsible in college. My new found freedom and independence was often at the forefront of my decision making skills. Looking back, I could see I made many "one step away from the edge" kinds of decisions. How many times have we sat around the table talking about the stupid things we did in high school and college?
McKenzie Lueck was me. And she was you.
And she should've had the opportunity to look back one day like the rest of us and reminisce about her high school and college days and talk about the amazing things she experienced in college and grimmace at some of her blunders and stupid things she did in college.
But she won't. And not only that but her memory and her legacy will be tainted by victim shaming. Victim shaming occurs when a victim of a crime is blamed partially or fully for the harm that comes upon them whether rape, abuse, death or other wrongful acts.
A very blatant case of this occured recently when a New Jersey judge shamed a rape victim by giving leniency to her attacker after her attacker posted a photo of her and captioned it "when your first time having sex was rape." The boy posted a video of several boys having sex with her while her head hit the wall. They also posted themselves spraying Febreze on her bottom and then hitting her bottom so hard it left marks. When the girl found out about the video, she asked the boy to stop distributing the video but he declined. The judge gave him leniency saying he came from a "good family and had good test scores and was destined to go to a good college." He also mentioned he was an Eagle Scout. He would've faced charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and two counts of third-degree invasion of privacy. He would have also had to register as a sex offender.
While blatant, if we go back to the McKenzie Lueck case we can see that yes, she made some mistakes same as probably a lot of us did at her age. She met a guy at 3:00am in the morning at a park! But her Lyft driver said she wasn't distressed and appeared to be excited as she pulled up and went over to meet him. Who knows what the circumstances were? We can blame her for being on the dating apps, blame her for showing up at 3:00am at a remote park but when we victim shame we are only excusing the perpetrator's behaviors. We don't know why they chose a park to meet up. Perhaps they had been dating and he had just gotten off work? Who knows!
I believe that McKenzie's friends were correct in saying that:
"No person regardless of their gender or dating life deserves to die. Mackenzie is not responsible for the death and murder of Mackenzie. There’s only one person responsible for that, and we’re here to hold him responsible and we’re going to keep holding him responsible. If Kenzie knew what was gonna happen she would not have met that individual at the park. Her death is not her fault... and for people to say things other than that is hurtful. It’s hurtful to us. It’s hurtful to her family. It’s hurtful to other victims out there. It just doesn’t make sense." (Corbin, 2019)
Salt Lake City Police however said it best. They asked us to continue to educate. Not blame. Educate. I think about this as my oldest gets closer to getting out into the world. it is simply impossible to teach her everything that I need to and prepare her for every scenario she will face. I can only hope that the important things I've taught her will stick and in those moments she feels something is "off" that she will listen to her gut. I see her now put things together. She is able to piece together her mistakes and why she made them and how to fix them. But often it is AFTER she makes a mistake. She still impulsively makes decisions in a brain that won't be fully developed until she's 25. As she grows into adulthood I hope that changes. But for now it often feels like you are helping her problem solve through mistakes she makes. I am now starting to see why parents say they worry just as much for their adult children as they did when they lived at home and their children were safely nestled under their wings. I don't know that I won't ever stop worrying. I don't know that McKenzie's parents did. I don't know that the victim's parents in the rape case won't stop worrying about how the judge's decision will affect and impact their daughter.
But I do know that I'm pretty sure behind all of these were parents who tried. Parents who taught and educated their children on dangers and things to watch out for. McKenzie was a responsible student who was working and finishing school and looking to a future career in the next year. But before we shame someone else, first look at ourselves. How many times did we get close to that line? How many times could that have been us? How many times would our parents grimmace at the things we did in college and as young adults and lecture us? Before we look at someone else to judge, first look at ourselves. Any of us could become a victim at anytime and at anyplace. How many times do I walk into my work and worry? How many times did I walk into the hospital and worry? How many times do I walk into a convienence store, concert or movie theater and worry? Worry that my world might be turned upside down. Worry that if I go to get more drinks during a movie for the kids and something happens to them while gone I would never be able to live with my guilt. I worry that maybe a disgruntled student might come back one day. I would worry that maybe it was my fault. Maybe I had said something to this student that cost others. As a parent and educator I know I'm not alone in my worry, although the likelihood is small something would happen, it could. So for all of our collective close calls in life, someone didn't make it through theirs. For me, seeing all of us as a collective whole or unit helps me see all sides. The parents side, the victims side, etc. We are all in this together and we are trying to do our best. We have all had close calls but does anyone deserve to die because of it?
What are your thoughts on these recent events? What are your thoughts and perspectives on victim shaming?
My stepmother told me many years after I was a teenager that she and my father had worried about me at times. There are times, even as an adult, that I have found myself in situations that - when reflecting on them later - I ask myself, "Why did I do that?" We do make mistakes. We do, at times, have momentary lapses of judgement. But, that does not give someone the right to victimize us or the system to punish us just because we are women.