Last week, a co-worker of mine gave a presentation to middle school boys about sexual assault. She does this every year, along with talking to a group of high school boys. In the past, she would get two very different reactions: high school boys would sit there completely silent, avoiding eye contact, mostly just zoning out. The middle school boys would be very cooperative and ask a lot of questions. This year was very different. The middle schoolers were the worst she’s ever seen. Aside from being completely disrespectful to her, along with the male teacher that had to come reign them in, they were completely oblivious to the realities of sexual assault.
I guess I should preface by saying that only a handful of boys were causing trouble, but then, as middle school boys do, egged others on. Some of the boys were respectful and offered valuable input, but they were the definite minority.
The presentation involved going through myths about rape and sexual assault, discussion of the Steubenville rape case, as well as a discussion about legal issues related to underage sexual activity. When they were talking about the Steubenville rape case, a few of the boys were saying things like, “well if she got drunk and passed out, she was asking for it.” “If she wears something slutty she should expect something to happen.” In response to those comments, my co-worker asked, “So if you get drunk at a party and pass out, and happen to have $300 and a brand new iPhone in your pocket, then you’re asking for someone to steal them?” The boys got all worked up and said of course that wouldn’t be alright, that’d be horrible. So in their minds, having their personal property stolen is worse than a girl being sexual assaulted?! WHAT?! She also asked how they would feel if that was their mother or their sister. The boys were sure that nothing like that would ever happen to their moms or sisters. In a room of about 40 kids, there’s a very good chance it has happened to some of their mothers, and if it hasn’t happened to a few sisters already, it probably will. What scares me the most about these beliefs is that if they believe girls are “asking for it,” when they’re 12-14 years old, some of these boys will probably end up raping girls. And the worst thing about it is that they won’t believe they’re doing anything wrong.
When they were discussing rape myths and facts, they heard the statistics about how many boys, and men, will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. These boys thought that was “awesome” and they would “like being raped by a woman” and “why would anyone care?” My co-worker had to remind them that when she’s talking about boys and men being raped, in the vast majority of cases, she’s not talking about women raping men. That seemed to quiet them down for a minute as soon as the truth clicked in their minds.
A few weeks ago I also had the opportunity to speak with some middle school girls about sexual assault. We went through rape myths as well, and there were several that they believed. They believed that most rapists attack women randomly at night in the street, which of course isn’t the case, with 80% of rapes and sexual assaults being perpetrated by people the victim know, in a place familiar to the victim. The girls also believed that once boys got to a certain point it was physically impossible for them to stop sexual activity, which of course isn’t true. When I asked where they heard that, they said they heard it from the brothers and classmates, as well as on TV and movies. I would really like to know where it is that boys hear this from. And also, what do they think will happen? If they get turned on and aren’t able to actually have sex, do they think they’ll be in so much pain they’ll die? Their balls will explode? I just don’t get it. And it’s so unfortunately that both girls, and boys, believe this is true.
Another thing that crept up recently was something that happened at the campus where I attended graduate school. A girl reported waking up in the night, seeing a man at the foot of her bed who told her he had a knife. He then touched her sexually and left. She reported it, but as of right now the perpetrator hasn’t been found. I saw a post on the campus “confessions” page on Facebook from a girl who told her mom about it, and her mom told her to “keep her doors and legs closed.” That comment in itself bothers me, because simply “keeping your legs closed” will do nothing to stop a sexual assault…but that’s another issue. What really bothered me was the comments to this post. Someone called the incident rape, and then others responded saying this wasn’t rape and that people should learn their definitions. So it went back and forth on whether or not this incident qualifies as rape or not, until someone finally asked if it really mattered what the definition of rape is. A girl had someone come into her room, a place she thought she was safe, and violate her in a sexual way. Isn’t that enough? Just because someone, guy or girl, doesn’t think that “counts” as rape, does that mean it shouldn’t matter? Does that mean that victim should get over it and be fine with what happened? No. All that matters is how that victim feels, and if she feels violated, then it “counts.”
A final story that’s been bugging me lately is that of a six year old girl who was sodomized by a 12 year old, in broad daylight, outside their apartment building, with a bunch of other kids around. There were other children playing outside who witnessed this. Aside from the entirely different issue of social services and law enforcement not doing anything about it, the perpetrators father actively tried to cover up what happened. He called the witnesses parents and tried to get them to get their kids to say nothing happened if it went to court. I’m sure it would be incredibly difficult to learn that your child did something like that, but wouldn’t you want to help him get better so he doesn’t continue to do things like that as he gets older? Wouldn’t you want to help your child? For a 12 year old to even know what sodomy is there’s a good chance that something happened to him that lead to that behavior. I would think, as a parent, you’d want to get to the bottom of it and make sure your child, and those he’s around, are safe.
It seems that people are afraid to talk about rape and sexual assault – but what’s the alternative? Ignoring it while these vicious rapes continue to happen? In India, so many of the recent victims that we’re hearing about are 5 and 6 years old. Ignoring it obviously isn’t working. We aren’t going to be able to change the rape culture we live in until we starting talking about it.