Girls Rationalize Sexual Assault As… Normal?

Filed in National by on April 15, 2014

First, let me start off by saying that I’ve witnessed the normalization of sexual assault first hand – through my experience and now through my 16 year old daughter.  It feels like an uphill battle.  My small victory?  Everyone at the Pandora household has stopped using gender specific words in a negative, and a positive, fashion.

But take a look at this study.  I doubt you’ll be surprised.

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews conducted by Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse. Often times they rationalized these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states:

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

I’d point out that objectification, sexual harassment and abuse affect almost all teenage girls (and teenage boys due to our skewed view of masculinity).  The comment by the 13 year old girl that says, “I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone” is one I’ve heard my own daughter and her friends say.  Can you picture the expression on my face when I hear this?

The report lists 4 main reasons why young women don’t report sexual violence.  I’m going to deal with each point.

1.  Girls believe the myth that men can’t help it. The girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity. They perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behavior, and as something to endure, ignore, or maneuver around.

At my daughter’s (and many others) school, the girls are not permitted to wear leggings, yoga pants, tank tops/sleeveless shirts and dresses/skirts that don’t pass the fingertip test.  Look, I’m fine with a dress code, but what I’m not fine with is the reason my daughter and her friends received when they questioned these rules – mainly about the leggings and yoga pants.  They were told that these items of clothing were distracting to the boys.

In essence, these young women were told that their attire is a trigger for young men; that if they dress a certain way then they are courting trouble… because boys/young men aren’t responsible for their actions?  I don’t believe that, and find it highly insulting to men/boys.  Keeping your hands to yourself is one of the first things we teach toddlers.

My daughter also runs track, and everyone should really check out the school supplied uniforms.  They break every flippin’ school dress code rule.  The shorts, and I use that term lightly, are so short that the girls are constantly tugging on them to cover their butt cheeks and the uniform top is a tiny tank top that flashes their midriff on a regular basis.  But on hot days when the boys pull off their shirts to run at practice, girls are told they cannot ditch their tee shirts and run in their sports bra because… you guessed it… that would distract the boys.

Seriously, is it too much to ask for those in charge to come up with another reason?  They can set any dress code they want, but could they please stop putting the responsibility for boy’s behavior onto girls.  This is part of the reason why girls/women buy into that “boys will be boys” crap and how girls/women come to blame themselves for someone else’s behavior.  It’s classic abusive behavior, taken straight from an abuser’s script: “You made me hit/grope you.”  Think about that.

In one of my daughter’s classes they discussed feminism.  The teacher asked the students, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years.”  Every girl (other than my daughter and one other girl – I’m so proud) listed being married with children first, and over 50% of the girls stopped with that.  Not one boy had marriage and children on their list.  And this is 2014.  I almost wept.  That conversation somehow spiraled into women’s attire (not men’s, mind you) and the age old “some women dress like they want to have sex” comment reared its ugly head.  Little Pandora said, “So what if they want to have sex?  That doesn’t mean they want to have sex with you.  This isn’t a game where the first guy that tags a woman gets to have sex with her.”  Have I mentioned how proud we are of her?

2.  Many of the girls said that they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experiences.  They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offense or rape.

This finding is heartbreaking.  Picture a boy/man walking up to another boy/man and grabbing his butt or genitalia.  Do you think that would be viewed as a big deal?  (And, yes, when this happens to a boy/man it’s assault.)  But what worries me is how the girls are dismissing this behavior as normal.  That’s a problem.  They don’t see it as something to be upset about.

3.  Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as “bad girls” who prompted the assault.

Ah… gotta love the Madonna/whore standard.  And why would they trust authority figures when these are the same people telling them that their attire is a distraction to boys/men.  The narrative is already set.  In stone.

4.  Hlavka found that girls don’t support other girls when they report sexual violence. The young women expressed fear that they would be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse.

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster then when a girl/woman calls another girl/woman a “whore” or “slut” and the speed at which I shut that abuse down is faster than light travels.  I tell my daughter, “Don’t be one of those people.”  But when you think about what we tell girls, why would report sexual abuse?  After all, it’s their fault for dressing the way the do, flirting with a boy they like, boys will be boys, boys/men just can’t help themselves, etc.  Being groped is normal.

We need to tell girls and boys that touching anyone without their consent is wrong.  Basically, we need to give them a remedial course because this message is getting lost in translation.

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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

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  1. Rape Culture | From Pine View Farm | April 17, 2014
  1. anon says:

    Great post! It really bothers me that our culture has reverted back to a, “What was she wearing to provoke the attack” mentality. Women in the 50s, 60s and 70s fought so hard to eliminate that mindset and we have a responsibility to pass that torch on to the next generation of women.

    Its a shame that women’s organizations like NOW have become silent and worthless on this issue.

  2. Geezer says:

    When did the behavior you describe become normal? When I was 13, anyone would have gotten in trouble with the adult authorities for grabbing the buttocks of either a girl or a boy. Unwanted touching of another person should be out of bounds whether it’s in a sexual context or not.

    My point, I suppose, is that this kind of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated in any context. I think the problem might be lack of respect for all others, not just the female ones.

  3. pandora says:

    Thanks! What stunned me was the way my daughter and her friends normalized certain bad behavior as that’s just the way it is. What also was frightening was the way the majority of her female classmates answered the “where do you want to be in 10 years” question, especially considering they’d only be 25 or 26 and probably still in graduate school.

  4. jmarie says:

    Is it that difficult to teach your young men to control themselves and accept responsibility for their actions! I am really tired of seeing women and girls get blamed for the actions of perverts. Another thing that really irks me is when little boys hit or pick on little girls and the answer from a lot of adults is that “he is only doing it because he likes you”. That is dangerous to me. F that. I have already had to deal with it- and mine is only 5. I know it’s not perfect, but she is well aware that if a boy hits her or picks on her- he is a damn asshole and to stay the hell away or learn to hit back harder. Ugh I can only imagine the talks were going to have to have when she is 12 if this keeps going on. You want your daughters to have a healthy sexuality and not be shamed by how they feel- and the whole either you’re a whore or a perfect little submissive virgin has got to go.

  5. Geezer says:

    I hope they’ll be doing something more productive than attending graduate school.

  6. TMVol says:

    WOW…attitudes sure have changed from when I was in school and that includes my college years. None of that behavior was considered let alone tolerated as far as I remember. When did this start changing? I’m also clueless about what a “fingertip test” test is…I’m feeling really old right now. I hope my now 6 year old grandson doesn’t think that it’s ok to do these things when he gets a few years on him.
    Don’t know about you Geezer but in my day there was a paddle (known school wide) that was reason enough not to do bad/dumb things/actions. One time was enough for me. The man wielding that paddle wasn’t happy until feet left the floor!
    I was having a fun day. Now I read this eye opener and I’m saddened. I believe Pandora but part of me doesn’t want to believe this actually happens.
    Groping girls? REALLY?
    I’ve aged a bit today.

  7. pandora says:

    First, this behavior has always been around in varying degrees, but I do feel we’re losing ground.

    And this is more than a lack of respect issue, mainly because the girls believe the four points listed in the post. Boys treated like this are upset, angry, feel bullied, etc.. What the boys don’t do is shrug and say, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.” Right there. That’s the problem. It’s not only about correcting the behavior (a must), it’s about correcting the mindset that normalizes (and excuses) the behavior.

    And we’re a big STEM family (except me 🙁 ), so a four year undergrad in biology, chemistry, etc. doesn’t cut it. So yeah, our graduate degrees tend to be very productive.

  8. pandora says:

    TMVol, the fingertip skirt length test is when a girl stands up straight with her arms at her side and if the skirt hangs below her fingertips it’s okay to wear. If the skirt is higher than fingertip level it’s not allowed. I know, it’s kinda weird, but I get it.

  9. anon says:

    I must have short arms because when I did the “fingertip test” my reaction was “Yikes.”

  10. Geezer says:

    Pandora: STEM graduate degrees are different from the kind most kids get today. I suspect a lot of students in other disciplines look at the job market and figure they’d rather put off their bartending career for a couple of years.

  11. TMVol says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the fingertip test Pandora. That’s a might bit short a skirt but WTF rules are rules. I’m also a bit older than you and there were no varying degrees when I was in public school or maybe I was taught to be a gentleman and treat women with a modicum of respect. OK…I stand better informed now. Not sure I needed this information but at least I can say I’ve learned something today.

  12. Another Mike says:

    One of the old Catholic school tests was to have the girls kneel. If their jumper didn’t reach the floor, it was too short. I know of one Catholic high school in the area that got rid of skirts because the hemlines kept creeping up. I think that school has since reintroduced them, but they need to pass some sort of fingertip test.

  13. ben says:

    I feel like we’re still putting the responsibility on the girls to “not look too sexy”.

    Yes, of course, there should be some sort of dress code for boys and girls, but a boy who’s parents never taught them how to behave appropriately is going to behave inappropriately regardless of 2 inches higher or lower on a skirt.

  14. TMVol says:

    YAY for Ben!! Parenting is lacking but there are some boys that will never get the lesson and that probably applies to some girls as well. As for the girls? I still remember some in my school daze that oozed sexy and it didn’t matter what they wore. Burlap sacks would have looked like wrapping paper. I’m still stunned that schools allow this groping to happen. Oh well it’s a new day and age and that parents know and do nothing aside from being better parents like the Pandora’s.
    Maybe Madonna changed things forever way back when…Elvis sure did so what’s next? I thought it was all good until I read this post. Maybe not as progressive as I’d hoped.

  15. ben says:

    I just dont think our culture has a very mature mindset about sex. “Back in the day” we hammered into kids that ANYTHING before marriage would give you cancer, or something.
    Now we tell them that what’s happening to their bodies and feelings is natural, which is fine and true, but there really isn’t much more “official explanation” past that….. save for the internet…. which is where I suspect a lot of these youngoens are getting their ides about what sex and sexuality is/should be. The more information the better, I say.

  16. pandora says:

    You know, this stuff was always going on – and the teachers miss 99% of it because kids know when to pull this stuff (just like bullies). I can remember being in middle school and hearing a group of boys laughing (almost every day) because one of them touched a girl’s butt, or how they “accidentally” brushed up against a breast or how so-and-so was a… dog, bitch, slut. Fill in the blank. Hardy-har-har. It was sport, and still is. Lighten up. Learn to take a joke, etc.

    The mindset that normalizes, and rationalizes, sexual assault, abuse, etc. didn’t just start. This mindset has been formed over centuries. There may be some new tactics, but this crap has always been around.

    And Ben is correct. Talk to your kids about sex. A lot, and in detail.

  17. Flylady says:

    Great post, Pandora!

  18. pandora says:

    Why, thank you!

  19. Frank says:

    Someone I used to know, an OR nurse, once told me that, during the course of an operation, a doctor had brushed against her in a way that made her feel funny. She asked me whether I thought it might have been an accident.

    I told her that, when there is room to pass by without touching, no man brushes against a woman’s rear end by accident.

    This was about 25 years ago, and I doubt anything much has changed since then.

  20. ben says:

    7 Hells. Can you imagine keeping a really nasty fart on deck for just such an occasion? I mean, I know women dont fart, but still. funny stuff. <snark