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.