This is my last post on the topic of teens and sexual assault. I’m going to start with another story from my adolescence that will always stay with me. I was 15, and had lied, finagled, and faked my way into an all-night party at my friend Hannah’s* house. The ages at this party ranged from 13-20 (first problem), Hannah’s mother was willing to tell parents she’d be there all night, but went to sleep early and never woke up (second problem), the house had a few acres of property, including cabins (third problem), and there was beer everywhere (fourth problem.)
The youngest girl at the party was named Silvia. She was 13 years old, but hung out with older teens most of the time, so nobody questioned her presence. At around 3 in the morning, a friend told me the following story: Silvia had wandered into a cabin and fallen asleep, drunk, tired, or both. She woke up to a 17-year-old boy she didn’t know having sex with her. Silvia reported that rather than fighting, she “let him finish”, and now she was running around laughing and drinking more beer.
The general response from Silvia’s friends, and others at the party, was that if it had been rape, she would have yelled, or fought, or something. We didn’t stop and think that she might have been terrified, disoriented, or too intoxicated to know what to do. It also sounded suspicious that she slept through the first part of it- who sleeps through that? And if she’d been raped, she wouldn’t be seemingly having a good time afterwards, right?
Nor did it occur to us that perhaps a better question than “Why didn’t she stop it?” was “Why would a 17-year-old young man think it’s okay to start having sex with a a 13-year-old girl who was unconscious at the time?” The adage “Boys will be boys, so girls must take care,” would have sounded old-fashioned to us, but it was pretty much the principle under which we were operating.
This was over 20 years ago. While I dearly hope that teens today know enough to think differently in a similar situation, I know from patient stories that this isn’t always the case.
This is the concluding post in this series. All of the posts have involved talking points with your teen, and I wanted to add (or reiterate) these:
- When sexual assault occurs, the blame should rest on the perpetrator, not the victim.
- Someone who is not awake, alert, and unimpaired cannot consent to sexual activity.
- Sexual activity with someone much younger is not okay.
- Consent should be a two-way communication, and you should always encourage your teen to speak up strongly against unwanted sexual advances. But in the end, it is the responsibility of the person initiating a sexual encounter to gain consent. It is not the responsibility of the person upon whom sex is being initiated to stop everything if they don’t like what’s happening.
- Boys are not just going to “be boys” (how insulting is it to teen males to assume they are naturally going to sexually assault someone, given the chance?). It’s not okay to accept that “girls should take care,” and let young women take on all the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.
- While a young man sexually assaulting a young woman is the most common kind of sexual assault, women can sexually assault men, and same-sex sexual assault is all too common.
- If you’re worried sexual assault is going to happen to a peer, tell them your concerns immediately and offer help. If you feel like the situation is out of control, seek help from a trusted adult right away.
Talk about these issues with your teen, and talk about them early. If every teen can have a firm grasp on these topics, the culture will change. Perhaps it wouldn’t have prevented Silvia’s sexual assault, but it might have meant that her friends, instead of reacting with ignorance and confusion, would have called out the perpetrator, offered Silvia help and support, or brought a trusted adult into the situation.
I am nowhere near organized enough to have planned this, but this last post is going up the day that the Steubenville case from the first post in this series is going to trial. The defense lawyers are arguing that the victim gave consent and “posed” for some of the incriminating pictures. The first witnesses have reported that she was so impaired she couldn’t walk.
I hope this series has brought up some interesting ideas for you and your teen to talk about. If there is something you wanted to see covered, but didn’t, please comment below! I can always add more posts or topics.
(Addendum: The perpetrators in the Steubenville case have been found guilty of sexual assault.)
* All names have been changed