“It’s not rape if the girl is a prostitute, is it?” one of my students asked me recently.
“It is without consent,” I answered sternly, but the question left me unsettled. As a high school teacher, I am immersed in the attitudes of the young, and it is worrisome.
The prevalence of sexual assault and the reluctance to report these crimes is a conflict that currently plagues Canadian society, and one that hits me at my core. When I was abducted and assaulted in the early 1970’s, the police informed me that reporting it would be futile, as “I had asked for it”given what I was wearing that night, so, I let it drop, and have been haunted ever since. The authorities knew all about the man who’d done this to me, and maybe the girls after me weren’t lucky enough to escape with their lives. Every woman who doesn’t tell carries that burden of guilt.
“I was told that it was my fault,” my mother told me referring to the multiple times she was assaulted by male relatives starting at the age of six. “Boys will be boys,” her mother told her.
I had thought that our society had progressed, but apparently that is not true. In a recent court case, the victim – who had awaken in the night with her assailant on top of her – was dragged through three days on the witness stand, and questioned about all of her lifestyle habits, even though there was DNA evidence clearly convicting the accused. “She asked for it” remains to be a viable legal argument.
Yes, there are cases in which men are wrongly accused – it happened to someone I know. The “victim” came forward to confess her lies just prior to the trial, but when told she would be charged with contempt, she backed down sticking with her initial story.
The countless arguments that have appeared in the media recently look to our legal system as the culprit of this ongoing imbalance of justice. Yet, as a woman and a schoolteacher, I cannot help but feel that there is a larger problem here not being addressed.
I think of my student’s question. He asked it in all honesty, and was surprised by my response. This is a young man that associates with the criminal element; his role models are drug dealers and gang members. Having grown up in a household where domestic violence was the norm, he is conflicted about male/female relations. He is not alone.
When I taught in a rural school, many of the families had “shacks” on their farms, which the children converted for their own purposes. The parties they hosted included under-age drinking and a disturbing number of sexual activities. A female student (grade 10) reported to me that there was a stripper pole installed in one of the cabins. Visions of music videos flashed through my mind. Were these children emulating their celebrity idols?
Another student of mine, female, was recently assaulted at one of these parties. Her assailant grabbed her by the hair and forced her into a sex act. She was hesitant to report the incident for fear of backlash from her peers. Suicide seemed a better option. Fortunately, she was not successful, but she continues to be tormented.
“If you were male, and he used physical force on you, that would be assault and there would be no question of a charge,” I tried to reason with her. So why do gender differences cloud the issue?
I do not know the answer to this conflict, but I do believe that we all have an obligation to find a solution. Educators, parents, law enforcers, and the media all play a part in how we view issues relating to sexuality. Someone needs to counter the messages of inequality with a reverence for human rights and humanity itself.
Personal responsibility and accountability should never be overshadowed by “She asked for it” bullshit!