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Teen Sexual Assault: Where Does The Conversation Start?

Posted by on Apr. 28, 2013 at 8:19 PM
  • 5 Replies

Teen Sexual Assault: Where Does The Conversation Start?

11 min 30 sec

The narrative is become all too familiar: accusations of sexual assault, followed by bullying of the victims on social media.

The case in Steubenville, Ohio, last year drew national attention. Two high school football stars were of raping a 16-year-old girl. The assault was filmed and photographed; the images and circulated online.

More recently, the focus has turned to . Two football players were arrested for the statutory rape of two 13-year-old girls. Social media comments from students swarmed to protect the players, and the girls were called names like "whore" and "snitch."

Activists have been to stamp out assault on campus through campaigns for awareness and stronger accountability. But classroom education isn't the end of the story.

At Torrington, for example, half of the high school's students had participated in classes provided by the Susan B. Anthony Project, a nonprofit that educates young people about healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence.

Project Director Barbara Spiegel tells Neena Satija of member station they taught students at the school boundaries and consent, healthy relationships and cyberbullying in media.

, in particular, plays a key role in these recent assault cases; social media provides the potential to amplify the reach of hurtful comments.

Cyberbullying is a public act that now has infinite witnesses, but bullying itself is not exactly a new phenomenon.

Amanda Hess, who writes about the relationship between teen sexuality and technology for Slate's , is not convinced technology can be blamed. Before Twitter, she says, kids used paper "to shame each other sexually."

"That's been going on for a very, very long time. Social media's just the new way that we talk about everything, whether it's positive or negative," she tells NPR's Jacki Lyden on weekends on All Things Considered.

It's not just how people communicate — what they say can be revealing, too. Deborah Roffman, a longtime human sexuality teacher, says she has noticed a shift in the way her students think about sex and relationships. She began teaching grades four through 12 in Baltimore in the mid-1970s.

"When I first started teaching, kids understood, almost by osmosis, that sex and relationships were really flip sides of one another," she says.

About 20 years later, Roffman says, they seemed to become separate things.

"The whole concept of sex as a meaningful form of human intimacy is really vanishing — at least in the things they are exposed to," she says. "And kids are not going to be making real choices; they are just going to be modeling what they see around them."

Roffman points to the ubiquity of pornography. She overheard two male 10th-graders commenting on how lucky they were to have easy access to porn.

"How did previous generations learn about real sex?" one asked.

Roffman told the students that once a camera is involved, the act becomes a performance. The conversation expanded to more students, and eventually others shared new perspectives.

"That's where the power is in working with groups of kids, is for them to feel safe enough to articulate differing points of view, and that's when they really pay attention," she says.

A new conversation is also taking place in Torrington, says Spiegel of the Susan B. Anthony Project. While students are taking different sides, she says, at least they are openly talking about the issue.

But in tackling sexual assault and searching for answers, Hess of the XX Factor says zeroing in on teens is misguided.

"I think it's interesting that we focus on teenagers," she says. "Rape is not a teenage problem. Cowardice in bystanders is not a teenage problem. That's a societal problem, and that's a human problem."

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by on Apr. 28, 2013 at 8:19 PM
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by AllieCat on Apr. 28, 2013 at 8:52 PM
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In regards to the last sentence:  We need to talk with our teens and draw attention to the issues.  They will be adults, hopefully not the adults who rape, bully and are instead productive members of society.  

This isn't to say that we ignore all people, of all ages.

Social media is another way to get the word shame some one, to call them names, to do as we used to back when we used a pen and paper and passed the note on to others.  Social media, however, is much more wide spread, reaches millions in minutes verses a week to get the note to all the students.  Social media is used to promote the cause, what ever that cause may be.  Not all are positive nor productive, legal or moral.

The conversation starts at home.  Plain and simple.  

What worries me, with so many teens acting in ways that are more than a little inappropriate.......begins at home.  Are the parents talking with their children?  When did they start.......last week or early in age?  What are the saying and what, if any prejudices, are they forwarding on to their children?  Are they using nothing more than the Bible in their talks or are they opening up Hustler, telling their children there is nothing wrong there.

Those kids, all are individuals.  What makes one, who for all intents and purposes, who was taught and raised in a productive and well rounded manner......go on to do, to say and act in a way that we are hearing so much about?  

I worry.  I worry that, regardless of my parenting, my 13 year old could very well be stupid enough to send a naked photo of herself to some one.  To think it's cool to drink, smoke, do drugs, go to parties and get so damn drunk she can't remember the color of the sky. Any thing.  

Or she may not and she may very well retain what she has been taught, what she knows is right and what is wrong.  She may very well remain the inner person she is today and never be one of those kids.

by on Apr. 28, 2013 at 11:25 PM
by Gold Member on Apr. 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM

It starts at home, and it starts early. it's so much bigger than just sex or bullying. It's about self respect, respect for others, and self worth. I see it as being immersed in a healthy family, seeing healthy relationships, with open dialogue. it's about demonstrating proper communication, even in social media. I read all of my kids texts, know their friends, know where they are and who they are with. I'm no brilliant parent, just highly involved- I don't see it that much honestly, so these outcomes don't really surprise me.

My kids are 14-16, not remotely caught up with that, or those types of kids. not interested in Facebook, drugs, drinking parties, etc. They know about them, and have left those situations...I know the parents too. I still fail to see why these kids weren't well supervised, 13 year old? how was she even in that situation. Why are we (general) as a society, media fostering sex... Have you seen a 17 magazine lately? wasn't like that in my day- I think societal values in general have changed, and now society is reaping the consequence.

If we need to rely on groups, and teachers, etc. parents have greatly failed their children. JMO.

by Platinum Member on Apr. 29, 2013 at 12:12 PM

when they are four or five, and you are teaching 'stranger danger' and that areas of their body are private and not to be touched by others, you also teach them that they treat other with the same respect.

by Angie on Apr. 29, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Don't do anything you do not want to do.  Do not put yourself in a situation where you yourself suspect is risky or makes you feel uncomfortable..  Follow your instincts. 

This is what I told my daughter when she was  a teen.  She's  in her 20's now and  away at university.  She calls often to tell me  about the new  guys she's seeing or a party she attended and will often say things like..."No, mom, I say no to him because I'm not doing anything I don't want to do.  I don't know him and I don't trust him yet..."

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