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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    More discussion with teens about rape is vital

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study this month looking to uncover the “roots of adult sexual violence.” The study raises important questions concerning rape culture and victim blaming in general, but one finding in particular, that “three-quarters of victims were in a romantic relationship with the perpetrator,” should encourage a conversation about relationship practices among teenagers and young adults.

    This kind of conversation is especially important considering the study found the majority of adult perpetrators said they first preyed on another while they were teens.

    If we are to encourage safe and consensual sexual activity among teenagers — something that encompasses far more than the act of sex itself — we have to change the dialogue. Changing the dialogue requires actively debunking myths about sexual violence. One such myth suggests that victims of sexual violence are to blame for what happened to them.

    “Another common myth is that people in relationships cannot be raped by their partners,” said Megan McKendry, Violence Prevention Specialist at the Oasis Program Against Sexual Assault & Relationship Violence. “I think that this finding speaks to the fact that rape can and often does occur in the context of romantic relationships.” Recall that marital rape was not illegal in all 50 states until 1993.

    McKendry also pointed to a 2010 study from the CDC which showed that nearly 80 percent of female rape survivors were first victimized before they were 25. This is particularly damning in light of the CDC’s latest study on sexual violence.

    Because of these myths and the resulting stigma of being a victim of sexual violence — or being accused of lying about it, which itself perpetuates a myth — the dialogue concerning sexual behavior among teenagers and young adults is frankly broken and should be reexamined.

    The Maryville rape case, in which charges against the rapist of 14 year-old Daisy Coleman were dropped until the media brought more attention to the matter, is another unfortunate example of how sexual violence is implicitly accepted in our society. In a recent National Public Radio piece on the case, author and American parenting educator Rosalind Wiseman spoke of “boys who feel that it’s their right to entertain themselves however they want, and that is backed up by people, their parents and their community, because of the social status they have.”

    She later notes that, in her research, “parents were not having specific conversations with their sons about this issue. We need to be able to provide a context for these boys,” Wiseman said.

    That means reshaping the dialogue to affirm that sexual coercion — or any behavior that could lead to harm against another — is unacceptable. It is not enough to say something is bad, but rather we need discuss why it is bad.

    This is relevant to college students because we are, by and large, teenagers and young adults. This is a transformative period of our lives, and for many that means becoming involved in sexual relationships, be they casual or romantic. Being able to communicate at every level is crucial to developing healthy relationships, regardless of whether or not they are sexual in nature.

    Communicating wants, needs, fears and concerns is part of transitioning into adulthood, but if we fail to promote these values, we risk turning teenagers into adults who feel entitled to sexual contact.

    As long as the dialogue contains an undercurrent of victim blaming — “What was she wearing? Was she drinking? Was she flirting with him?” — and as long as we ignore the prevalence of sexual violence within relationships, there can be little hope for promoting healthy practices among teenagers. It is about acknowledging, at a fundamental level, that no one is entitled to another person’s body. Consent reigns, or at least should reign, in every interpersonal interaction. How many more studies have to be done, after all, before we as a culture reject coercive sexual behavior and the myths surrounding it?

    Carson Suggs is a senior studying English. Follow him @crnsggs.

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