Friday, August 19, 2005

Sexual Abuse: Thoughts and Resources

Nashville bloggers have been having a conversation over the past couple of days about sexual assault and disparities in attitudes based on two cases, one involving an older man molesting a girl, and the other a young female teacher molesting a male student. The two offenders received drastically different sentences. Hard Right's blogger started a fury with his comments, which included thoughts such as "I wouldn't want to live in a world where a little girl's sexual purity was not more treasured than a little boy's," and the assertion that if he had a boy or girl molested by a man he would "get a gun," but if they were molested by a woman, he would "get a lawyer." Aunt B. had some compelling comments, as usual. A couple of things are still bothering me:

1) The double-standard of "treasuring" girls' "sexual purity" more than boys' troubles me. I think there is a slight implication there that girls' bodies are something to be guarded by society, then given away only when deemed appropriate (an odd form of objectification), whereas boys are seen as autonomous and capable of their own decision-making even as young teens.

2) I wonder if this double standard in attitude and punishment is part of a contiuum of fetishization of young girls' sexuality, and if the emphasis on the "specialness" of that sexuality contributes to the attitudes of sexual predators.

3) I also wonder if this seeming double standard contributes to under-reporting of sexual assaults. If you, as a male child, knew that your father/protector would "get a gun" if your sister were raped by a man, but only "get a lawyer" if you were raped by a woman, would you be less likely to feel that the offense against you was taken seriously by society, and less likely to report it? Are we devaluing the experiences of both boys and girls molested by women, and sending a subtle message that we don't take it as seriously if there isn't penile penetration? (and does this mean that we think penile penetration is the only "legitimate" form of sex/rape?) Why would we ignore the violence and violation of other forms of penetrative assualt?

4) I think Brittney brought this up, but the different punishments ignore the power dynamic that is a major basis for statutory rape laws, as well as sexual harrassment laws. Regardless of how "willing" a youngster might seem, the power a teacher or boss has over that individual makes it unacceptable to pursue sexual activity with an underling, be that young person or employee. We also find that 13 year olds are unable to legally drive, be informed enough to vote, or make their own medical decisions, whether they're male or female, so it seems that laws stating that they are unable to truly give informed consent for sex should be applied to young men and women equally.

More questions than answers, I know. I really thought about staying out of this conversation, but I was surprised by some of the attitudes and statements, so I wanted to address it. My hope is that ALL young victims of sexual assault can feel that what happened to them is taken seriously, regardless of whether they are male or female, and we as adults can have the sense to value and deal with their needs equally. I think having this type of dialogue is necessary in finding our own thoughts and improving the health of all people.

That said, here are some resources on sexual assault:
  • MedlinePlus page on child sexual abuse
  • Signs of sexual exploitation in children
  • Understanding child sexual abuse - from the American Psychological Association
  • Myths about male sexual victimization
  • Parenting the sexually abused child
  • Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network - 24-hour hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE
  • Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    thanks for your work .My only crit is please in addition to the national
    sites and hotlines.
    It is imperative that you list the Local ones.


    9:39 AM  
    Blogger Rachel said...

    Thanks for the comment. I'm not as familiar with Nashville-area agencies as I should be. In fact, learning more about the local resources and posting some info on them was something I was thinking about just yesterday. Please feel free to email me or post a comment with any you'd like to see profiled.

    12:27 PM  

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