Naturally many of us (including the RCMP who have been handling this case with a sensitivity I wish we could see in all police forces when dealing with rape) are appalled and saddened by this crime, wondering what kind of society we're living in when not only can six or seven young men callously commit this kind of attack against a drugged girl but still more stand around and take pictures of the violent acts as though it's entertainment. That this extremely nasty form of voyeurism has expanded its audience over the Internet (some of the Facebook users who've been contacted by the RCMP and asked to remove the pictures have refused) demonstrates the scope of the problem which is a mentality that:
1) either doesn't discern or care what true female consent looks like
2) strives to shame girls and women and thereby exact some kind of control over them.
This mentality isn't created in a vacuum but is the natural result of a society that ceaselessly sexually objectifies women (promoting the idea that they chiefly exist for male approval and entertainment) while instilling in them the idea that they must tread a fine line of acceptable behaviour (a ludicrous, impossible standard rarely applied to men) lest they be labelled a prude on one side of the line or slut on the other and punished accordingly for either 'wrong'. Unfortunately, this toxic mentality isn't on its way to becoming extinct anytime soon and instead seems sadly robust in the current generation of young people as evidenced by the amount of sexual harassment and even sexual assault going on within our schools. A couple of studies done here in Ontario during the past few years showed:
" 21 per cent of the students that were surveyed said that they knew at least one student who was sexually assaulted at school. Now there's sexual harassment, which is talking inappropriately and there's sexual harassment which is being touched inappropriately. So the 21 per cent are talking about sexual assault.
"Twenty-nine per cent of Grade 9 girls ... felt unsafe at school partly due to sexual comments and unwanted looks or touches; 27 per cent of the girls in Grade 11 admitted to being pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do; 14 per cent of the females reported being harassed over the Internet."
Like B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong pointed out in relation to the recent attack, laws need to “evolve” to address the way social networking can be used to deepen a victim’s suffering. However, the more difficult change needs to occur on a social level. Most of us, whatever our ages or genders, realize how wrong what happened to this sixteen-year-old girl out in British Columbia was. We know it despite ubiquitous negative cultural messages about women and sex but if those of us who do know aren't extremely pro-active in combatting those negative social messages there will be more and more cases like this, more young girls that don't feel safe at school or safe anywhere because we're not doing a good enough job of teaching boys to respect girls.
This message absolutely needs to be extended into comprehensive sex ed in a meaningful way. Scarleteen has a terrific article entitled How You Guys -- that's right, you GUYS -- Can Prevent Rape which I wish would be pored over and discussed in every high school and junior high sex ed class. Here's a snippet:
When someone wants to, really wants to, have sex with us, we'll know because that person will be taking a very active role, will be saying -- if not yelling! -- "Yes!" or "Please!” or "Do me NOW!" We may know because that person is the one initiating sex, at least as often as we are. (If you’re going to say that younger women just aren’t like that yet, know that isn’t always true. Some are, but those who aren’t likely aren’t because things are either moving too fast, or they really just aren’t ready for or that interested in sex with you yet.) We'll know because it will feel like something we are absolutely doing together, that couldn't happen if the other person wasn't just as engaged as we are (imagine trying to dance with someone else when they’re just standing there or not really paying attention: same goes with sex). We'll know because our partners will absolutely not "just be lying there."
We can easily be sure never to rape someone by making a choice to ONLY have sex with someone else when we are certain we have not only their full consent, but their full interest and attention, and they ours; when they’re clearly as enthusiastic about sex as we are, and we’re just as excited about their enjoyment as we are our own. If we're having sex with a partner and they start to space or zone out, or stop participating physically or verbally, if we stop what we’re doing and say, "Hey, you still into this? It's okay if you're not, we can do something else or just go snuggle," and mean it – rather than saying it to imply they need to get into it, or else -- we can be sure not to rape. If we are interested in sex with someone who seems they will allow us to have sex with them, but who is not taking equal part or deeply desiring and mutually initiating sex with us, we can and should step back and wait for them to take a lead.
The short film I've embedded below, Dormancy, is a brief but powerful one made with the aim of raising awareness of college campus sexual assault:
There's another wonderful blog entry at the Yes Means Yes! blog about boundaries which all parents, teachers and anyone else who mentors young people should read in full:
A boy and a girl run around on the grass at the park. The boy tackles the girl. The girl laughs. She gets up and runs away. She loves to run. He chases, she turns and they grab each other, tumble and land in a pile, giggling. After a few minutes, he tackles her again and she lands a bit hard. She is bigger and physical, but he more than holds his own in roughhousing. She pauses for a second. Then she laughs again; she’s still having fun.
Dad gets his attention, and says, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.”
He is two. He needs to hear this now, and so does she.
I'm so glad that this young woman out in British Columbia has supportive friends and family around her but as a society we need to do worlds better in preventing these horrendous crimes from occurring in the first place. The boys who committed the attack, the ones who have participated after the fact by relishing in the crime on social networking sites and the ones who suggest maybe there was no crime committed at all—these guys weren't born evil or callous but clearly they weren't taught the above lesson often enough or profoundly enough and instead absorbed society's darker messages.
“Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.”—Charlotte Bunch