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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

MOM Speaks Truth

...And a lot of people won't like it. Over at Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's there has been a wide-ranging discussion going on about kids, sex, society, how to raise kids, etc. The posts are great, the comments are great, and the whole discussion is well worth following. I particularly suggest this post, this post, this post and this post.

Today Democratic Underground is discussing this story about a disabled girl in Columbus Ohio who was sexually assaulted in the high school auditorium. One kid videotaped part of the assault. Many watched. At least one school official urged the father not to call 911 to avoid "media attention":
A 16-year-old disabled girl was punched and forced to engage in videotaped sexual acts with several boys in a high school auditorium as dozens of students watched, according to witnesses.

Authorities are investigating and no charges have been filed in the alleged attack last month at Mifflin High School. Four boys suspected of involvement were sent home and have not returned to class.

Also, the principal, Regina Crenshaw, was suspended and will be fired for not calling police, school officials said. And three assistant principals were suspended and will be reassigned to other schools. Crenshaw had no comment Tuesday.
According to this story about the same incident, school authorities discovered the incident when the student who had videotaped the assault took the tape to math class and showed it to other students. The tape was confiscated. I hope the police have it. The first article above says that the girl has speech difficulties.

Understandably, Democratic Underground is outraged. This is one of the milder comments (castration was also suggested):
What makes kids think they can do something like this and tape it and there will be no consequences? How do they even come up with such a sick and twisted idea? And how does the thought of tormenting a disabled girl TURN THEM ON???!!!

I know they say that violence begets violence but if that was my daughter....
I'm outraged too, but not at all surprised. For one thing, multiple boy on one girl blowjob orgies aren't that rare any more, even in school. There is a fine line between manipulation, intimidation and outright force. Stories such as these aren't that rare - developmentally disabled girls are often manipulated and abused in this way in school. So are emotionally vulnerable girls. Once you have kids blowing each other in the school johns in junior high, things get pretty much out of control.

I'll give you my guess. This boys will not be convicted of any criminal charges. There will not be enough evidence; the testimony (said quietly behind closed doors) will be that the word was that this girl was known for giving blowjobs to boys. Those involved will say they thought she was consenting. Those witnessing it will agree. Not one of all the boys involved said anything to school authorities. Not one. They don't know the difference between right and wrong, consenting and enforced acts. If they haven't participated themselves they have all heard about such acts before.

Nor will there be much support in the community for prosecuting them. I am the child of a public school teacher, and I have heard it all before.

If kids don't learn that sexual activity in certain contexts is flat wrong because it is dangerous, they don't know by instinct. Boys don't naturally understand sex from a girl's point of view. Girls don't naturally understand it from a boys. Neither girls nor boys understand even their instincts or their emotions in their early teens. The story above is not about some shocking aberration - it is a story about people acting naturally under the drive of instincts and emotions unmodified by society's rules.

Instinct in a young, roving band of teenage boys dictates imposing sexually upon a vulnerable girl especially if she is known to be "doing it". Instinct for a girl dictates that she go passive in such a circumstance. Girls have to be taught to fight, and it is often not safe. Instinct and emotion make girls want to please and be recognized by older boys they like. Instinct and emotion make boys behave in different ways in a group than they would alone.

It is only society's rules that get kids past adolescence without many such stories. We have abandoned the teaching of those rules and we are seeing the natural result. Unless parents tell their male children not to do such things - like never, never engage in group sex - and tell their female children to be very careful about fooling around with boys, and to avoid being a single girl in a large group of boys - such incidents are always going to happen. We have a new mythology about teenage sex and that mythology ignores reality.

Here's reality. Girls can be imposed upon sexually, but once they learn the sexual game they can often whipsaw adolescent boys with it. Boys often find one-on-one sex really frightening until they've proved to themselves that they can do it, but no such inhibitions exist in a group. Adolescent boys are often just as emotionally vulnerable as girls. Girls have an instinct to use their own powers of sexual attraction. Nature made it so. An attractive, intelligent girl can become a superstar by her junior year in high school if she plays her cards well, especially if she is carefully and selectively sexually active. In the process she may cut an old boyfriend into emotional pieces.

Teenage love affairs are often deeply passionate and intense, and that is part of the problem. Most high school kids will go their separate ways at the end of high school - off to college, the military, etc. Hearts do get broken.

What we owe our kids is some type of realistic discussion and insight about the feelings and drives they inherit as sexual beings, and perspective as to how those play out in real adult life. What we owe them is to open the door to adulthood early in adolescence so that they can see their way through it. What we owe them is honesty and guidance about the unknown, not the vague hope that "things will be alright" and the unspoken command to keep it private. Not talking about sex worked to some extent when society had much stronger rules about it. Now that society imposes very little in the way of hard and fast rules, it is incumbent upon parents and adults to be far franker about discussing sex with pre-teens.

If we don't tell them they won't know. The only thing really forbidden in schools is a frank discussion of morality, because it's a hot topic that society argues over. It's too controversial. Plunking your kid in a church pew and thinking they are somehow going to absorb sexual morality by osmosis won't work unless you sit down and explain to kids the emotional and instinctual aspects of being sexually adult. Unless they understand how and why the rules evolved they won't be able to apply them in their own lives under current conditions.

We are a sexually hypocritical society very similar to the Victorian era, except it is expressed in a different way. We expect young boys to automatically know rules of respectful sexual conduct that we haven't taught them. We expect young girls to automatically be able to either able to control sexual emotions and instincts, or to be able to divorce their sexual behavior from those emotions and instincts, but we haven't even taught them what those emotions and instincts might be or how to recognize them. Everybody's lying by omission in this first decade of the 21st century. Everybody.

Update: Great discussion on this story and its implications is going on here at SC&A's and here at Michelle's. If you are hosting a discussion about this awful story feel free to leave a comment so I can link to it.

Update: A commenter left the following:
While I agree pack mentality and confusion over prolonging when childhood is and isn't and education are all factors, is the girl a victim here? She is apparently developmentally handicapped with a speech impediment but that doesn't mean she's passive or sexually stunted. She may not need the protection of anyone. Some people don't hate being hit. She may not have been taken advantage of but a free agent of experimenting with social limits as much as the boys.

It may not be a context of unschooled gentlemen and vulnerable female. There's no need to presume girls cannot move around with males safely. Yes there are a lot of hormones but girls aren't all girls in the old sense either. Girls in Canada are forming gangs here, harrassing boys, stealing, rumbling, and apprarently with full information on consequences and techniques starting sex at 12 and 13 years old. Which is the precocious age some people still marry at on occasion.
This may be true, but applying criminal standards of proof is no way to set up societal standards. This comment explains why I don't think the boys will be prosecuted. The context of the act will come down to her word (and she's not that good at verbal self-expression apparently) against their words. I answered more fully in the comments, but I wanted anyone to drop in to see this comment and think about the practical effects of applying this reasoning.

We have moral standards as well as legal standards precisely to demarcate the gray areas. Young teenagers need those lines more than anyone, IMO. Further update: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred post their perspective about the above viewpoint.

One More Update: A related and, I'm told, somewhat critical discussion on this story at Alas.

Yet Another Update: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred wrote about girls maintaining a "rape list". This comes from a post at Cider Press Hill about girls having a blowjob competition and retaliating against boys who refuse to participate. I know some people found my comments about girls and sex "misogynistic", but I think sexual abuse is a game that both sexes can play - and reporting reality does not merit a derisive name. Life isn't simple, sex isn't always simple and dealing with teenagers is NEVER simple.

If we don't teach our kids about the dangers about sex we are abdicating our responsibility. If we don't teach our kids that "thrill-seeking" sex (rough sex, group sex, sexual competitions, sexual strangulation) is dangerous then we are abdicating our duty toward them. If we don't teach our kids that disrespecting their sexual partner is WRONG then we are allowing them to form their own ideas from what they see and hear around them, and a group of teenagers who have never been taught sexual ethics is not a good guide.

Maybe the last update at this post containing further links to other stories, the administrators speaking out, etc.
I can't believe that the administration still seems to want to downplay and dismiss this incident.

Unbelievable story- I was actually stunned. I did link to you in an update- I couldn't find your trackback.
I wasn't stunned. I've heard many such stories, but I can't repeat them. Ever since you challenged me I've been looking for a story in the news I could use.

What is so horrible is that this sort of thing used to occur outside schools. Schools used to be a safe place for these kids. Now the atmosphere is such that schools are one of the most dangerous places.

What have we done?
Indeed- what have we done- or to be more precise, what have we chosen NOT to do?
Stunning post. I agree, of course, with every recommendation about being as transparent and as forthright as is possible with our children - starting now.
We have chosen to ignore reality. In a way, half of those boys are probably just as much victims as the girl. Yes, their behavior was reprehensible, wrong, disgusting... we can throw all the epithets at their behavior that satisfy us and that such behavior deserves.

But had they been taught to think that way? They had probably spent the last few years in a very sexualized atmosphere in which such acts were common, and had never been taught to ask the questions they needed to ask of themselves to know that something was wrong.

I doubt very much that any teacher or adult sat them down and really talked to them about sex, consent and all the subtleties. I think they were completely abandoned to the rule of instinct. I'll bet they didn't see the difference between this and a girl sucking off several boys in the john. If she wasn't screaming and fighting, they wouldn't realize what was going on. And a couple of punches, or one slap, and she wouldn't be screaming and fighting.

What a memory for that girl. What a memory for those boys. Don't you wonder what the parents of those boys are saying to them? I do. I bet half of them are in a defensive circle.
"I doubt very much that any teacher or adult sat them down and really talked to them about sex, consent and all the subtleties."

--As much as I agree with you, how can we expect to do such a thing when there are many adults who don't even understand these things?

I have my own hangups where sex is concerned, and I know I'm not alone. It sometimes comes down to, "Do I want to pass along my baggage about sex, or do I want to provide the kids with facts, share some of my experience, and let them figure it out as they go along?" Either one may screw the kid up.

I'm not being defeatist, but think about it. How many people really have it together when it comes to sex?

Surely, most of us understand the legalities (who's old enough, what's acceptable behavior, etc), but beyond that, it gets a bit fuzzy.

When we have talks with our kids, we don't think to mention that forcing a girl to give you a BJ at school is unacceptable. We don't expect our kids to DO things like this. But someone's kids, indeed, are doing this. And I'll bet that the parents are shocked.
Natalie- I think I disagree with your statement, "we don't expect our kids to DO this kind of thing." Our "progressive" school board in this liberal town hired, about 8 years ago, some bizarre version of a Dr. Ruth to come have a heart to heart with parents and students about sex. After saying that it was her professional opinion that we couldn't stop kids from sexual behavior, secondary, to raging hormones, we needed to be "real" and help them find ways to channel those urges short of intercourse, which was, of course, leading to wide spread STDs. Her suggestion? "Outercourse" with lots of gory details that sounded to my ears like condoning blow jobs. And all sorts of other behavior that used to be considered highly intimate and often, according to researchers, behavior that traditionally married couples only got to after a period of familiarization and comfort with one another after months or even years of intimacy in the bedroom.
And where is the discussion about intimacy? About relationships and the values and morals attached to them? And the privileges historically attached to adulthood? And, for heaven's sake, the mystery and pleasure of exploration and discovery the occurs over time through intimacy in adulthood?

Which slides into another important issue: Our children are staying suspended as young DEPENDENT adults much longer than we did. I didn't ride in a limousine until I was 35 but now apparently it's a God given right at 13 when you go to the first Sadie Hawkins dance. There is no longer a clear demarkation between childhood and adulthood. There were 3 requirements for adulthood as late as the 70s: you had to be financially independent of your parents. You had to possess the maturity to manage a sustained intimate relationship, usually marriage. You had to have a view to your future- a plan. How many of our children, at 20-25, currently have achieved that? And do we then say to them- well none of the perks of adulthood come to you until you do? I haven't been able to say that to my son at 24. The best I've been able to say is "As long as you're moving forward in your life, making progress I will help support you."
Thank you, MoM, for the great insights and writing.
Natalie and Vicki,

You're both right. Before we can be honest with our kids we have a lot of work to do with ourselves. We have to sit down and think our own attitudes and experiences through. It has to come from your gut to make sense to a kid - they have excellent BS meters. So sharing your experience and some of your insight is exactly what's required.

Vicki's comment outlines what is happening to these kids and the environment we live in. Things have changed and parents and adults need to recognize that and deal with the reality of current day and not the environment we experienced when we grew up.

The kids get tons of information, but very little interpretation of that information. They learn practices and procedures but not an overall emotional and instinctive framework in which to evaluate that information personally.

I don't see how they can get any meaningful interpretation unless we are willing to talk to them about adulthood and what relationships are about. Abstinence programs are often not what we think they are, and information diffuses downwards in age groups very rapidly.

Sometimes it's as simple as saying "Don't do anything you really don't feel comfortable with" to a kid. "There will be time to get comfortable, don't rush it." Sometimes it's as simple as sitting down and explaining that sex is meant to be mutually pleasurable, and that pressuring someone else is never right, and that you always, always have the right to say "no" to something, and that if your partner doesn't respect that then your partner is not a good one and isn't respecting you.

It can be as simple as explaining that the one fundamental rule is always respecting the feelings of the one you are with, and to do that you have to know the one you are with, and that things can get out of control really fast so draw the lines before you reach the point where you are really starting to feel bad.

If we taught driver's ed in the same way we teach sex ed there would be wrecks everywhere.
Dear Lord. This has happened in "my backyard". That being so, I'd like to comment on your prognostication of how the case will go.

This community, the Columbus area, is a mix of conservative and of the idealistic left of the University community, the Mifflin High School has stats of 92% African-American. The outcome is going to depend upon a couple things. One of which is race. It is going to matter what race the perpetrators are, and that will impact the desire of the community to call for prosecution. Another factor is that the schools want desparately to 'look good'. that is much of the reason behind the early obfuscation.

I am going to keep my eye on this story.
That's it I'm moving to Mars.
Ilona, please do follow it and let us know. I know of several similar cases in my own backyard, and no criminal charges were ever filed. I don't think race was a factor here though, just the impossibility of proving anything. But the kids hardly got a wristslap.

Genuine, hey, leave a forwarding address and a roadmap.

Tisha, yup. Or that's what will happen if it follows the pattern I'm seeing. These things always break down to a he-said, she-said dynamic. In this case, there are a lot of hes.
Vicki- The thing I don't expect of kids is the act that these boys participated in...taking advantage of this disadvantaged girl at school. This is beyond the realm of what I figure I need to discuss with a kid.

Thing is, these boys were in a group. I doubt that most of them would have done this to the girl if they had been alone with her, without encouragement from the others. If you interviewed each boy separately, you'd probably get a story like, "I did it because so-and-so was doing it, too," or "He dared me to do it, too." Something like that. Group Think can be a dangerous thing.

MoM's advice ""Don't do anything you really don't feel comfortable with" rings true.
I've got a post up as well pointing to your post here - but it's more of a ---->go here and talk signpost than anything else...
While I agree pack mentality and confusion over prolonging when childhood is and isn't and education are all factors, is the girl a victim here? She is apparently developmentally handicapped with a speech impediment but that doesn't mean she's passive or sexually stunted. She may not need the protection of anyone. Some people don't hate being hit. She may not have been taken advantage of but a free agent of experimenting with social limits as much as the boys.

It may not be a context of unschooled gentlemen and vulnerable female. There's no need to presume girls cannot move around with males safely. Yes there are a lot of hormones but girls aren't all girls in the old sense either. Girls in Canada are forming gangs here, harrassing boys, stealing, rumbling, and apprarently with full information on consequences and techniques starting sex at 12 and 13 years old. Which is the precocious age some people still marry at on occasion.
Pearl, I think your questions adequately explain our society's ethical confusions and why blurry ethical standards don't work out well in practice. Your questions also demonstrate why these boys are unlikely to face any serious legal repercussions.

It is true that at 16 this developmentally disabled girl could be a masochistic group-sex loving slut. In fact I am sure that will be the implication of any lawyer-instructed depositions given by the boys involved.

If it is true, how do you think she managed to acquire these sexual tastes at 16? Similar such incidents, perhaps? Maybe this is all the sexual contact she's ever gotten? Do you think that this girl, who supposedly does not speak well, affirmatively consented? Do you think that there are any special issues of consent here? At any age?

You say there's no need to presume that a girl can't move around with a group of boys safely. Well, it depends on the girl, the boys, and your definition of safety I suppose. I agree with your comments about the behavior of girls. They also move around in gangs in the US too, and sometimes murder or beat each other up. No one says it's right.

The reason why society draws lines in the sand is that issues of consent in sexual relations are complicated to determine. Let me just say that a good way to establish a safe atmosphere in schools is to establish a no-tolerance rule for this type of behavior. No sex. Because if we don't have rules the type of judgemental questions you describe will always come up, and there will never be adequate censure.

You have abstract fact on your side, Pearl, but I think your question demonstrates an unbelievable lack of moral common sense. The question for responsible adults is how to avoid such situations. The reason for that is the overwhelming probability of abuse.

I have read reasoning similar to yours used to justify NAMBLA's positions, and child abuser's positions, and for that matter, molestation of boys and girls by priests, adult teachers fooling around with their male and female students, therapists sleeping with their patients, etc. The reasoning is always "he or she really wanted it". The correct answer is always that a presumption of abuse exists in situations with an imbalance of power and that's why we have rules to prevent such activity.

Pearl, society has the right to draw lines to avoid dangerous situations such as this. If it doesn't, the toll of victims is very high. Again, while you have abstract fact on your side, the outcome of applying such reasoning to such situations is moral nihilism and a proliferation of abuse.
Pearl - Using your argument - "some people don't hate being hit" - one could assume that I shouldn't jump in to protect my 6 year old daughter from being punched in the eye by her 11-year-old brother, since she didn't complain or cry about it the last time it was done. Even though he hit her hard enough to leave visible bruises four days later after it was done.

By that same token, I should resist the notion to discipline my 11-year-old boy, since clearly there's nothing wrong here if the victim doesn't complain or care - despite the appearance of said obvious bruises.

Thankfully, I don't think there has to be obvious visible harm (as evidenced by the bruises) to judge the behavior unacceptable. I don't have to wait for my daughter to show signs of mental or emotional trauma before acting on her behalf. And I certainly don't have to hesitate to redirect the behavior of my (temporarily brutish) young son, who knows better. Who will *definitely* know better from here on out.

And - I'd venture to guess - will not EVER hit his sister like that again.

I know, I know - we're talking about sex here, not physical violence perpetuated by a stronger person towards a weaker person.

But then again, are they that much different - when they're conducted in an environment that's clearly an obvious disparate balance of power?

I think not.
The "old fashioned" norms of society weren't placed there just because some people sat around a fire many years ago and had a beer and made them up. They evolved because they served the purpose of that society. We need to be extremely careful when we go about changing them, to make sure we haven't lost sight of why they evolved in the first place and go about causing some unforseen problems in our society. I do think this is one of those issues that is hard to know just exactly what has changed, because it deals with something that at least in the society I am part of has typically never been talked about openly.
A videotape is pretty hard evidence. It doesn't seem to be a matter of whether it happened or who the guilty parties are... the points will be made on something else for defense or for a lack of charges. The father was pretty pro-active, and while race will be a factor - it probably won't be a high-profile one ( although that can always change). It might well be black on black crime.This area of Ohio isn't as inflammatory as the Cleveland or the infamous Cincinnati.

I read more on it- although surprisingly enough the local papers haven't done much with it. It isn't clear what the attack consists of- that is something that needs clarification.

Schools are often dangerous places. Teachers/Administrators are in fear of the parents in some of these districts, which explains but doesn't excuse their hush-up.

There has been discipline of school principal and some others. That seems to be where the repercussion is starting.

I have to disagree with those who think this is about sex. These sorts of attacks are about aggression and sex is the weapon of choice.

And as for holding parents accountable... it isn't so simple.

You want to know what I think? I think we are witnessing a Lord of the Flies phenomenon.
My next thought is what is causing this...what are the societal factors?
Betsy, nicely said.

Tommy, indeed, indeed. The old saying about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater comes to mind.

Ilona, I'm guessing, but I think it is largely because of the way sex is discussed. To a kid, the dangers and differences between the manipulative (or even forced, see Pearl's comment) aren't obvious.

We look at all of this through adult eyes and fail to grasp how such a situation may look through the eyes of a teenager who has been exposed to this type of sexual behavior for several years.
It just occured to me- If some women dress provocativly to attract men, I suppose an argument could be made that 'she was asking for it' might be a stronger defense than it is now.

Yes, SC&A! And of course those elderly people shuffling along in the stores probably wouldn't mind a firm boot in the butt in order to help them along.

Think of the lovely society we can build together on the foundation of such logic.

I guess to make sure that there are no misunderstandings the girls that don't want to be popped in the mouth and dragged off to experiment with social limits with 15 boys ought to wear a sign stating so. Of course, we don't all speak or read the same language, so that might be a bit confusing.

I know! The girls who aren't feeling experimental can wear long black gowns! That way everyone will understand!
FREE MARY KAY LETOURNEAU NOW! The kid wanted it, right?
There's some discussion of this going on over on my blog, "Alas." (Including some criticism of your post, which I hope you won't mind.)
We are not talking about girl gangs in Canada, or the "like" of being hit. How well do you undertand the term mentally hadicapped? Why defend males as a whole? What these kids did is beyond belief and I am surprised anyone would try to defend them in any way shape or form!!! We should all gather together on the side of the girl and her father to do everything we can to support them. Even financially. Donation sites or something. They have more to face than any of us could ever imagine. I agree with MaxedOutMama. That father is going to have to fight with everything in him to see any justice. We can talk and talk to our children about safety, sex, etc. Do you really really believe that if a group of people (in this case the boys) were set out to do what they did, and grabbing and dragging her and punched her-could she really defend herself? Independent of her mental handicap? I am disgusted beyond belief and so should every single one of you. There is no grey area here, it is pretty black and white to me!
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