Cheyenne Dorsagno, Copy Editor
Psychologist Erik Erikson proposed eight stages of development in one’s life. He emphasized the role of society in one’s growth and that the virtues one gains in each successive stage are influenced by the outcome of the previous stage. By this logic, miseducation in youth can amplify throughout one’s life. So what should be at the foundation of a child’s values? Should mentors teach children to be savvy enough to protect themselves while navigating through a dangerous world? Sure, being prepared isn’t a bad idea. But rather than just teaching children to expect violence throughout their life, mentors should instill children with a sense of respect for themselves and for others. Children should know that they have the right to say “no” to a physical interaction, and they should know to respect others’ boundaries as well.
The widely accepted statistic is that one in five women in the U.S. will become a victim of sexual assault by the time they graduate college, while scholar Catherine Mackinnon goes as far as to speculate that only 7.8 percent of women will not experience sexual assault in their lifetime.
Everyone should be educated about respect, consent, and the workings of their own body early on in life, while they are still undergoing a crucial defining period. The Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) reported that 44 percent of survivors were under the age of 18 at the time of the attack. Clearly, not teaching someone about sex won’t guarantee that they won’t be confronted with a sexual situation. Yet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 22 states require sex education in public school, while only 19 require that this information be medically accurate.
In 2011, Oprah had two guests on her show who told a disturbing, unforgettable story. Twin sisters Kellie and Kathie Henderson of Kansas started being molested by their father and both of their brothers at the age of five. Despite the fact that their own mother and family friends knew of the abuse, it went unreported. This is only one of many cases proving that sexual abuse is often accepted, palliated, and ignored.
While the girls admitted that they had a constant upset feeling, they thought that this dynamic was a natural, unspoken part of the family dynamic. They did not learn about sex until a decade later in health class. The girls were empowered by this information, realizing what had been happening to them and subsequently seeking help.
Lena Strickling, sexual assault and cancer survivor, used her opportunity with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to share her story so that she could teach others about the importance of consent and sex education.
“Cancer never bothered me at all [but] with sexual abuse … it’s still haunting me,” Strickling said.
Strickling grew up in Alaska and, as a state that does not require sex education, it has six times the rate of child molestation than the rest of the country. Strickling said that she would have coped much better with her trauma if she was educated on the rights to her own body earlier in her life and if she was not stigmatized into silence. After years of abuse at the hands of her father, she reached out to her mother at age 10. By the time that she understood what was happening to her, she felt that it was too late.
Professor of Psychology at UCLA Jacqueline Goodchilds asked a group of high school students, “Is it alright if a male holds a female down and physically forces her to have sex if …” and she proposed a series of situations: whether or not he has spent money on her, if she has had previous sexual partners, if she let him touch her above the waist, and more. According to the survey, 36-54 percent of men agreed that it’s acceptable for rape to occur in a given circumstance while, perhaps more surprisingly, the women responded in a range of 12-42 percent.
Clearly, these students did not understand the severity of rape and likely responded this way to the questions because the word “rape” was not used. The word “rape” itself is taboo, and it makes people uncomfortable. This fear causes adults to refrain from teaching kids about the importance of consent, thereby causing them to not understand rape and fail to identify it in action.
So when children inevitably become curious about sex, how will they have their questions answered?
Information that a child gets from their peers is oftentimes inaccurate. Even most adults are misinformed, such as by overestimating how much sex their peers have and misunderstanding basic biology about sex. Most do not know that sex normally lasts six minutes and that the vagina is a muscle which is not inherently tight or loose, but usually contracts due to anxiety and expands due to sexual arousal.
These days, babies are given iPads before they can talk. Info is easily and instantly accessible to anyone. With a simple search, one can access any explicit material they want (or they may come across it by accident). Watching pornography has practically become a part of the coming-of-age in America, and the nifty suggestions that pop up at the sides of the screen can lead to a string of exposure. Furthermore, pornography can create false expectations about sex, such as the way a man or woman should look, the roles of dominance and submission that men and women should assume, as well as the inherently contradictory portrayal of women wanting rape and abuse.
Sex is a natural fact of life. It’s the reason why we’re all here today. It’s a huge factor in a romantic relationship as well as in one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Having false expectations about sex can often lead to awkwardness and disappointment. By assuming certain norms about sex, one is assuming what their partner wants and feeling pressured to conform to those ideals. Most of all, not understanding sex can cause people to view rape as an acceptable derivative of sex rather than separately, as a crime.
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