As we approach Father's Day and whatever that means for us, we think about how good fathers desire to protect their children, but also are challenged in trying to give them space. In desiring health and wholeness for our children, we want them to be happy, to flourish in what they desire to do, to be protected from suicide, and to be protected from being hurt and assaulted when they are dating or out socially.
This week, we heard again of adolescent athletes allegedly taking advantage of a fellow student. Whether this is a situation like Steubenville or the latest on Calhoun High School's prom night, images come into our heads when we hear these stories. One image that comes into our head is sympathy or empathy for the victim who experienced the sexual assault. For some reading the story, this may bring up memories of something that happened to you, perhaps when you were a teenager. For others, while being shocked by what you hear, it may be hard to understand how a victim would not remember important things about what happened, especially who had raped her. If we are honest, for others what comes to mind is that maybe she was a willing party to what took place and only afterwards, was having remorse about what she did and so she was "crying rape." In the honest vain, others will have sympathy for the boys because of the amount of alcohol that was being consumed at the party and seeing this as an excuse.
Regardless of what goes through your head when you hear of three football players allegedly gang raping an eighteen year old classmate with a fourth boy allegedly barricading the door and others knowing what was going on, these accounts help hide the true story. When we keep hearing these stories, it seems that the problem has to do with football players, or at least with "stars" and athletes. It is easy to be horrified about what took place and focus on the sense of entitlement that can be engendered in stars. It's equally as horrifying to believe that a key part of why this could happen is the power of the alleged to perpetrate such horrible acts on another. This very line of thinking provides us with a false sense of security that does not require us to consider the real scope of the problem.
The Crimes Against Children Research Center has found that 1 in 5 girls (and 1 in 20 boys) are victims of child sexual abuse and that in any given year 16% of youth (ages 14 to 17) in the U.S. have been sexually victimized. Our adolescents are especially vulnerable and the majority of the perpetrators are not virile athletes that we predominantly hear about.
The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault has reported that half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers. This is remarkably different from reports that 81% of parents either believe that teen dating violence is not an issue or admit that they don't know if it's an issue. This broader issue is something that needs to be seen.
If you are a parent of an adolescent or a young adult, there are some things that you can be aware of that are risk factors for date or acquaintance rape, notably:
Attitudes of men and women toward sexual assault (e.g. is date rape more acceptable than stranger rape?)
Demographic characteristics of women (being younger, becoming romantically or sexually active younger)
Drug use, including use of alcohol
Prior victimization of women
Contextual factors (who initiated the date, financial factors of the date, location, etc)
Working together with others in your community to change prevailing attitudes and to make this something that is talked about can have an effect on what is going on. When something does occur, it is important that it be reported (RAINN reports 60% of sexual assaults go unreported to the police and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail). This is an issue in which we should keep our eyes open so that those we care about can continue to experience peace and wholeness. Unfortunately, when we focus on the dramatic incidents of strong football players being involved sexually with their peers, we can too easily be both shocked and at the same time dismiss it as not as big of a problem as it really is. We have to ask ourselves which is more important: our comfort in isolating the problem or the dignity and safety of our adolescents and young adults.