Michael Abrahams | Teach boys not to rape
Last week while at work, a female friend of mine called me in distress. The recent rash of incidents of violence against women, including sexual violence, was getting to her. She is a rape survivor and confessed that she began to read my last column titled “Rape is always the fault of the rapist” but was unable to finish it as she was traumatised. And she is not alone. Women are constantly being physically and mentally traumatised by sexual violence and triggered by what has become a constant barrage of news reports of assaults on other women and children.
And we hear the advice being given to girls and women to protect themselves from being raped. They are instructed not to wear revealing outfits, to be mindful of where they go, to not be alone at certain locations, to never take their eyes off their drinks when they go out, to take self-defence classes, to arm themselves or purchase pepper spray, and the list goes on.
Rape and sexual assault are not gender specific, and males can be victims of such assaults too, but in most cases, females are the victims and males the perpetrators.
PERPETRATORS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE
It is therefore interesting, and disturbing, to note that the conversations, and advice, about rape are directed at the potential victims and not the potential perpetrators. Although victim blaming is a common response when females are sexually assaulted, men and boys are the usual perpetrators, are solely responsible for these attacks, and should be held accountable.
If we really are serious about reducing sexual violence against women, we MUST have conversations with our boys and young men about the issue. Too much blame and responsibility are being placed on victims and potential victims. We tell our girls how to avoid getting raped, but we are not telling our boys not to rape. At least not as much as we give instructions to our sisters and daughters.
And this is not just theory. A 2016 study by Planned Parenthood in the United States found that parents talk more frequently with daughters than sons about these issues. However, these conversations are necessary with boys as well if we are to reduce the incidence of rape. The prevailing sense of entitlement regarding females and their bodies, experienced by boys and men, must be challenged, and dismissed.
The concepts of respect, boundaries, and consent must be taught to our children, especially our boys, and repeated ad nauseam. According to Dr Leslie Kantor, vice- president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “Most people have not received any education about what consent is, what it looks like, or how to do it. It’s no wonder there is still disagreement and confusion.”
NO MEANS NO
Boys need to be taught that “no” means “no”, and that if they are told to stop, they should stop. They need to learn that kissing and foreplay do not equal consent. They need to understand that if a female visits their room, or their home when they are alone, it is not consent. They need to know that if they help a girl financially, or are kind to her, she is not required to repay them with sexual favours. They need to be socialised to understand that if a female is skimpily clad, it is not an invitation for sexual activity.
As Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the poetry memoir Shout, which tells the story of a teenage girl struggling through the aftermath of being raped, said, boys “don’t understand that consent needs to be informed, enthusiastic, sober, ongoing and freely given”. And they need to understand this.
Boys need to be taught empathy in general, including in relation to girls. They should be taught about menstrual cycles and periods and to understand the physical and emotional changes girls experience on a regular basis. They need to understand the long-term sequalae of rape too, like the fact that the majority of rape survivors experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and that more than 1 out of every 10 rape survivors attempts suicide.
If enlightened adults do not have these conversations about sex with our boys, the youngsters will learn from inexperienced and ignorant friends, popular music, and Internet porn, where the idea of consent is unlikely to be mentioned.
In 2018, the organisation No Means No Worldwide set up consent classes, involving boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 20, in the African countries of Kenya and Malawi. Before the classes, one out of every four girls had been raped, and it was found that boys and young men generally thought it was okay to rape a girl if she was taken on an expensive date, wore a mini skirt, or was out late at night. The programme yielded significant positive results as at its conclusion, there was a 51 per cent reduction in rape, pregnancy-related school dropouts fell by 46 per cent, and 73 per cent of boys intervened to prevent an assault. In addition, 50 per cent of girls reported stopping a rapist one year after training.
As a Jamaican, I am frustrated regarding our attitude towards gender-based violence and sexual assault. Every now and then, a horrific case is highlighted, there is public outcry, the prime minister of the relevant member of parliament visits the family of the victim to express condolences, photographs and videos are taken and broadcast, the hoopla dies down, and we forget about it – until the next tragedy. But in the meantime, nothing significant is done.
But boys can be taught not to rape. The evidence is there. There is documentation of successful programmes. We, as a nation, need to stop complaining and start acting.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or Twitter @mikeyabrahams.