How do you even address an article that opens with the following paragraph?
Looking at the case of Madeleine Martin, the 39-year-old RE teacher and mother of two, jailed for 32 months and placed on the sex offenders’ register for sleeping with a 15-year-old male pupil, do we seriously think that a female teacher sleeping with a male pupil is on a par with a male teacher sleeping with a girl pupil? I don’t. And neither, I’d wager, would most 15-year-old boys.
If you don’t think we have a problem with how disparately we treat the victims of sexual assault and why we need PSA’s that address the issue in a way more even-handed way, then this ought to bring you crashing to reality if, in fact, you’re capable of reading.
That paragraph is not parody, is not intended to make you laugh, nor is it meant to be a sarcastic reply to a hysterical op-ed. It’s a straight-up opinion piece in which the author not only says that “it’s not the same thing,” but then goes on to explain her rationale for saying so.
There are always exceptions, but surely one of the essential differences between the teenage sexes lies in the onset and manifestation of sexuality. Which is a posh way of saying that teenage boys mainly want sex, while teenage girls mainly want attention. Likewise, while teenage boys are usually sexually driven, teenage girls tend to be validation-driven.
This seemed to be the case when I was supping my can of Vimto in the fifth form common room trying (and failing) to look alluring and still rings true today.
When I interviewed young people on this topic, it was clear: girls (still) only invited censure by being sexually active, while for boys it was (still) win-win: excitement, experience (“practice,” one called it), bragging rights, kudos.
From here, it is not too much of a leap to surmise that sexual contact with a teacher would have entirely different effects on the teenage sexes. For most boys, it would be the score of all scores, for girls, the ultimate exploitation of their genetic vulnerability.
That this even made it past an editor should be a sign that something is very wrong, and while she does make the requisite “the issue shouldn’t be taken lightly” disclaimer, it’s clear she doesn’t believe her own words.
This story, while it happened in the UK, could’ve happened in any town across the United States because the mentality isn’t only a UK mentality, it’s a mentality of warped perceptions. Males are so commonly thought of as sexual aggressors that when one is sexually assaulted, it’s rationalized, justified, or just outright handled differently from a case of female sexual assault. If there is any doubt about that, imagine a place where someone defends an assault on a girl with “she wanted it.” You’d need a mote to keep the torch and pitchfork crowd out of the school.
But this casual dismissal is okay because a woman did it to a male student.
This is the point I was trying to make last week when I wrote about the anti-sexual assault PSA that the government is patting itself on the back for. Instead of addressing the issue as a whole, it chose to address it in the most stereotypical fashion possible relegating women to victims and males to aggressors, and while that may be the most common perception of sexual assault, it doesn’t do any service to the victims who aren’t female. In fact, all that PSA does is reinforce a perception that makes its appearance in newspapers when a writer can basically say that boys generally want to be sexually assaulted while it would be damaging for girls.
How warped can you be to believe that to be the case?
And this perception isn’t just on the pages of newspapers or in the pixels of your screen. It manifests itself in “victim services” and the numerous outlets women have when they are sexually assaulted. A 15 year old girl, in this case, would be treated like a fragile delicate flower that must be protected and you couldn’t throw enough punishment at the offender, but reverse the genders, and suddenly “it’s not the same thing” becomes the mantra.
Ironic because we’re always being told that “one sexual assault is too many.” I guess “one” only means “one woman being sexually assaulted.”
This idea that a man cannot be sexually assaulted, or that a man can’t be the victim of domestic violence is so antiquated it’s almost laughable that its most strident purveyors are those that call themselves “progressives.”
We need a comprehensive re-education campaign across the board on both domestic violence and sexual assault. It doesn’t need to diminish the plight of female victims of either, nor should it, but it does need to bring attention to the fact that men can be victims of both as well. This idea that a man cannot be sexually assaulted, or that a man can’t be the victim of domestic violence is so antiquated it’s almost laughable that its most strident purveyors are those that call themselves “progressives.” That’s “progress?”
The logic that acknowledging male victims would damage the legitimacy of female victims is laughable, but it’s often the cry of the aggrieved. In fact, in a discussion on the issue with someone on Facebook (as I posted in the linked post from above), the immediate conclusion the person I was arguing with drew from me claiming that the treatment of victims was not equal was that I was asking for there to be no services for anyone until there was full parity. It was said in a mocking tone, as if to insinuate that treating the two equally was so ridiculous that it was beyond reproach.
But why shouldn’t we treat victims of a crime the same regardless of their genitalia? In reality, that’s what we seem to be doing now. What if we did it with all crimes? You can’t really be robbed if you’re a man because you should’ve fought off the thieves. You can’t really be assaulted if you’re a man because you should be strong enough to defend yourself. We wouldn’t tolerate any of that, would we? I would hope not.
The solution here is simple. In a culture awash with awareness months and marches, it wouldn’t kill people to become more aware of what sexual assault is, who the victims are, who the victims can be, and what services are available for all. We should make a concerted effort to build battered husband shelters as well as battered wife shelters. If you think that sounds weird, then congratulations because you’ve just admitted the problem is right in your own mind. We don’t even have to make 1:1 ratios, but if you can even find a men’s domestic violence shelter in your city where there’s probably one for women, you’re ahead of the game. I reckon most of you can’t.
That’s where we’re failing.
Contrary to the cries of women’s activists everywhere, it doesn’t lessen female victims to acknowledge male victims exist. If anything, a common community of caring individuals can be a stronger and more effective cure for a societal ill. In the respect that we’re not taking advantage of stories like this to further an agenda of open dialogue, education, and awareness, we’re missing yet another opportunity to shine the light on something that most people won’t even acknowledge exists.
That’s truly sad.
Header image via Rory MacLeod on flickr.