Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Epidemic of Sexual Harassment?

Is there an epidemic of sexual harassment in America’s schools? If a new study sponsored by the American Association of University Women is correct, more than half the girls and nearly half the boys in middle and high school have been sexually harassed. Links here and here.

Stated this way, the problem is alarming. Of course, this suggests that it is being stated this way in order to alarm people.  A problem so pervasive requires a powerful response.

If you are trying to start a war against an epidemic of sexual harassment, we should ask who profits from this war.

Of course, the AAUW is not just a nonprofit research organization. It is a feminist advocacy group. It has an agenda; it is not an impartial observer.

No one should be surprised that the alarmist headlines are covering up faulty research. If you lump together dirty jokes and child molestation and put them in the category of “unwelcome sexual behavior” your study is more a rhetorical ploy than a fact-finding mission.

How many children were subjected to unwanted touching: 13% of girls and 3% of boys. How many children were forced to perform a sexual act against their will: 3.5% of girls and .2% of boys.

Somehow these numbers do not make it all appear to be quite so pervasive. Besides, one person’s unwanted touch might be another person’s friendly hug. The definitions are not at all clear.

But the study’s own statistics suggests that sexual harassment is less prevalent than the AAUW would have us believe.

Telling dirty jokes, bullying, teasing, and sexual assault do not belong on a single continuum. If you connect them, you are saying that telling a dirty joke is a criminal act or else that sexual assault is as harmless as a dirty joke.

If the problem is as pervasive as the reports seem to suggest, then it is nearly impossible to police it. By making nearly all schoolchildren into incipient criminals you have given them all a free pass to do as they please.

Under the circumstances justice is going to be meted out on an arbitrary basis, thus undermining the principle of justice.

Failing to draw the right distinctions creates ethical and legal problems.

J. Bryan Lowder identifies these problems in Slate: “The researcher’s basic definition—‘unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically’—seems reasonable enough at first glance, but taken literally, it constitutes a very wide net, particularly in an extraordinarily charged environment in which teenagers are just beginning to confront sexuality, adult sociality and true accountability for their actions. Should immaturity along the lines of calling someone ‘gay’ or ‘slut’ be counted on the same level as unwanted touching?”

He continues: “Obviously, name-calling and other forms of aggressive teasing are dangerous—the recent tragic deaths of many teens who were viciously taunted for their perceived sexuality are evidence enough of that—and moves to address bullying through education and legislation are absolutely necessary. However, do we really want to lump those kinds of youthful mistakes in with actual sexual violation? The risk of equalizing everything, as I see it, is to undermine the gravity of acts that are truly more egregious than others and that, consequently, deserve different treatment, whether by parents, school adminstrators or in the courts. Calling a gender-nonconforming boy ‘gay’ out of adolescent ignorance is not the same thing as beating the crap out of him behind the baseball field. Nor is writing on Facebook that a girl is a ‘whore’ (because she has a lot of male friends) equivalent to molesting her at a party for some skewed perception of easiness. All of these actions are undoubtedly bad, but they’re also just not on the same order of magnitude.”

This study seems to want children to feel guilty about acting their age. Using adult standards to judge the behavior of children is neither fair nor legal.

Also, when children complain about being sexually harassed or about having had their feelings hurt, are they showing how bad the situation is or are they demonstrating how sensitive they are?

The study directs itself at the way children feel. But if they have been brought up in an environment that has taught them to feel hurt when they are being teased or told dirty jokes, then the results might reflect a culture where children are brought up to be thin-skinned.

Thin-skinned means excessively sensitive. It also means lacking in confidence.

If you teach a child to take offense at the least obscene remark, you have undermined that child’s self-respect.

Thin-skinned means low self-esteem.

Of course, it is possible that children today use more obscene language than did their parents' generation. Regardless of what the children say, we know that the culture has changed significantly over the last few decades. In particular, and that it has become much more free and open about the discussion of matters sexual.

Naturally, the people who are up in arms about sexual harassment in the schools are those who want sex to be discussed openly and fully in the classroom. 

If we accept that something has changed since the halcyon days when I was in school, then, who is to blame?

We can blame it in the internet and hip-hop music and violent video games, but we should not ignore the fact that the young generation receives a level of comprehensive sex education that would never have happened in the old days.

Is there a link between more sex education, thus more open and honest discussion about things sexual, and the incidence of sexual harassment?

That, indeed, would be news.

A child today is not only spoon fed more information than his parents want him to know, but he is given information that he cannot really make use of.

Children are not just taught about reproductive biology. They are taught about masturbation and every possible form of human sexual behavior, from copulation to BDSM.

What is the purpose of teaching a six year old about masturbation or homosexual behavior? And why do middle schools need to include explicit discussions of sexual fetishes?

Increasingly, educators believe that children must be exposed to these different kinds of sexual behavior at a younger age, so that they will develop a habit of tolerance.

If that’s what they intended, it appears that they were wrong.

Surely, the message of tolerance is drummed into their developing minds. Just as surely, developing minds tend to do what they are told not to do.

Once teachers have made it permissible to discuss every variety of sexual behavior, you should expect that children will use all of the new words and concepts that they have been given. Inevitably this will involve both witticisms and insults.

When you open the door to such discussion and when you teach that everyone should speak openly about sexuality, whatever do you expect?

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