Sexual bullying in the playground

// 11 January 2009

According to a recent report by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) more than 3,500 pupils are suspended each year due to sexual bullying. Equating to 19 suspensions each school day, the situation is becoming uncontrollable. This week Panorama broadcast a programme called Kids Behaving Badly (which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer) highlighting the prevalence and severity of sexual misconduct in schools across the UK. The title, however, was somewhat misleading.

While it suggests boys and girls are equally accountable for this behaviour, what this documentary exposed was the extent to which girls are victims of sexual harassment and physical assault from an increasingly younger age – beginning at nursery school level. Whereas for boys bullying predominantly takes the form of name-calling, with aspersions cast on their sexuality and sexual premise, girls not only have to contend with this, but also with lewd comments and threatening physical molestation. “Gay,” “lesbian,” “frigid,” and “slut” are used as part of an offence verbal currency (considered representative of sexual “abnormality”) that boys and girls spend frivolously. The documentary also found that schoolboys are vulnerable to sexual attack not by schoolgirls, but by their male classmates. This is a growing problem. Panorama, in conjunction with the charity Young Voice, conducted a survey of 273 children and youths and found that one in ten 11-19 year olds had been sexually bullied, a form of intimidation ranging from rumour-spreading about sexual activity to rape. Schoolchildren, specifically boys, are using sex as a form of power and control, but why? Why are they so sexually aware?

The programme was disturbing. One reason given for the growth in incidents was prevailing “gang culture” in parts of the country. Very often boys are encouraged to carry out sex acts for gang membership, and girls are given protection in return for their “favours.” While some girls consent to this, probably believing it’s easier to concede without fuss, others are forced against their will. Speaking anonymously, a number of parents relayed their daughter’s experiences. One 15-year-old girl from London was lured into a classroom by a group of boys and physically forced to perform a sex act. The girl was seriously affected afterwards and was too scared to go to school. When her parents sought a tutor from the local education authority they were informed that this service was only made available to pupils who had been excluded – more specifically, the girl’s abusers could have the privilege of a tutor but she could not (the provision was “not for victims”). As a result she transferred schools and feels insecure and scared in busy places (especially in the presence of groups of boys).

A 13-year-old girl from the south-east spoke of how crass comments made by one of her male peers quickly turned sinister. He sat next to her in assembly and lessons, stroking her chest and legs. She tried to ignore it until one day, while queuing for a class, he slid his fingers up her skirt and under her knickers. Her mother contacted the school and was told that the boy would be spoken to and his parents informed. It wasn’t considered a serious incident. Furthermore, having reported the episode, the girl was harassed by female classmates. One “friend” told her that everyone would now hate her, since the boy in question “does it to everyone” – apparently it was NOT a big deal.

In the west country, the mother of a five-year-old girl considered herself a failure after her daughter was molested by a male classmate. The police couldn’t get involved because of the boy’s age (and one does have to wonder why a five-year-old would act this way – what’s happening at home?). The little girl was scared and so conceded to his request to go to an empty room with him because she didn’t know what to do. He said he wanted to touch her and so she let him. A five-year-old little boy who has yet to go through puberty surely didn’t have these sexual inclinations? While I have previously read articles claiming that infants and children do masturbate, presumably this is owing to an innate sexual need and curiosity rather than an act with an overt sexual subtext resulting from sexual attraction to another person? That this boy saw his classmate as a sexual object was, then, the result of nurture, not nature. However, it is she who has had to move schools. It is she who was mentally scarred and has terrible nightmares.

Children now consider themselves sexual beings from a young age (well before they are physically mature), and as such want to explore their sexualities in a way they feel they are supposed to. Boys are growing up seeing women as nothing more than toys promising sexual gratification, and the prevailing attitude that this is “just boys being boys,” even though it is to the detriment of girls, is investing generations of young women with the belief that this is how they are supposed to be treated and something that has to be accepted. It is normalising the mistreatment of women. That schools tend to ignore this behaviour is unacceptable.

While the guilty boys are free to enjoy school with little or no disruption, their female victims are not only mentally and emotionally distressed but have to change their lives and circumstances to be protected from harassment. They have to bare the onus of responsibility. It is their education that potentially suffers. The implicit suggestion is that it is the girls who are at fault since they are the ones who suffer and are punished by often having to move schools, but for what? For nothing more than their sex. For having the audacity to have been born female. Ridiculous, isn’t it? A girl is groped or grabbed between the legs and is penalised for not keeping quiet. Grown women who are attacked are said to have asked for it – to be deserving – by wearing short skirts. It is the ease with which girls are positioned as the problem that silences women as they mature, which explains why so many of us are reluctant to speak out when we are sexually harassed in the work place and are raped. The current school situation suggests that this is only going to get worse.

Paula Telford, spokesperson for the NSPCC, believes that instead of such instances being dismissed as innocent childhood games, effective handling by schools could help to significantly reduce this trend. While not always the case, she said that this needs to be “nipped in the bud” from an early age since a percentage of boys who are overbearingly sexual do mature into aggressive and dangerous sex offenders. Not all, but enough to suggest that for the greater social good it should not be ignored. But, where did this problem originate? And why is it getting worse? That sex can be used as a tool of dominance and control is nothing new. That popular culture encourages young girls to aspire to sexual maturity and young men to lust after women in order to assert their masculinity has exacerbated the problem in the school yard.

Women are positioned as sexual commodities. Little ladies can now go to beauty parlours and have treatments and make-overs coveted by women more than three times their age. Before baby girls can walk mothers are bombarded with advertisements for tiny high-heels, designed to look cute, suggesting a maturity well beyond their years. Little girls can replicate the sexy styles of twenty-something women, wearing baby mini-skirts and halter-neck tops, knee-high boots and sparkly lip-gloss. Infants and young children are encouraged to look like smaller versions of grown women, shown-off like designer shoes while everyone speculates about their age.

Since popular culture has promoted the idea that little girls are little dolls, it’s not surprising that said little girls believe that’s their worth. It’s not surprising that little boys view said little girls as public property, expecting each one to react in an amenable and accommodating way. Similarly, computer games endorse violence against women. Female avatars are commonly presented as caricatures of the female form – big-breasted, tiny waisted beauties who must be killed as violently as possible. Young, impressionable boys are being conditioned to view women as sexual fodder that must obey their every command. Boys are told they have to be sexually candid and have sex with lots of women to be considered men. That doesn’t make it excusable, but what it does do is explain why these attitudes have filtered through to the playground and, like girls, boys can also be seen as victims of our over-sexed society.

That girls are being denied the right to an education without being sexually harassed does indicate that this has gone too far, but what can be done? Innocence, once lost, can never be returned. While schools can try their best to implement strategies to educate boys and girls about the ways to behave socially, this is a band-aid rather than a long-term solution. Girls can be encouraged to step forward and share their experiences in a non-judgemental environment (this should go without saying, anyway), but that sexual misconduct is flourishing in the playground suggests that maybe it’s too late for a reprieve?

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 11 January 2009 at 9:46 pm

First of all the issue is of one sexual harassment not sexual bullying. Secondly it is overwhelmingly boys who are committing sexual harassment and sexual assault against girls and boys who do not conform to the narrow masculinist standards which is constantly promoted. Thirdly, the problem is how boys continue to be socialised into a very narrow and dominating and controlling form of masculinity.

The issue of male sexual harassment of females is not a new one, particularly boys sexually harassing girls. I remember myself witnessing primary school boys sexually harassing primary school girls. However, it is the increasing sexual viciousness which boys are committing against girls which is new.

The Panorama programme itself attempted to promote this issue as a non-gendered one but it is one of gender and centrally it is about boys learning male dominance over girls and boys considered to be ‘feminine.’

We must not forget both girls and boys learn what is supposedly appropriate gendered behaviour not simply by observing their parents’ and other relatives behaviour patterns but also culture in general. Girls and boys have access to television, video games and of course films which previous generations did not. It is popular culture which increasingly plays a central role in providing information and how boys and girls are supposed to behave. This is not to say the media and popular culture itself is totally to blame, but popular culture certainly reinforces and promotes a very narrow and hegemonic notion of both masculinities and femininities. If girls and boys are only being constantly shown and read one way of what it means to be a girl or boy it is not surprising so many girls believe they cannot challenge boys’ sexually harassing them. So it is with boys, if they see their male peers adopting this behaviour and there is no criticism or refusal to tolerate such behaviour, then of course they will see they can enact the same behaviour and get away with it.

So, it is not surprising so many primary and secondary girls believe boys sexually harassing them is inevitable and that nothing will be done to challenge this male abuse of females.

The fact a number of boys forced a teen girl into an empty classroom wherein she was orally raped by one boy is not an isolated problem. These boys committed sexual assault but were the boys prosecuted? No and we need to ask why? Why are so many boys getting away with blatant sexual and physical violence against girls.

Womankind UK have a schools project ongoing wherein if the schools agree, the experts go into these schools and educate both boys and girls about the facts concerning male sexual violence against females. The boys and girls learn exactly why it is wrong for boys to commit sexual assault girls and the project is proving very successful.

It is never too late to challenge these learned male beliefs of sexual access and male sexual access to women and girls. But unfortunately our culture continues to turn a blind and instead hold women and girls responsible for men’s and boys’ criminal behaviour.

MariaS // Posted 11 January 2009 at 11:12 pm

The Panorama programme was a mess. Both the sexual assaults it documented and the failure of some of the schools involved to prioritise victims’ welfare were absolutely heartbreaking, but when it came to explaining why this was happening it seemed to be completely blind to the problems of gender inequality and the objectification of women.

While Panorama showed that there is a problem of girls and young-women in mixed-sex education (or other environments such as youth clubs) were being victimised by sexually predatory young men and boys, it then went on to suggest that the primary cause is that young people of *both* sexes are being increasingly exposed to sexual matters in the media. This section of the programme was introduced by a montage of clips that included (from what I can remember): music videos featuring fully clothed male rappers lording it over women who wear little and dance erotically; flashy logos on mobile phone and social networking personal webpages that use words like “slut”; and, bizarrely, an innocuous clip from Katie Price & Peter Andre’s reality television show. The accessibilty of porn via mobile phones and the internet was mentioned. A panel of parents were interviewed by Jeremy Vine and blame was laid primarily on the media. The meaninglessness of the TV “watershed” was cited; one parent described that he would often find his 16-year-old daughter watching Skins (Channel 4 drama series about a group of young people, with adult themes) in the middle of the afternoon, having recorded it. A trend of young women jokily referring to themselves and their friends as “sluts” and “hos” was mentioned by another parent. Another apologetically said she let her daughter (age unspecified) watch the Katie and Peter show, and that her daughter admired Katie Price.

The reference to Katie Price & Peter Andre in the context of a programme about sexual bullying was both odd and telling. It was clearly being implied that the occasional adult themes that crop up in that programme were harmful in themselves. In the very short clip actually shown I couldn’t hear the dialogue properly, but it showed Peter playfully leaping onto Katie by way of greeting, as she lay on a couch – she embraced him warmly and wrapped her legs around him. Both were fully clothed! So, loving partners who might refer frankly and casually to their sexual relationship on television are framed as problematic and contributing to the early sexualisation of young people, which is apparently linked, in this analysis, to the problem of sexual bullying.

At one point, illustrating an utter blindness to gender issues, Jeremy Vine asked the parents something like, what about the pressure to dress sexily, “particularly for girls”? – as if boys are pressured to dress sexily! One parent described how his 8-year-old daughter liked to put on nail polish even for the most mundane family outing. The emphasis on girls’ embracing a “sexy” “grownup” presentation skirted too close to victim blaming for comfort – thankfully this wasn’t raised at all when describing the sexual assaults in the first part of the programme, but that this trend should be implied to be a contributory factor at all is appalling.

The conflation of sexual knowledge and sexual expression by young people with the problem of sexual attacks by young men and boys on young women, girls and younger boys completely muddied the issue. From a feminist perspective the problem of sexual bullying is frighteningly easy to explain: a sexist culture rife with the sexual objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, which normalises and may “excuse” the predatory actions of young men and boys who feel and act on a sense of entitlement to use women sexually.

Gregory Carlin // Posted 12 January 2009 at 12:43 am

I think the UN may view me as the leading (UK) expert in this area. That is sad rather than flattering.

I don’t honestly think it is a functional area for feminism.

The BBC had the Childline stats, and List 99 additions, the BBC had as many teachers doing it as pupils.

More teachers are permanently excluded ( List 99 & jail etc) than pupils each each for sexual misconduct.

And U18 offending within the wider society is not really there in the general Home Office stats.

Schoolgirls see it as normal, the equal pegging ( vis a vis teacher/pupil culprits) on the NSPCC figures, yer after year, has to be because there is absolutely no point complaining about peer abuse.

Then again, the NASUWT is campaigning to legalize guardians having sex with foster children and teachers with pupils etc.

So it is a culture really.

JenniferRuth // Posted 12 January 2009 at 8:59 am

Cath Elliot wrote a fantastic article about the Panorama programme on Comment is Free:

I don’t recommend reading the comments though. You have never seen so many “what about the meeeeen!!!” complaints in your life.

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 12 January 2009 at 10:12 am

Ah, I didn’t realise Cath had a piece on Comment is Free. Thanks for letting us know. I’ll have a look for it later and link it into the post xx

George // Posted 12 January 2009 at 10:20 am

Gregory – I don’t get it.

If I am correct in my interpretation, “[you] don’t honestly think it is a functional area for feminism”, as “it is a culture really.”

Um, what?

Isn’t patriarchy “a culture really”?

Maybe we should just all stick to avant-garde cross-stitch or something.

I think this is another area where a more healthy attitude towards sexuality and sex education could help teach individuals of both genders that certain behaviours are completely wrong. Certainly, I could be too optimistic in the face of the “culture”, but I’d rather that we at least attempted to equip young people with the ability to express and understand their own sexualities in a non-abusive fashion.

jenjen1352 // Posted 12 January 2009 at 10:53 am

In 1965, while we were queuing up in our vest and pants for PE, a boy named Trevor stuck his hand down my knickers and felt my bottom. I told him off quite sharply and that was that. It clearly had a strong effect on me – his is the only name I remember out of a class of 5 year olds…

Naomi // Posted 12 January 2009 at 12:24 pm

Rap videos and other obviously sexist types of media are often mentioned in this context – quite rightly – but there is a more insidious way in which children are being indoctrinated with sexism from babyhood – by those nice, fluffy, well-meaning little cartoons.

In cartoons, an animated animal is male by default. A male sheep, say, will look roughly like a sheep, but with whatever human charateristics their particular character has. A male animated dog reading a newpaper and listening to the radio is simply a dog reading a newpaper and listening to the radio.

Female animated characters, on the other hand, have bigger eyes, longer eye-lashes, an hour-glass figure, a wiggly walk and so on, not to mention make-up (which those cartoons in which their male counterparts do not even wear clothes).

These female characters are often brought in to an otherwise all-male (i.e. all just pigs and rabbits and things) cast when the storyline requires one of the characters to fall in love, or to be almost distracted away from some world-saving task by the batting of those log eyelashes …

This puts across the following messages, and more, to children:

1. Male is the default; female is exceptional.

2. ‘Feminine’ appearance is universal and natural for females of any species.

3. The anatomical differences between males and females of any species are much, much greater than they really are.

4. The role of the female is sexual, and is defined in relation to the male.

5. The male is the agent, the female is the object of his attention.

And so on.

missing words // Posted 12 January 2009 at 12:35 pm

Gregory Carlin – thanks for clarifying your credentials, but could you clarify what you actually mean with the rest of your post? What do you mean by ‘it is a culture really’? In your view, are we not supposed to challenge anything that is just ‘culture’?

And how can the over-sexualisation of young children and sexual harrassment in schools not be a ‘functional area of feminism’??

I am confused.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 12:52 pm

Gregory Carlin – of course it is an area for feminism!!!

Patriarcy clearly runs through our children – because WE teach them it!!

All children are now doing is displaying that same misogyny by watching and copying the adults around them. It riles me that adults complain – why is my child doing so and so when children are in the exact same culture we are in.

Not saying “blame the parents” – am saying stop assaulting children’s eyes with constant violent iamges and une-qual relationships.

It scares adults like us when we see this because children act out what WE show them. And it scares us because they are showing us for what we are.

HelenGB // Posted 12 January 2009 at 2:44 pm

The Cath Elliot article is good, but I felt that AllyF had a point in comments where s/he deconstructed the statistical surveys quoted to demonstrate that they weren’t worth the paper they were printed upon.

@ Jenniferruth : Whilst you were right to highlight the “what about the menz?” whiney nature of some of the comments, I get the impression (and I hope I’m wrong) that you’re mocking the idea that males don’t want and usually don’t enjoy being sexually abused, any more than girls. Which might lead to the idea that boys’ feelings aren’t important, perhaps not as “real” as female ones. Disposable perhaps.

And if boys don’t matter, are less human ,then how do we fix the problem ?

JenniferRuth // Posted 12 January 2009 at 4:54 pm

@ HelenGB

I have no idea how you got that idea out of my comment. In fact, I don’t really understand what you are implying – that I think boys don’t have feelings?

I don’t think you understand the context in which I use the phrase “What about the men?”

Everytime there is an article on CiF about women or girls, the same commenters flood the conversation by saying that men have it so much worse/but men suffer too/what about abusive women/etc. It entirely derails the conversation – instead of talking about the problem, people start arguing over who has the bigger problem. And it really gets my goat!

Do you ever see women flooding articles regarding male issues to demand that they are also paid attention too?

An article on CiF that is about women’s issues never ends up discussing women’s issues. It just ends up with the same few sexist commenters demanding that people pay attention to them. The ignornace and entitlement just tend to astound me.

MariaS // Posted 12 January 2009 at 7:06 pm

HelenGB, I’m sure that by “what about the menz” JenniferRuth means belittling comments like this, and not the comments by men who had been sexually bullied by girls when at school:

“Could the focus on just sexual bullying be the excuse to justify another “isn’t it awful for us females” article from MS Elliot?

The fact is that Cath Eliiot doesn’t give a stuff about bullying in schools beyond how the stats may serve her own political agenda. Sexual bullying is a tiny proportion of the bullying that goes on in schools. No doubt Ms Elliot whilst having a hissy fit about a girl getting her breast grabbed is just as likely to shrug her shoulders and say “that’s life” when it comes to stories of boys having the crap kicked out of the[m].”

Danot – 08 Jan 09, 10:24am

Hmm, AllyF, in his comment criticising the Young Voice survey figures (@ 08 Jan 09, 10:18am), says he thinks that they show that “Our young people appear to be remarkably mature about the issues, remarkably attuned to sexual politics, and for the most part unaffected by the worst excesses.” and then says:

“On the programme, the reasons given by a couple of boys as to why it wasn’t necessarily always wrong to call someone a slag or gay (while I don’t agree with them entirely) were mature and intelligent.”

Actually, the young men he refers to were exceptionally clueless. One, when asked if calling someone a slag always counts as sexual bullying, said, “what if she really is a slag?” (not in an arrogant way, either but in an entirely sincere way!). Another contended that “gay” as an insult didn’t count, because, in his opinion, it wasn’t being used to mean the same as “homosexual”. ???!!!

The real problem with the survey is that it doesn’t present the responses broken down by sex. Page 20 of the results shows that 160 girls, 102 boys, and 12 people of undisclosed gender filled out the survey. We don’t know whether more girls than boys have experienced being called “sluts” or “slags” – gendered insults generally directed at girls. We don’t know if more boys than girls think rape jokes are never acceptable, or have felt pressured to behave or act in a certain way (a few of the survey questions). I would expect that responses to many of these questions may show a lot of differences by sex; it would be interesting to see if that is borne out or not.

I have had to stop reading at the end of the first page of comments with this one:

“… working this out through the bullying programs in school … is the right way to go. The other way is how things are in the States and increasingly here where the police get involved and naive boys get arrested charged with sex crimes and their lives ruined for pushing things a bit far when nobody has actually told them what the limits are because in the PC world they are just supposed to ‘know’.”

muscleguy – 08 Jan 09, 11:18am


MariaS // Posted 12 January 2009 at 8:06 pm

In that same comment on the CiF article, AllyF says, of the Bliss/Womens Aid survey that found that a quarter of respondents had been forced into sexual acts they did not want, “That survey was an utterly unscientific waste of paper and pixels. It was a textbook exercise in how to produce the survey results you are looking for – self-selected, full of leading questions, framed to produce an ingroup mentality etc etc etc.”

I’d very much like to know when and how s/he found the survey questions – did they view it or even participate in it while it was up at the Bliss magazine website in September? I’ve been searching online for best part of an hour and can only find the Womens Aid press release from December, and articles that link to that. The press release says “A summary of the survey results will be available in the New Year.”

AllyF is playing the ultra-reasonable, logical Male. He even says “Don’t get me wrong – sexual bullying undoubtedly exists, is totally unacceptable and I have no issue with the steps described to combat it.” – but has just spent a very long comment discrediting the information gathered about the problem. The subtext of his comment is: Cath and the women commenters are exaggerating. (I don’t know of course that AllyF is male, but I’d lay good odds).

Hannah // Posted 12 January 2009 at 8:25 pm

‘It is normalising the mistreatment of women.’

I always find it so upsetting when I hear, read or even think on this ‘fact’ of life as a female and that one statement sums up exactly why.

Sari // Posted 12 January 2009 at 9:15 pm

Regarding the “boys will be boys” attitude and how often these incidents are reacted to as if they are not a big deal, typical school-yard behavior, I think it’s useful to imagine the consequences if this behavior occurred in an adult workplace.

None of this behavior would be tolerated at work: touching a female co-worker’s chest??

So why are schools teaching children that this behavior is tolerated, when it won’t be tolerated when they graduate and get jobs?

DEE // Posted 12 January 2009 at 10:21 pm

I like how the very first paragraph states that girls and boys are “equally accountable” for the harassment and then goes on to state that females are overwhelmingly the ones being harassed. Sounds like victim blaming to me…gee if that eight year old girl just hadn’t worn that revealing barbie tank top, then no one would’ve had to call her a (insert misogynistic term here)

Midpointe // Posted 12 January 2009 at 11:16 pm

Wow, and they say feminists hate men….I don’t think I could ever think quite so lowly of boys and men as those male commenters, especially that muscleguy character, does. Really, he honestly thinks that guys are just too stupid to know that rape is wrong? If that really were the case — and I absolutely don’t think it is — then we need to strip men of most of their leadership positions and other privileges in the world, because really, wouldn’t it be downright dangerous for our world to be run by people who exemplify such a stunning combination of cruelty and stupidity? But of course that’s not the case, otherwise every man on earth would be doing these kinds of things. Ugh. Fucking troglodytes. And muscleguy-types never stop to think that perhaps it’s their low expectations of boys to begin with that contribute to this problem. (And really, “muscleguy?” WTF kind of a handle is that? The dude’s obviously trying way too hard….)

Marlow // Posted 12 January 2009 at 11:59 pm

“According to a recent report by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) more than 3,500 pupils are suspended each year due to sexual bullying.”

That figure would be considerably higher if schools took the issue seriously. I’m still in school now and I’ve been groped and called all sorts of things and it didn’t even happen in the ‘playground’ – it happened in class. This was when I was about 12 and I felt as though I had to keep quiet because nobody seemed to make a big deal out of it. If I were to get a slap on my backside from one of the guys in the class it would just cause giggling from the girls and a serious of stupid and insulting comments from some of the other guys.

I think it’s a problem in schools and I’ve been saying it to people around me for a while now but few take it seriously. Why is it okay to grope someone when you’re in school but you can face charges if you do so outwith?

Anne Onne // Posted 13 January 2009 at 12:28 am

Not to sound alarmist, but this is exactly what happens when children get their education about sex and relationships from the patriarchy so prevalent in mainstream media, and I’ll bet misogynist porn has a lot to do with it. See nothing but messages (even from your family!) telling you that girls are for sex, that there is no such thing as needing consent, and that violence and sex are one and the same (and I’m not talking safe, sane, consensual BDSM here). We’re letting these kids down so badly as a society.

I would guess the ‘what about the menz’ reference is to do with comments whining about how pointing out to young men that sexual bullying is unacceptable would ruin their lives,and why blame them when it was all an innocent mistake, and people are being far too harsh, why can’t anyone think about the poor men…

The comment MariaS quotes is a perfect example:

“… working this out through the bullying programs in school … is the right way to go. The other way is how things are in the States and increasingly here where the police get involved and naive boys get arrested charged with sex crimes and their lives ruined for pushing things a bit far when nobody has actually told them what the limits are because in the PC world they are just supposed to ‘know’.”

muscleguy – 08 Jan 09, 11:18am

Pitying sex harassers because their life will be ruined – check.

Police shouldn’t get involved, even though it would be a crime anywhere else -check

They only went a little too far. Just a little! – check

It’s not really their fault because of X (in this case, because they don’t know it’s wrong*) – check

It’s all the fault of feminists/the PC brigade – check

That comment must be a bingo in its own right…you found a winner, MariaS!

When someone is accused of playing the ‘what about the mens’ card, they’re not generally referring to male victims of a crime, but male perpetrators or accused perpetrators, and how being accused of a crime is so hard on them. This only seems to be focused on for sex crimes. Horrible as being falsely accused of murder is, it just doesn’t seem to grab the attention.

Someone may be accused of being ‘what about the menz’ when they are talking about male victims if the topic is specifically about women, because then it’s using a focus on men to take the focus away from women on a post about them. Here, regarding a topic that includes male and female victims, the phrase would be most likely used against someone who focuses on how bad it must be to be accused of sexual harassment, even if they comitted the act.

* I feel sorry for those who honestly are so confused they don’t know, but at the end of the day, legally, no criminal is exempt for being naive. ‘I didn’t know burglary/murder/whatever is wrong’ won’t get you off scott free. Hence we need education. But we also need to make it clear that we don’t tolerate this: unfortunately, we make it very easy for those who DO know it’s wrong to keep doing it, too.

I sympathise for parents afraid that their sons will take something ‘a bit too far’ and get punished severely. Going just a little too far carries these penalties because even a ‘little’ transgression can scar the victim considerably. Hence what’s important is to teach our sons to play it safe and be aware of what active consent is (absence of ‘no!’ is not consent, presence of ‘yes!’ is) , and why it’s necessary. We can avoid ‘misunderstandings’ if we choose to. But it’s easier to not bother, when you can make excuses and blame the woman and justify it as the world not being fair…

JenniferRuth // Posted 13 January 2009 at 9:16 am

@ MariaS

You are right, AllyF is a man. He writes articles for CiF as well as being a prolific commenter. A lot of his articles are really good and well written. However, often turns up on articles relating to sexual or domestic violence against women and derails the conversation. Usually, he tries to prove that men suffer just as equally (if not more!) from gendered violence. Even if that were *true* I still don’t understand why every conversation about women is deemed unworthy unless it includes talking about men too.

Personally, I think a lot of the commenting comes from and insecure and defensive place. The men don’t want to be part of the group that causes distress to women – but rather than deal with the problem (i.e. talking to your sons and daughters) it is easier to deny a problem exists in the first place. I think many women could give you a personal incident of sexual harrassment at school. It is a sad state of affairs and men would prefer to think that it isn’t true. If it were true, then maybe *they* could be guilty or at the very least, someone they know. Yep, deny, blame, divert, but don’t ever actually talk about the tough issues!

elissaF // Posted 14 January 2009 at 4:36 am

I think there’s a way that men and women both have a hard time listening to one another during discussions like this.

I think there are a few points to consider. Being concerned for the girls does not mean being unconcerned for the boys, so men, stop feeling that it’s about blaming you. We women are aware that boys get bullied AND that boys get sexually harassed and assaulted as well as girls.

Additionally, (and this is what I’m not hearing from the women): even boys that are “perpetrators” have mothers and fathers who love them. These boys must eventually learn that girls are not simply sexual objects for their use. The comments from men who are concerned that the boys not be branded and dealt with as criminals is absolutely right on.

We cannot brand 5 year olds as “abusers” to be locked up with the key thrown away. An 8 year old who gets his facts from TV really might not know that certain touching is inappropriate. Furthermore, teaching boys that girls aren’t objects improves boys’ lives as well as girls’.

And one thing for the fellow who mentioned “false reports” of rapes: reliable studies distinguish between “false” reports and “unfounded” reports (those in which there is simply not enough evidence to prosecute). Studies that only speak in terms of “false” and quote based on populations with tiny numbers (63 people in one study, 48 in another) are completely misrepresenting the reality on the ground.

The fact is that rape is an enormous problem, with an huge social cost. Both men and women are victimized by it. Most men are not rapists. Rape is an issue that women need men to help clear up. Men need to be out on the front learn learning non-violence and non-sexism.

Lisa // Posted 14 January 2009 at 2:04 pm

Sexual assaults by boys in schools highlight the tightrope that western culture expects boys to walk – and it is worse than ever. On the one hand the media pushes them to be sexually aggressive but in reality sexual assaults are not only criminal offences but will at the very least lead to problems -disciplinary procedures in the workplace. I’m not sure what the practical solution is because boys below the age of criminal responsibility cannot (and should not for various reasons) be prosecuted. Even my teenage male clients (in the criminal justice system) led such extremely chaotic and dysfunctional lives that sending them to Young Offenders Inst. was never going to help them behave any better. Yet again teachers are going to end up trying to parent truly ‘lost boys’ instead of actually teaching.

What about single sex education ? What about funding a male mentor for every boy with behavioural problems – a state appointed ‘father’ to role model non-violent, responsible behaviour ? What about state-sponsored media (films, TV channels, music) that presents male role models in a more positive light ?

As a final note re the boys they do not listen to women (even their own mothers let alone female teachers or social workers) – they really are desperate for male role models – it’s a tragedy that all they have are a handful of old junkies-alcoholics down the pub, local gangsters and older, teenage wannabe-hard-men. In general the men leave as soon as they can to get a job elsewhere (Army, Oil Rigs, following building work, College if they’re lucky)

As for the girls ? They need to be given the tools to protect themselves and that is not laying responsibility on them or victim-blaming it’s self-defense as practiced by everyone male, female, young, old the world over. Basic security techniques, a sharp tongue, adult allies and of course physical self-defense (in my day on the rare occassion when we were jumped by teenage boys a quick twist of the flesh below the eye on the edge of the eye socket combined with repeated kicking on shins and edge of kneecaps swiftly resulted in surprised boy-boys recoiling as if they’d been electricuted then run and fast and NEVER be alone with that boy-those boys again. They had their chance, they blew it and they know they did.)

So far my 7 year old daughter has a great relationship with the boys in her class as do her female cousins and female friends in other schools, so sexual assaults are not inevitable and they should never be presented as such.

Sabre // Posted 14 January 2009 at 2:05 pm

When I was 10 a boy at school was whispering mean things in my ear in class so I kneed him between the legs. Not my finest moment but I was 10 after all. Does that count as sexual bullying?

Gregory Carlin // Posted 18 January 2009 at 9:58 pm

“I think this is another area where a more healthy attitude towards sexuality and sex education could help teach individuals of both genders that certain behaviours are completely wrong. ”

UK feminism doesn’t have a role, was what I said, a UN role, that kind of thing,

So I feel like the chimp who knows how to unlock the gate, it’s depressing,

The UN has never been petitioned via CEDAW or UNCRC ( compliance mechanisms) by anybody with anything sensible on that particular topic.

State sanctioned sex abuse is when the Abu Ghraib official tell you that some of the prisoners are bullying each other sexually.

IF told pupils do X, UNCRC ask (automatically) what do teachers do, as per Botswana or wherever, why is UK different? It is a no-brainer what Jeremy Vine decided not to report.

That PQ was requested in person by Prof. Donna Hughes,

One will notice that referrals doubled between 2003 and 2005. One doesn’t go on the list for failing to return a library book.

so it is Britain’s little secret.

Gregory Carlin

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