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'Boys will be boys': The soundtrack for sexual assault

PICTURED: Jenny Lumet revealed she was allegedly sexually abused by Russell Simmons

AN ALARMINGLY high number of young women that I have supported through my work have already experienced domestic violence by the time they turn 21. They often confess that this is something unknown to their loved ones, as it is easier to disclose to a stranger, for fear of judgement and consequences that may be faced by their abusers.

One may wonder how women instinctively take accountability for the actions of others, even when they have suffered abuse, heartbreak or humiliation. “Loving boys and raising girls” could be a starting point for finding the answer to this question. At the recent Obama Foundation Summit, Michelle Obama said that “girls are raised to be strong, meanwhile we don’t want to hurt men…so we protect them a little too much and they feel a little entitled and self-righteous” as a result.

This may resonate with the behaviours of men who treat women’s bodies as an entitlement of theirs and see no wrong in doing so. The young women that I worked with prioritised protecting their abusers from the harsh consequences of telling family or friends, so they dealt with the emotional, physical and mental affects of assault themselves.

However, “dealing with it” rarely consisted of more than temporarily breaking up and bottling up their emotions. The bottling up often led to a “snap” and in one extreme case, one of the young women ended up in jail for attacking her abuser. Conversely, some of the young women normalised the abuse as a defence mechanism to prevent it from taking a toll on their mental health.

I often suppressed my anguish as I looked on in awe at these strong women who bore the weight of the world on their shoulders with a brave face to mask their pain. I wondered how their abusers could live with no sense of wrongdoing, shame or guilt. In fact, the common narrative was that she forced his hand. My bemusement was eventually answered by first-hand experience. I was celibate for 5 ½ years, which ended when I got into the most toxic relationship of my life.

I had only been dating the man in question for a week or two when he invited me to a wedding and caught me off guard when he tried to have sex with me afterwards. I refused and told him about my celibacy. Like the men before him, he disregarded this information as a ploy to make myself look innocent and speed up the relationship stage.

He asked why I was punishing him and got so frustrated that he slapped me in my face. I slapped him back then he slapped me again and started laughing to lighten the mood and jokingly told me to calm down as I tried to launch an attack. He was on top of me the entire time, so he pinned me down until I calmed down.

He then pulled his genitals out and didn’t fully penetrate but forced himself on me so he could ejaculate. I didn’t know if it was rape and still don’t because he hadn’t fully penetrated, so even as I’m writing this I don’t know if I’m being "dramatic". But I know that I struggled and he told me to “just let [him] come”, so I eventually gave up and lay there until he came then got up and left.

After that I buried the situation and convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal. However, I know that the way I felt and still feel from that particular situation is not normal. It is difficult to date as a young celibate woman because the persistence of men can convince you that you are guilty of teasing them and as such, you owe them some form of pleasure for the desperate situation that they’ve ended up in, as a result of their own actions.

SPEAKING OUT: Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement

I convinced myself that my ex-partner was just being a man and after a few months, I even ended up having consensual sex with him because I felt like I had already lost what was sacred about my celibacy because of the actions of that night. Later down the line, I realised that it was wrong and I do not owe my body to anyone, but I was overwhelmed with shame for letting myself and everyone else down.

People treated me with so much love and respect, but my poor choices in men showed me that I did not have that love and respect for myself. So I told no one, until a month ago when I revealed this information to one person. Prior to this, I thought that I could forget about it by acting like it did not happen, but two years later it still haunts me, especially because I know he will never see the wrong in what happened that night, if he even remembers it.

I am mad at what happened. I am mad that I took him back. I am mad that I never held him accountable because I thought, “boys will be boys” in the words of Melania Trump, wife of the world’s most powerful sexual predator.

Fortunately, we are entering an era where those who mistreat other people’s bodies are being held accountable for doing so. In fact, it was a letter from Jenny Lumet which encouraged me to finally write this piece, in the hopes of sharing two messages:

Pay attention to her words, not just her body

The usual physical indicators that someone is sexually aroused don’t equate to consent. I recently had a conversation with two male friends who spoke of girls “acting like they don’t want it” while sleeping in their beds. I advised them that she could want some affection, maybe even a little foreplay, or her body could simply be reacting to their pleasurable acts, but none of this means that she wants to have sex.

They laughed this off and told me that they “know girls”. I could see that they had no intention of wrongdoing, and of course, some women enjoy a little teasing sometimes, but it is pivotal to ask her what she wants and listen to her response, however frustrating it may be.

Pay attention to his actions, not his words

Persistence can be a form of abuse. If someone has created a situation where they’re aroused, it does not make you a ‘tease’ to back out if you do not want to have sex. You do not owe them any form of pleasure just because they’ve pleased you or because you’re in a relationship, or because you like each other. That temporary pleasure can be met with a lifetime of regret - trust me.

Earlier this year, the government announced that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) will be made compulsory in all schools across England. This is a necessary move because sex is increasingly normalised amongst younger generations. However, the ongoing #MeToo campaign is testament to the fact that younger and older generations alike are in need of some lessons in communication and accountability.

The first lesson to learn is that, regardless of the “signs”, no one owes their body to anyone and no one is entitled to another person’s body. The second is that boys will be men and they should be held accountable as such.

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