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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 women have 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. Michelle Obama explained at the 2017 Obama Foundation Summit 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.

I have worked with young women who instinctively protect their abusers from the harsh consequences of telling family or friends. They carry the burden of emotional, physical and mental abuse, for fear of common outcomes such as reprimand, shame and disbelief (how many times have we heard “if this as true, why didn’t she tell anyone?”)

The Surviving R. Kelly documentary has made the fear of sharing one’s abuse all the more valid. We see shift blame from parents and guardians, to fellow artists, to industries, to the black community. Fingers point in all directions for the actions of one person, making it even easier for victims to protect their abusers.

However, this bottling up of emotions has often led to a “snap” and in one extreme case, one of the young women that I worked with 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 – which aligns perfectly with Mrs Obama’s identification of entitlement and self-righteousness not only amongst men, but on their behalves. As such, men and boys have been awarded a right to ignorance, honing in on narratives such as “she wanted it”, “she was playing hard to get” or she “she made me do it”.

We as a community have a duty to ‘raise our boys and love our girls’ by teaching the new narrative of consent. As my contribution to this narrative, I make two recommendations:

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.

UK Government decided 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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