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Are boys solely to blame for school ‘rape culture? It takes two to tango!


THERE’S a problem with teenage boys and sex. That’s news apparently. Now they’re being accused of participating in a ‘rape culture’, to which their schools turn a blind eye. The allegations first surfaced in relation to elite independent schools but it’s been discovered that there might not be the healthiest of cultures around sex in other schools as well. Again, this is news?

Ava Vakil, a 19-year-old former pupil of Wimbledon High School, posted an open letter to the headmaster of nearby King’s College School, complaining of its ‘rape culture’. She included anonymous testimonies gathered from current and former pupils of local schools, accusing boys of threatening rape, circulating nude photos of girls, and violent and drunken sexual assaults. ‘This is a culture problem,’ she said. ‘The attitude of entitlement and that lack of respect for women shows itself in a lot of different forms.’

I can certainly believe teenagers today are having some issues in terms of sexual relationships. You only have to look at the TV shows about at them, Skins and Sex Education to name two of the most egregious examples. They show a debased culture of everyone, pupils and teachers, having sex with everyone else, and they don’t stop short of graphically portraying the teenagers (children, let’s remember) having sex.

If only we made some effort to educate our children about sex. Wait a minute – we do. For decades we have pushed ‘sex positive’ sex education in schools, encouraging children to see sex as something not to have ‘hang-ups’ or be embarrassed about, to see as primarily about pleasure, to just get on with and not worry about (‘safely’,of course). Suddenly we’re surprised to find teenagers are just getting on with it and not worrying about it. Where did they get that idea from?

The fact that the law is actually extremely strict around youthful sex and that getting it wrong can land you with serious criminal convictions is barely mentioned. But don’t worry about it, just get on with it. Relax.

So, sex positive sex-ed, how’s that working out? Thousands of complaints about ‘rape culture’. Not exactly a success story then, huh? What’s that you say – it just shows we need more of it, but with consent classes too? Of course it does.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, is encouraging parents to turn in their own children if they become aware they have committed a sexual assault.

He said: ‘I think there is a real issue for society, I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind about that whatsoever and there is a real issue I believe in what children now see and view as healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships and what is permissible and what is acceptable. And unfortunately I think the ready and easy access to pornography is a driver to that, the sexualisation of women is a driver to that and unfortunately a culture has grown over recent years whereby in the minds of some people it is acceptable to treat young women in particular in a manner we are now seeing.’

The sexualisation of women. What a strange phrase. I hardly think men needed to wait for the smartphone to be invented to ‘sexualise’ women. Mr Bailey may be interested to discover that men will naturally ‘sexualise’ women all by themselves. I know: shocking. What does the phrase ‘sexualisation of women’ mean anyway? Think sexually about? Desire sexually? Is there something wrong with that? Do women not ‘sexualise’ men? It’s similar to the odd complaints about men ‘objectifying’ women, as though women are not supposed to be (or wish not to be) the object of men’s sexual interest.

I don’t doubt that an unhealthy trend has developed among teenagers, no less than in wider society, of passing round naked photos – one of the smartphone’s gifts to humanity. But as this mother said, let’s not just focus on the boys’ part in this, culpable though it is. Who takes the photographs in the first place and sends them? You can bet that many (I’d wager most) will be selfies, just as many celebs these days post naked photos of themselves on the internet. Any girl under 18 who takes a naked photo of herself and sends it to someone is making and distributing child pornography. Should parents report that as well to the police, Mr Bailey?

And no, the girls were not ‘made’ to do it. No one held them at knifepoint. Girls have agency in this, too.

Neither do I doubt teenage boys are being clumsy and sometimes even violent with girls. Teenagers have drunken parties and do irresponsible teenage things. We need to find effective ways of encouraging good and respectful behaviour (hint: it’s not through ever more graphic sex positive education). But let’s not pretend that only boys are involved here. It takes two to tango. Girls don’t have to attend these parties, they don’t have to have too much to drink or take their clothes off or whatever. The behaviour is normalised by everyone, not just the boys. No doubt a boy who commits a violent offence is guilty of a crime. But a culture among teenage boys and girls does not arise solely because of what the boys do.

The dance of the sexes is ever the same: girls use their looks and wiles to get the attention of boys and boys, often on the lookout, take the bait. It’s not fair to hold only the boys to blame just because their part in the dance is usually the active one. Everyone needs to take some responsibility for their role in what has come to be deemed normal and acceptable.

It’s a mess and I don’t doubt that something needs to be done. But these are children, raised by our culture and educated in our schools. We need to stop scapegoating our teenage boys, as though they’re not first and foremost children raised in the world we created.

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Jeffrey Williams
Jeffrey Williams
Jeffrey Williams (pseudonym) is a journalist and writer.

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