Latoya Peterson has a harrowing account of her first (and one hopes only) first-hand experience with sexual assault as well as her second-hand experiences with older boys (and men) sleeping with much-younger girls.
I'm not going to try to do justice to Latoya's account of her experience of being sexually assaulted by a much-older friend-of-a-friend who (not very much) later gang-raped another girl about her age. Go, read it. Then come back.
Latoya's piece stands as an interesting counterpoint to my contention that statutory rape laws, which criminalize consensual sexual behavior when one participant (usually the woman) is deemed too young to know better, are more or less part of the culture that fetishizes virginity and seeks to "protect" women from their own desires. She makes an interesting, albeit anecdotal, case that many women are coerced physically and/or emotionally into sex with older men that ought to not be attracted to such younger women (or only are because of the coercive nature of the relationship). Those men are — obviously — gross, but is having sex with an emotionally ill-prepared girl (or woman) cause for criminal complaint? Or jail time? I remain unconvinced, though far more grossed out and offended by the men that do it than I was before I read Latoya's piece.
But where Latoya comes down is that we need to equip ourselves, and our younger sisters, friends and daughters, with tools like self-respect and the ability (and willingness) to say no — and our friends, brothers, and sons with more respect for themselves and for the women in their world.
With the proper tools, we equip our girls to speak of their truth and to end the silence that is complicit in rape culture.
Teenaged girls need to know that dating an older man will not make them cooler, and that older man cannot rescue them from their parents. Teenaged boys should be able to help as well, trying to keep their friends away from predators. (My male friends did this for me a few times if they were around, coming to my aid of some guy started acting up. For some reason, the simple presence of another man is enough to make these kind of men leave.) Adult men should be cautioned about the effects of the actions and how most of these girls are not of the age of consent. And parents should be made aware that their children are being targeted by predatory men and that they should stay vigilant.
Adults, particularly older women, should take an active interest in the young girls they know.
Cops and prosecutors can be great, when they choose to be (if they choose to be), but we can't prosecute emotional coercion and adolescent sexuality out of existence. In fact, prosecution (as the too-full prisons in this country prove) rarely acts as a deterrent to aberrant or criminal behavior and, as the recidivism rate shows, doesn't do a great deal to stop criminals from re-offending. It's just slapping a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed rather than trying to stop the person wielding the machete. Self-esteem, self-respect and healthy sexuality start in your head, and at home, for both men and woman, or they first go awry there. We need to start speaking out and helping out, rather than relying on our rather broken criminal justice center to do it for us.
The Not Rape Epidemic [Racialicious]