Debunking myths about statutory rape, race and class: Part 2 of 3

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Continued from Part 1

“But girls lie about their age to date older guys, right?”

I am aware that some girls do lie about their age to date older guys.

When I was twelve, my best friend at the time had met a guy and lied to him about her age. She told him she was sixteen and she did have the body to back it up. The guy sleeping with her accidentally would make complete sense – except for the fact that guy was twenty-five. He eventually slept with her, taking her virginity, even after he figured out how old we were. After all, it’s kind of a dead giveaway if you’re picking your girlfriend up at a middle school.

They stayed together for a few months. She eventually tried to set me up with his twenty year old brother.

Now, in the comments on the feminist sites, I noticed that a few people argued that teenagers should not be in adult places. They mention fake IDs and older ways of dressing that allowed them to gain access into clubs and go home with college guys.

The first friend I referenced, dating the twenty five year old? She met him at a local park. You know, a park with swings and a seesaw and a merry-go-round? Yeah, that one. That park also had a basketball court where guys our age and older would go to play basketball.

I had another friend. We met in eighth grade, she was thirteen and I was twelve. My friend shocked me one day after a guy (man really) walked past us and she broke down into a sobbing heap where we stood. She confided in me that when she was eleven she had a child, but her mother had forced her to put the child up for adoption. The baby’s father was the guy who had non-chalantly passed her by on the street.

Later, I found out that she was at school when she met her future abuser/baby daddy. He was aware she was about eleven – what other age group is enrolled in Middle School? At the time, this guy was about nineteen. He strung her along in this grand relationship fantasy, helping her to cut school as they drove around and had sex in the back of his car. When she got pregnant with his child, he dropped her. However, living in the same area means she would run into him about once a month, normally leading to an outburst of tears or screaming fits on her end and cool indifference (with the occassional “you were just a slut anyway”) from him.

Some of the comments at Feministe and Feministing assume that stautory rape is a one time “oh, I met this girl at the club and slept with her – I didn’t know she was fourteen!” These were ongoing relationships.

Any male with basic logic and reasoning skills will be able to pick up on the fact that they are dating a teenager. School books, curfews, teen conversations – it isn’t hard to tell. What I have more of a problem with is the men who know and do not care that the girl is underaged. In my experience, this tends to happen a little more to young women of color than it does to young white girls. Most of my Asian and Latina friends at that age also have stories of being harassed by men who were significantly older. But more on that a bit later.

“Have you seen young girls these days after they hit puberty? No one would be able to tell that they were they age!”

Emma Rose (commenting on Feministe) adds her perspective to the discussion, noting:

God, I was totally one of these girls with big tits pretty young, pretty precocious, and I got a lot of attention from older men. Interestingly, I still have the same breasts and get LESS attention from men. Which leads me to think that it’s not that men who prey on young girls are unable to judge ages, but they they are actively interested in adolescent women BECAUSE they have fewer social skills and less personal power (some girls, anyway). I know I didn’t have the social skills or boundaries to get men away from me when I was in middle school or early high school. As soon as I gained those skills, they stopped sniffing around.

Emily Rose nails one main component of this type of harassment. The fact of the matter is while we would like to think that men are only attracted to teenage girls because they don’t know better, the reality is that the men who are willing to court someone drastically younger than they are is because that’s what they want. Some people say it is because they can’t deal with the requirements of adult relationships. Others will say it’s because young girls are dumb in the ways of the world and end up being easy pussy.

Either way, adult sexuality is not something for a child to handle.

Feministe Commenter kmach also notes:

And, sorry, Sara Cole, it’s not the same as saying that men can’t be held accountable for their behavior. They certainly can. It’s just that men who are drawn to jailbait obviously don’t care to control their behavior. Everyone knows that there are statutory rape laws. The ads are preaching to an audience that couldn’t give a fuck about the message. You’d really need to have a combination of particular circumstances – a girl lying about her age, meeting a guy who doesn’t know anything about her, the girl being up for some anonymous sex with a stranger, and the guy being so clueless that he can’t catch obvious cues in mannerisms, speech, and physical attributes – for some innocent adult to accidentally have sex with a girl under the age of consent. Sure, that can and does happen, but it’s not usually what happens, is it? Mostly the girls are in “relationships” – the guy knows full well that she’s in junior high or early high school. And is just fine with it.

Maybe the ad is aimed at the hypothetical innocent guy, telling them to check a girl’s i.d. before sex. Doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems more like: “Hey, have a heart. You shouldn’t be cruising after underage girls. It’s just wrong.” Yeah, that’ll really make someone stop and think.

For the record, I really don’t have a problem with breaking the consent laws in circumstances where the parties are close in age. I had a co-worker who is under the age of consent by a year who was sexually active with her college age boyfriend. But there’s a two and half year age difference between them – they’re basically on the same page emotionally and mentally. If he was twenty-five, or thirty, then I’d be worried for her.

People in general associate statutory rape with the handful of split decision cases that make it into the media. They wring their hands about the Glenarlow Wilsons of the world, reflect on their teenage years, and talk about how unfair the laws are. After all, it’s just two years! What goes unnoticed are the thousand of cases that are happening right now – and will most likely go unreported to the police, never making it onto a police blotter or into the hands of a reporter. I can tell you for a fact, none of my friends involved with the older men ever told their parents about the situation; much less the police. If the guy turned abusive, you had to get out of the situation by yourself. After all, even if you did go to the police, who would they believe – a twelve year old kid or a grown man acting like he would never even think of touching an underaged girl?

I have to admit, it does scare me a little to see so many people – on feminist blogs, mind you – to discount the day to day reality of a lot of young women.

But they aren’t the only ones.

“Girls dress like sluts anyway – they deserve what they get.”

This ad was originally spotted on the copyranter blog. One of the comments there was priceless:

TexanInHippieland said…
I’ve read all the comments.

All valid.

Obviously the creators of the ad had good intentions. But I drop my daughter off at high school every day and too many of these 16 year old girls dress like sluts. My daughter tells me that, in fact, they ARE sluts. So maybe the ads should say something like…

IF YOU ALLOW YOUR DAUGHTER TO DRESS LIKE THIS TO ATTRACT OLDER GUYS FOR SEX, IT’S WRONG.

I’m just sayin.

Thank goodness for Yolanda (at least, I think this is Yolanda):

ycarrington said…
Texan—regardless of how underage girls dress or whether they’re “sluts” or not, they don’t deserve harassment and sexual assault from grown men. Rape is violence and it’s wrong, period, end of story. Why is that so difficult to understand?

In fact, I’d say that the attitude reflected in your comment glaringly demonstrates the need for awareness campaigns like this.

Exactly. Generally, people joke about the teenage years as years of fashion faux pas. You are trying very hard to fit in, so you wear things that are ill-advised, looking back. This process is more difficult when you are a teenager with a more developed body than your peers. You and your friends all go to the same cheap ass stores, with the same cheap ass fabric, and by the same cheap ass shirts and skirts and dresses – but girls are growing into their bodies.

When I was younger, I did not want to be labelled a slut – though black girls are more likely to be sexualized anyway – so I made sure I “wore the right things.”

I can remember an outfit I picked out and was excited about wearing to my first day of high school. I had paired a long sleeved black shirt with a red velvet skirt (what? I told you, I was young!) and mary jane style flats. I did my own internal slut check in the mirror – after all, I saw how “those girls” acted and the kind of guys they hung out with and didn’t want to convey that image. Outfit looked good to me – high necked, long sleeved, knee length skirt. I was ready to go!

My mom came into the room and flipped the hell out. She not only made me change, but she took the skirt and hid it somewhere.

It took me a few years to realize that while I had “followed the rules” the body I had was actually quite enhanced by a clingy red velvet skirt. So, even though I had purchased a similar skirt as one of my friends (who got to wear hers to school) and we were about the same size, her square shape and my hourglass shape gave off two completely different signals. Thinking back, I am sure there were some girls who were similarly oblivious – or just trying to copy the fashion sense of a smaller friend.

While my general high school uniform were wide leg jeans and a tee shirt, I was still harassed by older men almost every single day. Guess what? It doesn’t matter what you wear. It doesn’t matter how you look. It’s kind of like that feminist mantra: what you wear does not get you raped; being in the presence of a rapist is what gets you raped. For young girls in the sights of a potential statutory rapist, it doesn’t matter what you say or what you wear, or what you do – he chose you.

And now you have to deal with it.