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

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Continued from Parts 1 and 2

“The only people trying to sleep with teenagers are lower class/ghetto/have that kind of culture.”

Now, back to the race and class part of this one. One or two comments I read were in this vein – that this kind of behavior was not okay, but understandable because these people were either low class, ghetto, or their culture permits it. I am projecting that these labels fit different groups of people – “low class” stands in for poor white; “ghetto” stands in for poor black; and discussions of culture normally stands in for Latino men.

Here are a few more stories and some back up information for the first ones I have you.

While I was in high school, I had two asian friends I was fairly close with. We would often end up hanging out after school at the mall with all the other teenagers our age. Occasionally, we would take the bus to the really nice mall in the upper class neighborhood, so we could be broke in style. It was there – in the affluent neighborhood – that my asian friends dealt with the worst of their harassment. I can remember that each friend, on different occassions, was approached by older white men in their thirities and forties and quizzed about their ethnic backgrounds, ages, and dating status. These men always seemed to slip cards into their hands, asking them to call them later. My friends smiled demurely, always waiting until the man had gone before throwing their number away.

The friend I mentioned who had the child at age eleven? She was white. The friend who met the twenty five year old at the park? She was black. A boyfriend I had around age fifteen was Dominican. We would often supervise his sisters (aged 10 and 11) at the playground and I recall two occasions where we had to chase older Latino men or older black men away from them.

Some of these men had money and the accompanying markers of class. Some of these men did not. While I did not have any real experiences with Asian men or Arabic men I am sure that some of my friends had those kind of situations go down as well. However, people try to use the “low class” defense to wash their hands of the situation, as if there is nothing they can do. It is as if they are saying “these people are savages – its to be expected.”

Which, obviously, is not the case. Men of all races on all ends of the economic spectrum have the potential to harass and sleep with teenagers. And a small number of men do.

Fixing the Problem

So, how do we fix this problem? I feel like it needs to be a multi-prong approach.

1. Awareness

Fix these kind of ads so that they target multiple people. Show real teenagers and the creepy eyes of the men who watch them at the bus stop or the mall. Design posters that target each group individually: teenaged girls, teenaged boys, adult men, and parents. 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.

2. Community Action

This one is difficult, as people are loathe to reprimand strangers, or even get involved in these types of situations. However, a little group policing is well within most people’s range. My ex-boyfriend had a friend who had been dating the same girl for about seven years. I found out the girl was eighteen at the time of their breakup. Eighteen minus seven equals what? The girl was eleven when they began dating while the man involved was nineteen. I expressed disgust, and my ex had told me that while everyone else in their friend circle had felt the same way, the girl’s parents were fine with it, even allowing the guy to spend the night at their home. “Besides,” my ex offered non chalantly, “she had the body of a grown woman at age eleven.”

My current boyfriend went to school in the south, and while he’s been back in DC for the last few years he still receives updates on people he knew at school. One guy he knew had served a few years in jail for involvement in an armed robbery. After he got out, he was locked back up within the span of a few months. Why? Statutory rape. This way past college aged man was caught sneaking out of the bedroom window of a sixteen year old he was sleeping with. I personally wonder how many of this guy’s friends knew about his little sixteen year old piece on the side, or noticed him leering at younger girls coming home from high school. There are signs. Watch for them in your friends.

3. Take an interest in the young girls you know.

My boyfriend has two younger sisters. One of them recently entered her teenage years. Her body started to develop and she has attracted more male attention. I notice small changes in her – how she looks at the floor a lot more than she used to, or how she seems uncomfortable going anywhere without a group of girlfriends. She still looks like an average teenager but she is often hesistant and uncomfortable, unless she is around her peers. However, I knew her before she developed so quickly. And I notice the change that a year (as well as taking the metro to and from school) starts. I’m fairly certain she’s trying to navigate the minefield of male attention she receives.

After all, I’ve walked that same field as well.

[No experience here with gay/lesbian dynamics, though from what I have observed it appears that a lot of my gay friends experimented sexually with much older members of the same sex before coming out. One of the commenters on Feministe referenced her own experiences with much older women, but did not want to label it statutory rape. Any thoughts on this?]