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Sexual Violence Continues to Permeate Teen Culture as Things Change but Stay the Same

Unfortunately, in this era of #metoo, with the spotlight focused on celebrities and high profile executives, workplace harassment and college campus rape, teen sexual assault, and dating violence remain hidden in the shadows. And, as we are seeing now, even many who claim to support adult survivors of abuse suffered as teens are quick to rationalize the behavior as simply an example of “boys will be boys.” They are all too willing to dismiss the abusive behavior as “youthful indiscretions” reflective of “a different time.”

Unfortunately, as three 15-year-old girls from Idaho wrote in an open letter on change.org to Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, being a teen in 2018 is not so different from being a teen in 1982. They identified with Ford and matter-of-factly observed that “being fifteen should never be traumatic.” “When you are fifteen,” they wrote, “you should be worried about physics classes, not whether or not you are going to be sexually assaulted.”

Unfortunately, startling statistics demonstrate that today’s teens are coming of age in a disturbingly hostile environment. For many, being 15 is traumatic and the fear of sexual assault is real. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of female rape victims were raped before they were 18. One in three adolescent girls is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Girls suffer sexual harassment and dating violence, including sexual assault, every day in our neighborhoods and in our schools. Girls who -- despite laws and school policies designed to protect them from just such harassment and violence – continue to be dismissed, marginalized, and ignored by the adults around them.

Unfortunately, the public debate over Ford’s veracity and the impact her allegations, if true, should have on Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice will never be resolved. Each has vehement supporters and detractors. Both will forever be identified with what has become yet another political spectacle. We cannot do much about that.

Fortunately – finally - we can do something. We owe it to the teenaged girls who wrote to Ford that they “feel connected to the 15-year-old girl still living inside of you, and are outraged by the 17-year-old boy still living inside of him.” We owe it to the teenaged boys who are inundated by sexually charged mixed messages in the media from advertising to music to movies. We owe it to ourselves as teenagers in the 70s and 80s to make 2018 truly a different time. It is time to expose the endemic gender-based discrimination that continues to allow systemic sexual harassment and sexual violence to permeate the teen culture.

It is time to take control of the messages we are sending to these teens. If we don’t, the same scenarios will continue to play out and 30 years from now another generation will be excusing “youthful indiscretions” and lamenting that “boys will be boys.” And, another generation will be wondering why the more things change the more they stay the same.

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