I’m going to ask a question that is often asked in regards to issues with youth: where are the parents? Of course, this question is always asked with very different meanings.
Just today, two sources have inspired me to ask this question. The first was this blog post by a feminist blogger I’ve been following on Twitter. It contains accounts of how she as well as some of her commenters have suffered sexual abuse in the past (unwanted activity ranging from touching of breasts, grinding, all the way up to full on rape), that which for varying reasons they did not even recognize as abuse right away. They still felt very violated, of course, but were pressured into keeping their mouths shut, that it wasn’t a big deal and they shouldn’t be making a big thing of it. Which served only to shame them more, causing them to remain quiet and more ashamed when abuses got more severe, even in cases of rape. And in most of these cases, they were around 14 years old, give or take a couple years.
Very saddened by these horrible stories, I asked myself why they didn’t realize what was happening was truly wrong, that they had every right and reason to feel violated and expect the perpetrator to be punished for treating them inappropriately. Of course, this question was answered right there in that entry, as well as several others this blogger has written on the subject. The victims felt immobilized because of shame, as mentioned already, as well as fear that if they made it known they felt abused they would be subject to worse abuse. So we’re left with them having to suffer in silence.
I was trying to figure out how to frame this issue properly on here, when my supervisor came by (yeah, I’m blogging from work, I’m terrible!) and I asked her how her Easter was. She then told me it was fine until yesterday afternoon, her 10-year-old son was playing in the backyard, throwing a ball around, when the ball accidentally hit a 13-year-old neighbor boy who was walking by. So the rather large 13-year-old went over to my supervisor’s son (who’s rather small), picked him up, and threw him on the ground. So this little boy, now very physically jostled and hurt, had to spend the rest of his Easter in the emergency room to make sure he didn’t have a concussion, and spending the rest of the day and all night vomiting. Not to mention the mental anguish and fear after such an incident. I know all about it since a very similar thing happened to me in 8th grade. And sure enough, after that incident, I felt ashamed and terrified and somehow responsible. I’m sure my supervisor’s son is feeling about the same way.
Then I wonder how these people, whether this mean 13-year-old neighbor or my classmate or the boyfriends of the aforementioned sexual assault victims, can actually justify in their minds what they did. What made this mean neighbor think it was okay to manhandle this little boy, causing him to suffer physically and emotionally? What made my classmate think it was okay to assault me, causing my consequential trauma? What made the boyfriends of these girls think it was okay to have sex with them while they were barely conscious and resisting (a practice we know by its more accurate name: RAPE)? Was the accidental ball throwing actually reason enough? Was my being small and easily picked on reason enough? Did these boyfriends (trying to figure out rapists makes me ill) seriously think they had unlimited rights to their girlfriends’ bodies and that their objections were to be ignored?
This is about the point some of you may be wondering what this has to do with youth rights. Well, it has everything to do with it. The perpetrators are somehow getting it into their heads that it’s okay to cause pain and suffering to a weaker (or perceived weaker) being. The victims are somehow getting it into their heads that they deserved what was done to them, that they have no right to complain, that their abusers actually love them and they should be appreciative. These aren’t things learned from video games or TV shows. These are things learned from the influences and treatment right at home from dear old mom and dad.
This is how so many sons learn to prey on the weak, how so many daughters learn to take what’s coming to them and never complain. There are many factors. For one, how many kids are still subject to the cruelty of corporal punishment at home, even older kids, even for extremely minor offenses? FAR TOO MANY. This practice involves parents sending some dangerous messages to their children: 1) “Your body belongs to me, a bigger, stronger being, and I can do as I wish to it”, 2) “It is acceptable and encouraged to beat on someone much smaller and weaker if they do something you don’t like, but if the smaller, weaker person were to retaliate in any way or complain, then they are bad and ought to be subject to more beatings”, and 3) “Those who are larger and beat on you are doing it out of love!”. Looking at this issue alone, how could one think anything else except that we are grooming children to be abusers and victims? But it goes on.
If any of these “disciplined” kids were to be brave enough to recognize they are not being treated right by the people who are supposed to love them the most and be the most trustworthy… well, there isn’t much they can do about it, give or take some things depending on age, actual situation, and location. Many find the idea of being shoved off to a mysterious foster home to be a much more terrifying option than staying with abusive parents, even if the case were considered severe enough by Child Protective Services for a foster home to even be an issue. Many abusive parents are skilled at hiding their habits from CPS if their son or daughter were to report them, only for the kid to suffer more for having sought help in the first place. Sometimes the abuse isn’t even just physical, though, and is often verbal, which CPS definitely isn’t that concerned about.
And of course, let’s not forget the strong encouragement parents always get to search their children’s rooms and backpacks, and to read their emails and monitor all online activity and conversations. You know, just pretend you’re searching for drugs or something.
There is a girl who used to post on our forums who has suffered for years at the hands of a physically and verbally abusive father. This has left her with some severe emotional issues, and she acts out by seeking older sexual partners, many of whom have sexually assaulted her (and, of course, she didn’t actually recognize it as such, usually accompanying her account with some excuse for it having happened and having been her fault). This girl lives in a constant whirlwind of pain and shame, but for what? Because some man just would not give his daughter the love and respect she needed, but instead constantly violated her. And, having been under 18, she was unable to get away from him. And if any of us, having heard her story, had had enough and took a little road trip to her home, picked her up, and brought her to stay safely with us for a little while, then WE would be the horrible kidnappers in the eyes of society and thus imprisoned, and the disgusting excuse for a father would be considered the innocent victim whose little girl was stolen from him. His abuse would go completely unnoticed.
After all, abuse committed against teens is rarely taken seriously. That’s a big reason the behavior modification industry is still around, because it is always assumed that no matter how atrocious teens are treated in these facilities, they had to have done something bad to get there in the first place (often not the case, of course, unless being gay counts as bad). And if teens are having terrible home lives, it must be because they are misbehaving. If they are being excessively bullied at school, well it doesn’t matter since they’ll graduate eventually. They shouldn’t seek an alternative education that doesn’t subject them to bullying but rather stay in high school because that’s the normal thing to do. Teens being able to get away from their abusers, whether at home or school, is just something people tend to not want to allow. There was even an episode of House this past season where a 16-year-old girl said her father raped her, but the main characters didn’t seem to really care that it happened (they later found it didn’t, but the point is, at the time they thought it did), they acted like she was making a big deal out of nothing. That’s pretty horrible, and what’s more horrible is that it is common (the practice and the attitude). All it does is justify the abusers, eliminating whatever tiny bit of conscience they may have had that what they were doing was wrong, by further painting the victims as undesirable and deserving of poor treatment, thus allowing the abuse to continue.
So what happens to the victims? It varies, often by gender. Girls, having not been properly taught to recognize abuse, may just continue to be victims of it from other people in their lives. They learned from their abusive parents that abuse is love, so that is what they would stay with. They don’t really expect that non-abusive relationships exist. And the boys become the bullies. They were never properly taught that it is wrong to harm others, and being left so powerless due to being victims of abuse from their parents, they try to regain power by victimizing those smaller and weaker, as their parents are through their actions teaching them is the correct way to be. So they go on to beat up small 10-year-old boys or, more horrifically, rape their sleeping girlfriends, because they don’t really think it’s wrong since, after all, that little boy shouldn’t have been playing with a ball in his backyard or the girl shouldn’t be sleeping near him.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at ALL excusing the perpetrators for the horrible things they’ve done, regardless of what their home lives were like. They were still very much in control of their own actions and still chose to do these things of their own free will. I’m also not saying girls who have been victims of abuse necessarily had abusive parents.
But the subconscious factors in how we view the world can play a subtle significant role, and this is formed by what we learn early in life from the people who influence us the most: parents. While having abusive parents is not a guarantee of producing an abuser son or abused (by someone else) daughter, and not having abusive parents is not a guarantee of a non-abuser son and non-abused daughter, it still helps a LOT either way if parents would respect their children as people and not their property, to whom they give love and respect, to whom they teach and influence by example the values of respecting others.
Sad thing is, so many parents refuse to follow this, and the cycle of abuse continues, and society continues to not take this abuse seriously, passing it off as spoiled children being whiny about their deserved punishments, or later as “typical” teenager issues that are unimportant and nobody wants to hear about. After all, parents would never harm their children and always know what’s best, right?
Even within the youth rights movement, the issue of abuse is one people are afraid to touch!
So what should be done? How can it be ensured that families are non-abusive without prying into privacy? How can it be made known to even the youngest children that abuse is never okay? How can it be widely taught that there are standards to how you should treat your children, that they are deserving of respect just as much as anyone else and do not exist to live at the mercy of their elders?
I wish I had an answer to that.
This is easily the best thing that I have read in at least a month. You make your point in an extremely compelling way. SOMETHING needs to be done.
Ultimately, the dramatic power imbalance between adults (including and especially parents) and children needs to be mitigated as much as is possible (there will always be at least some power imbalance due to the difference in size and capability). But the question remains: how do we do this?
I think it can only be done very gradually. With the gradual implementation of legislative and social changes (a lower voting age, striking down of curfews, shutting down abusive behavior mod facilities, etc.), people will start to look on youth (at least teenagers) as human beings instead of sub-human things, aliens, creatures.
This can, over a period of time, trickle down to younger children, especially with the criminalization of child abuse at home (corporal punishment). What is ultimately needed is a radical cultural transformation to a culture that respects youth and children as independent human agents.