Sexual Abuse Education Pitfalls

Sexual Abuse Education Pitfalls

The misconceptions that lessen the effectiveness of sexual abuse education.

Each week in one of my classes, we read a piece and write a reflection on it. We then discuss the piece in class. This week’s assignment was based off of a piece that touched on the topics of sexual assault and education regarding sex and sexual abuse. This is a topic that I was exposed to a lot throughout high school because my school offered a course regarding healthy relationships and during my senior year, a two day seminar about these topics and self defense was introduced. These are great ways to attempt to halt the problem; however, these programs are often shaped by misconceptions about the topics. Here are some common misconceptions that weaken the effectiveness of this type of education.

The seminar introduced by my high school was offered to the senior girls of the school. This program was helpful in exposing facts to us, while also preparing us with strategies in case something was to transpire on our college campuses the following fall. We touched on date rape drugs, rape, sexual assault, self defense and many other pertinent topics. In my opinion, this was essential before heading off to college and leaving our small town and safety net. There was one problem with the program and that was that it was not offered to males. This caused uproar amongst the senior class. It took a lot of effort to get this program allowed for females, but that is no excuse. Females statistically are more susceptible to this abuse; however, men also fall victim to the abuse. Approximately 1/10 women have been raped by an intimate partner; however, only 1/45 men have been raped by an intimate partner. By not including men in these conversations, it does not provide them with information they may need. It also emphasizes to women that men are always the offender.

When the idea of rape or sexual assault comes to mind, the idea of a man abusing a woman generally arises. When people hear the word "rape," they assume the perpetrator was a male. This idea is supported by the fact that many facilities only choose to educate women on the topic of sexual abuse. This creates the idea that only women fall victim to it. What many do not talk about is the fact that the abuser can be male or female, and can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

During the two day seminar, I overheard another female student whisper to her friend, “We wouldn’t need to be here if they would just teach the boys to treat girls right." Why don’t we teach everyone to treat each other with respect, rather than targeting one specific group? Although it is less frequent, females also are the abusers in relationships. This does not necessarily mean toward men, because it could be a female abusing another female. By engraving the image of the male as the offender, it creates a sense of fear associated toward men in certain situations.

Imagine this, a female is walking to her car around 9:00 p.m. Would she be more scared if she saw a male walking through the lot or another female? Chances are for a brief instant, some fear or second guessing would cross her mind at the site of being alone with an unknown male in a dark parking lot. That perception is completely inaccurate because not all men are offenders.

Many of these classes place a focus on women defending themselves from males and this places a negative stigma around the male gender. Do not get me wrong, it is important to learn self defense and be educated on this subject; however, there needs to be an emphasis on the fact that it is not just the men who are the perpetrators and men need to have equal access to these classes.

During our classroom discussion, the professor proposed the idea that a man would not be as scared walking through a parking lot alone, at night, and coming across a woman walking to her car as well. His reasoning was because the sex offender stigma applied to men is not applied to women. One male student proceeded to add to this portion of the conversation that men would not be scared because they were "tough." Mental strength has absolutely nothing to do with this. Anyone can fall victim to abuse. By making this statement, this student was unintentionally calling women weak. The stereotype is that men are not victims because they are bigger and stronger than women. This is incorrect. Many men that do fall victim to sexual abuse do not report it in fear that they will be labeled as weak. Anyone can be a victim and strength does not affect that. If you are abused, it does not mean you are any less than someone who has not been abused.

When we discussed the topic of sexual assault in class after reading the piece, we only touched on the stereotypical idea that sexual assault is a man assaulting a woman. We went in depth about the idea of fear and mistrust among women toward men. After talking about the reading and we determined that this idea of a woman needing to protect herself from men is rooted in how we were raised. Growing up, parents protect their young girls from boys. When choosing a babysitter, parents are more inclined to hire a female babysitter for their daughter over a male because of the idea that men are statistically more likely to be a sex offender.

Females are raised to believe that men are more inclined to hurt them and this idea is strengthened through the emphasis on males being the main perpetrators in sexual abuse. If education regarding the topics of sexual assault, rape, and healthy relationships revealed the fact that men are not the only offenders, and females are not the only victims, people would have a better grasp on the subject. With a wider viewpoint on the topic, the male gender as a whole would not be blamed for the entire problem of sexual abuse. People would realize that anyone can fall victim to this abuse and the perpetrator can be any gender.

Cover Image Credit: U.S Navy

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