Innocence Lost: Sexual Abuse, Gender, and Perception
Innocence Lost: Sexual Abuse, Gender, and Perception

I’m not sure our Nation’s confusion concerning sexuality was ever more glaring than recently when two female teachers from Louisiana were accused of having and recording group sex with an underage male student.

When I read the headline, I immediately thought of two women in positions of power misleading and taking advantage of a young man under their tutelage. Apparently though, some men saw this abuse of power in a completely different light.

Several times in my newsfeed I saw men joking how they wished teachers had acted like that when they were in school. I hate to bust your bubble, fellas, but teachers did act like that. While it’s not unheard of for female teachers to abuse students in this manner, it’s just more frequent that the abuser is male.

So I asked a few men if this headline would have been okay if these teachers would have been male and the student female?  “Of course not,” men reacted. “Grown men shouldn’t take a girls innocence!” was the overwhelming opinion of most men.  The young man involved was only 16, one year below the legal age of consent, and  according to the FBI definition, this sexual act is actually rape. He told authorities he consented, and men with whom I spoke also mentioned that they believed 16 was plenty old enough for a boy to consent, but a girl would have to be slutty to consent at that age.

Rape (except Statutory Rape) The carnal knowledge of a person, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her age or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity

This confused standard raised a few questions for me.

How is it that men believe boys are more than ready for promiscuity and consent at 16, but girls of the same age and ability to consent are sluts? Why is it the taking of innocence if the situation involves male adults and female students, but sexual conquest if the adults are female? Are boys not allowed to be innocent? Do we believe the FBI should create different definitions for rape based on gender? Do we not believe the FBI definition that say a person has been raped when they are “incapable of giving consent because of his/her age“?

Thinking about these questions, I remember hearing and reading about men who have recounted their childhood sexual abuse. Most of these men felt trapped in a paradox. On one hand their innocence was stolen from them, but on the other hand men are supposed to have as many sexual encounters as possible to solidify their masculinity, so they felt even more embarrassed for reporting abuse.  Of course, this applies only to straight men who were sexually abused by women. Men who were molested by other men add another layer of psychological damage because of the stigma of being called gay. The victim blaming of women assault victims is then applied to men, saying “they asked for it” because they “must be gay” or they wouldn’t have let this happen. Nonetheless, all men, even those molested by other males, in some way articulated a loss of innocence.

Men struggle with being able to admit victimization when sexually assaulted because as far as society is concerned admission to victimization, especially sexual victimization, is weakness. Therefore, as far as I can tell, for men reading about these two women having inappropriate sexual contact with this young man, the entire scenario wouldn’t be a moment of embarrassment and victimization because it would create a marker of manhood in a young man’s life. If he were to admit he had been victimized, many men would call his sexual orientation and manhood into question.

Conversely, women are shunned for sexual conquest because we are still only allowed to be either virgins, mothers, or whores. For women, virginity is a valuable asset, even having real economic value in some cultures. In the eyes of society, men are still the gatekeepers of women’s sexuality, and therefore a girl couldn’t possibly give consent unless approved by a man.  No one can imagine that a teenage girl would ever consent to sex with an older man unless of course, she was already promiscuous. Creepy old guys take the coveted virginity of a girl, while a boy having sex with two older women is a man. Girls aren’t trusted with the power of their own sexuality, but boys are expected to own that power even when they might be weak.

Our society has also created and perpetuated an atmosphere of distinct labels for men.  Men are either sexual conquerors, effeminate homosexuals, or pussy-whipped by women. Possibly the only time in the life of a male when other men tell him it’s okay not to be sexual is when he is too young to know what sex is. I can’t even give an approximate boundary for when boys are exempt, because I’ve heard stories from men who have said they lost their virginity as young as 9. As a woman, I hear that and cringe, because in the world of females, sex at 9 is considered child molestation, but apparently, some men think anytime a boy has a sexual encounter with a female he’s a hero. The fact that men and boys are raped and molested is almost swept under the rug.

As a mother of sons, I was mortified that these two women—educators, would be so brazen as to videotape their sexual relations with this young man. They were proud of the moment they took advantage of his natural sexual curiosity.

I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked. There have been teachers, both male and female, who have been behaving this way since I was a kid, and truth be known, it’s gone on far before that. Sexual desire is part of human nature. However, most of us know not to cross certain boundaries that once crossed, cause psychological and emotional damage to those too young to have a voice—even if they’re only a year from being able to legally consent. Unfortunately, some don’t, and that is criminal.

Society’s unwillingness to let men and boys be innocent is deeply disturbing. Just like women shouldn’t have to be either the virgin or whore, men shouldn’t have to be macho or emasculated.  As much as we don’t like to say it, men can be hurt by sex, too, especially when it is sex at the hands of someone in a position of power. In fact, I’m left to wonder if this young man would ever feel comfortable admitting this might not have been what he wanted for fear of shame and judgment?

Whether or not he truly consented, and why, are questions that might never be answered. What I do know is that while the women are being prosecuted, some men are looking at this situation as a dream sequence they wish they’d lived, and that to me is the most disturbing of all.

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