New Study Shows Teen Girls See Sexual Violence As Normal; Game of Thrones Shows Why [Spoiler Alert]

by Charlotte on April 22, 2014 · 21 comments

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Caption: She was on her own, so I made my move… and told the guys hassling her to back off. They were really crossing the line. (Taken from the ad campaign Make Your Move! in response to Missoula being named the “rape capital of the US”. It’s definitely an interesting twist, I think!)

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone,” said a 13-year-old girl as part of a new study examining why 60% of sexual violence incidents go unreported.

The answer turned out to be as simple and as disturbing as the 13-year-old’s statement: It’s because teen girls “regard sexual violence against them as normal,” the researchers reported.

Why would teen girls think violence against them was normal? The researchers found four trends among all the teens’ answers. First, the girls believed that men are unable to control themselves and so it’s the girl’s job to endure, ignore or deflect unwanted sexual advances. The girls also didn’t understand what sexual violence was, thinking it was only heterosexual forcible rape. In addition, they reported not trusting male authority figures and worried that other girls would label them a “whore” or “slut” if they made it into a big deal.

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Caption: He was acting all sweet, offering her a ride… but it just didn’t feel right. So my friends and I stepped in and got her out of the bar.

While this is sad it’s not exactly surprising, especially considering the way sexual violence is portrayed on TV – emphasis on the sexy. Consider the most recent episode of HBO’s juggernaut Game of Thrones where Jaime (spoiler alert) rapes his sister Cierse next to the corpse of their dead son. The fact that I don’t even watch this show (never have) and yet still know every detail shows how broadly the controversy has escalated. Apparently the scene hit a nerve not because of the incest, the crypt-sex, the inbred kid or even the rape itself but rather because they’d taken a sex scene that was consensual in the books (didn’t read those either) and made it rape in the show.

Even worse was director Alex Graves explanation of his decision to make the rape scene, saying, “It becomes consensual by the end because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” But there was nothing ambiguous about the scene. Cersei tries to fight off her brother and screams no all the way through it – so if Graves was attempting to show consensual sex then his skill as a director (and possibly a human being) is sorely lacking. But really I don’t care about Game of Thrones (sorry not sorry) nor some director’s artistic vision/attention grab. The real victims here aren’t fictional characters, they’re the very real teens who watch the show and come away thinking this is what romance looks like. If grown adults can’t even articulate what constitutes sexual violence, how do we expect teens to?

Betsy Crane, Ph.D., a human sexuality professor at Widener University, said in an interview I did with her for Shape on this subject that while many teens are missing formal sex ed, they are certainly getting a sexual education – from the media. “I see the primary problem affecting youth in our society as the duplicity around sex. They are inundated by media images of sex, many of which are of females in sexy poses and clothes, wanting or acting in ways that get male attention. All too many of these feature males treating females badly.”  She points out that even though teens see hundreds of these images every day, many adults still have a “no talk rule” around sex and kids are often discouraged from asking questions or commenting on the content of sexual images.

Crane says that in order to have an open, meaningful, honest conversation about sex with teens, adults first need to get over themselves. “With so many adults afraid to talk about sex, teens are left on their own to try to figure it out.” And, Crane points out, the study shows that what teen girls are “figuring out” is that it’s normal for girls to be abused by boys.

But what about the boys? The study didn’t look at teen boys’ attitudes towards sexual violence but this cultural attitude has to be seeping down to them as well – and I would say is ultimately as harmful to them as it is to girls. We’re doing all our kids a grave disservice by not teaching them that sexual assault is not sexy.

Past initiatives have focused on teaching teen girls about domestic violence in sex ed classes and showing them how to speak up for their wants and needs, but what may make the most difference, according to the researchers, is simply getting to girls (and I’d add boys) at a younger age. Parents and trusted authority figures have a responsibility to teach both girls and boys that sexual violence is not acceptable—before media and societal norms give the impression that it is.

So how young is that? I remember the first time one of my sons asked me what rape was after hearing the word used in a news report on NPR. But even more I remember the look of horror on his 9-year-old face when I explained to him – in very simple terms – what it was. At the time I was kicking myself for not paying more attention to the morning news while I cooked breakfast as certainly he was too young to think about this stuff but maybe he wasn’t. The experts said that it depends on each individual child but it’s better to have the discussion too early than too late. “When it comes to sexual assault, the sooner we empower young women and men with agency and information, the better.” Which is kind of a sucky way of saying “They’re going to see it sooner rather than later so you’d best prepare them for it.” 

What do you think – does this study surprise you or confirm what you already know? Do you watch GOT – what were your feelings about that episode? What do you think of this ad campaign – good way to talk about helping stop sexual violence or does it, as some suggest, infantilize women and make it look like we can’t take care of ourselves? 

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Caption: A girl that wasted is way easy to hook up with… so I made sure her friends got her out of there. She was in no shape to be going home with some guy. 

 

 

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Cannell April 22, 2014 at 11:53 pm

I have an 8 year old boy, and I’m going to be going over the concept of sex with him this summer, before too many of his older friends tell him their versions. Thank you for posting about this as well, because the subject of violence is just as necessary to discuss. I must say, these discussions are the first time I’ve wished that my kids wouldn’t grow any older. But they do. I’m aware that around 50% of 10 year old teens have seen pornography, and I want that information to come from a realistic point of view, before the media gets to it.

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Amalia April 23, 2014 at 12:18 am

Fist of all, I really like those posters. As a marketing student, a woman, and someone who believes very strongly in an anti-rape message –> they strike the right nerve with me. I suppose I’m smack in the middle of their target audience, so that’s promising.

Second of all, I think its horrible to take a consensual scene and make it into rape. Disclosure, I’ve never read the books or scene the show — however, if Divergent the movie had differed in that way from Divergent the books I’d be MAD.

I still think that although media has an influence on kids and how they are raised, so do parents and older support figures. I was raised arguably in an environment not too unlike those of kids today — as was my brother, and my boyfriend, and many of my male friends — and they seem to understand the whole no means no, and not just for rape, but for unwanted contact as well.

So maybe its a variety of factors – although for the kids who don’t have positive role models in this regard, the media presence of rape being “okay” probably doesn’t help the situation.

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JLVerde April 23, 2014 at 6:08 am

I’m not sold on the those posters. Why? The “good” part of the message is printed so small it’s easily missed AND it reinforces that “doing the right thing” is an after thought for folks. So it’s really failing. It could be saved by upping the font size on the “good” message.

It also fails because it (like a the majority of “rape awareness” stuff) doesn’t focus enough on telling the potential rapists DON’T RAPE. Instead it focuses on the potential victims and how kindly third parties should help them (with a tinge of “blame” in there too, like the “wasted girl” one has the stink of “dumb drunk girl’s deserve it”).

But my big beef is more with the “good” message being in small font. That’s a major fail.

I’m not going to get into the Game of Thrones discussion because I have a lot of conflicting feelings about that show (I watch but am always a season behind, never read the books). I will say this. The world of GoT is very violent and littered with all kinds of despicable characters with major flaws and dark souls. It feels like most folks are more upset that the character of Jaime (who was having a redemption arc of sorts) won’t become the Knight in Shining Armor that a lot of folks really want and instead will remain a deeply flawed, king slaying, child maiming, douchey, sister effing character he always was. So it’s not really a “rape is bad” discussion but a “we’re made you won’t make Jaime a good guy” whine which annoys me in many ways.

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smac-a-roo April 23, 2014 at 9:12 am

I agree with the poster commetns AND too watch Got and am a seson behind… jsut started watching a month ago and saw only the first 2 seasons. THere are a lot of things disturbing in the show, but still watch it (I guess I think well, it’s a TV show in a fictional land, I mean, dragons haven’t existed in a long time wink wink)

I do think it isn’t for kids, but as it is, kids are exposed to everything early on…so better start thinking of explaining fiction with reality, and the consequences of reality… something of that sort…

My kids are really young, but already we talk about things the way they are, starting with using the right word for body oparts… that’s where we’re at, buit I dread the more deep talks as my parents never talked to me about stuff, how am I going to go about it? hmmmm

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Naomi/Dragonmamma April 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

Anybody trying to use Game of Thrones as a moral compass is in for a world of hurt. Any time you think a character has some scruples, he/she will do something totally despicable. (But not Tyrion! Please not Tyrion!) The only reason this particular example is so controversial is because the guy playing Jaime is a total hottie and lots of gals (and probably guys) have a crush on him, hoping that he had a moral redemption last season. (Which he obviously didn’t.)

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JavaChick April 23, 2014 at 7:53 am

The study I find a little bit surprising, though I probably shouldn’t. I was never treated that way growing up, and would not have brushed it off as okay (maybe it is my age, maybe the fact that I grew up fairly sheltered, I don’t know).

I started reading GOT back when it first came out. I made it to the end of the 2nd or 3rd book (can’t remember) and gave up – almost all of the likeable characters were dead by that point, and I decided I was done. I love the fantasy genre, but that series is not for me.

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Tina April 23, 2014 at 8:02 am

I don’t believe that GoT is a show “teens” should be watching. It has ALOT of sex and violence and is also set in a time when things were not as they are now. I would never let my teen watch that show, but I love it. It’s awful and crazy and some things are hard to watch, but I am an adult and know reality from twisted fantasy.

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Averyannoyedwoman July 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm

What? So you’re really this hypocrite? While regulating TV shows (and probably attire) of your teen, you watch this crap? Do you preach something you don’t practice? Why the hell would you expect him to become someone with values you clearly don’t posses, disciplining you teen with things you actually don’t believe in? That show is definetely not acceptable. And I dara say, the world is this nasty ball of crap because of people that allow it to be, for people that not only accept it that way, but actually enjoy it and become part of this filthy production supporting it with their consumption.

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Tina July 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I don’t quite understand your reply here. I said nothing about values or beliefs in my post. I am merely talking about age appropriate viewing. I don’t actually have a teen, I have a 5 year old. He can’t watch this show either though. Not due to any moral compass or preaching, but because it’s not something children should watch. When he is an adult, we can totally watch it together, though he probably wouldn’t want to watch the sex scenes with mom. I watch it, its entertaining to me, but I have the maturity to deal with the themes and scenarios in it. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion on tv shows, but it’s a tv show. Choose to watch it our don’t. Choose to let your child watch it our not, but don’t call me a hypocrite because I believe there are some things kids aren’t mature enough to deal with just yet. I value freedom to watch whatever the hell I want to watch and the freedom to raise my child how I see fit. I value your freedom to do the same.

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Jess @ JessVsLife April 23, 2014 at 8:15 am

First of all, Game of Thrones (or True Blood, or True Detective, or Girls, or Boardwalk Empire, or ANY of the shows that I love and enjoy watching on HBO) is entirely inappropriate for anyone who could be considered a “teen”.

Secondly, as someone who has read the books and watches the show, anyone who knows anything about the characters of Cersei and Jamie know how completely messed up their relationship dynamic is from the get-go. Their “romance” is incest. This alone speaks VOLUMES. Also, this show takes place in a medieval time period, a time period when women were seen as little more than property and bargaining chips. Also also, the books are filled with rape and discussion of rape — the character of Dynaerys is sold to a barbarian at the age of 14 and raped until she “grows to love” her barbarian husband. Yet, there was no media explosion about THAT.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around why there is so much focus on this particular episode and this particular scene when the books and the show are filled with acts of sexual (and non-sexual) violence.

Just my $0.02.

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Tina July 15, 2014 at 1:45 pm

I don’t quite understand your reply here. I said nothing about values or beliefs in my post. I am merely talking about age appropriate viewing. I don’t actually have a teen, I have a 5 year old. He can’t watch this show either though. Not due to any moral compass or preaching, but because it’s not something children should watch. When he is an adult, we can totally watch it together, though he probably wouldn’t want to watch the sex scenes with mom. I watch it, its entertaining to me, but I have the maturity to deal with the themes and scenarios in it. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion on tv shows, but it’s a tv show. Choose to watch it our don’t. Choose to let your child watch it our not, but don’t call me a hypocrite because I believe there are some things kids aren’t mature enough to deal with just yet. I value freedom to watch whatever the hell I want to watch and the freedom to raise my child how I see fit. I value your freedom to do the same.

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Tina July 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I attached this to the wrong comment!!

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Jess July 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Lol That’s okay! At first I was like, “Huh??”

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Melanie April 23, 2014 at 8:41 am

I didn’t know about Game of Thrones-sounds so dark. But I have kids and I get so disgusted with how the media and world can portray sexuality. Last year my little third grader was acting strange and suddenly not wanting to go to school (she is a social butterfly so this was weird). She finally told me something a boy said to her that was super out of line and alarming it came from a third grader. My husband went in the next morning to talk to the principle who tried to brush him off-”kids will be kids” he said. I just love my husband-I’m a pushover but he wouldn’t leave until the boy’s parents were called and the issue was addressed. It became an opportunity for the teacher and principle to talk to the kids about what is not ok.

Might sound weird but I get excited when my kids have questions for me about sexuality-the other night my 12 year old told me he porn statistics of how many kids see this stuff and how young. I love that they will talk to me about this really important stuff. I grew up with the topic being taboo and learned about sex from friends and jr high talk. Game of Thrones sounds so extreme-but if people (kids too) think that’s any sort of normal then that’s scary.

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Jenn April 23, 2014 at 8:59 am

The sad thing for me is that this theme has been pervasive for so long and many people just glossed over it. I remember reading The Thorn Birds at age 10 (yes, I was quite young) and not batting an eyelash over scenes that now read like intra-marital rape. And the romance novels I read in my tween-to-teen-to-college years… I weep. Not to name authors, but so many involved rape as the start of the relationship that then turned to romance/love… One novel even involved the use of Spanish Fly so the heroine wouldn’t be able to say no to sex. I had an epiphany about this in college and had to stop reading several of my favorite authors because they seemed to tacitly approve of rape. Fortunately I’ve found better replacement literature that doesn’t raise alarms.

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Geosomin April 23, 2014 at 9:32 am

I must say: Game of Thrones does not depict normal life…but it does depict what could happen. No sugar coating. The scene you refer to that was changed to rape surprised me (altho hearing the directors interpretation does distrub me) but I didn’t think it normalised anything. You have a brother raping his sister in a church next to their dead son? Nothing about that is normal…and I don’t think you could argue anyone would take that as depicted as normal or as an OK for doing it. In the books and show terrible things happen. They do in life too. I think we have a responsibility to talk with our kids (who may not be ready to watch this stuff yet) about this – to teach them critical thinking and self respect.

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Darwin April 23, 2014 at 10:23 am

Jay Leno summed up the male perspective on female nudity in the media when TITANIC came out by imitating a guy whose girlfriend dragged him to this romance.

Guy: “It’s a boat…it’s a boat…it’s a boat…IT’S KATE WINSLET NAKED…It’s a boat…it’s a boat…”

I do not watch Game Of Thrones specifically because it is disrespectful to women.

And true, those are not actual rapes, they are fictional depictions. Fictional depictions which are a pretence to get an actress NAKED.

Which is REAL.

In the Titanic, that wasn’t ROSE who was naked. It was Kate Winslet. As soon as an actress steps out of her clothes, she steps out of her character and it ceases to be fictional and it becomes a documentary.

REAL NAKED GIRLS.

And in the fictional pretence of rape to get the actress naked, the real idea of rape is planted. And in some minds that expands into “Take what you can.”

Generally, guys do not like to be thought of as “different”. And generally, guys are competitive.

So if the media and their friends look at women as targets for groping, stripping and another notch on the bedpost, then ladies that is the mentality behind guys staring at your chest and picturing you naked.

AND being preoccupied with ways to have a notch on the bedpost with your name on it.

They want to get their numbers up. They want to meet their projected goals.

And everywhere they turn they are told that those goals are not only acceptable, but encouraged and celebrated.

Inappropriate “shortcuts” ensue.

Many guys think they can “read’ women from non-verbal cues, and many of these guys also do not really care if they are reading wrong, because if they succeed in groping, and she likes it great, and if she doesn’t then they got to “cop a feel” anyway. They think that is a win-win for them.

While stopping a guy from groping an unwilling girl, I was told that the purpose of the groping was to push her buttons to get her “horny” and thinking about sex and wanting sex.

I told him he was stupid to think he could “make” a girl “horny” . (I blame media for this too) Either she wants to right then…or she doesn’t.

I told him to ASK…not assume.

I told him that if a girl agrees to kissing, that does not mean she agrees to groping. And if she agrees to groping that does not mean that she agrees to get naked.

And if she agrees to get naked, that does not mean that she wants to take it to sex.

NEVER assume.

The media and their friends don’t teach them that. But…it is common sense…basic right and wrong if one cares enough to be unselfish enough think about it.

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Nate Hamon April 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

That is a wonderful response! Articulate yet succinct and I’ve got to grab some of those thoughts and re-use in song (I won’t plagiarize though). I hope you don’t mind.

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Darwin April 23, 2014 at 9:40 pm

I don’t mind at all.

Go for it Nate!

Happy to accommodate!

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joemama April 23, 2014 at 1:04 pm

There is a lot of “but it’s not reaaaal…I know the difference between real and fake…Teens shouldn’t be watching this anyways…Bad things happen anyways…blah, blah, blah. I find all the excuses people give for watching violence, sexual or otherwise, to be lame. Yep, that’s judgey. You can judge me for being judgey; I don’t mind. There are enough bad things that happen in real life, so why do we allow ourselves to be entertained by fake bad things? It baffles me.

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