‘Speak’ is a somewhat controversial young adult novel written by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s the story of Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman who is trying to come to terms with the fact that she was raped. ‘Speak’ was published in 1999, but I just read the book a week ago for the first time. It made an impact on me, as Melinda’s story and experiences rang true.
In the back of the book there was an interview with the author about how the book has been received and what feedback she has gotten in the fourteen years since it was published. She made an observation that I want to share here:
“I have gotten one question repeatedly from young men. These are guys who liked the book, but they are honestly confused. They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped.
The first dozen times I heard this, I was horrified. But I heard it over and over again. I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman. They are inundated by sexual imagery in the media, and often come to the (incorrect) conclusion that having sex is not a big deal. This, no doubt, is why the number of sexual assaults is so high.” (Laurie Halse Anderson)
What a heartbreaking observation from a non-Christian author: for many teens having sex is not considered a big deal…and for guys the meaning and impact of rape is completely unclear.
As Neely pointed out in an earlier post, students are more inundated with violence and sexually aggressive behavior than they are with appropriate behavior (kindness). This has lead to a culture where the severity of sexual violence and sexual abuse is no longer recognized. Young men simply don’t know what is ‘normal’ anymore. That is something we need to change as youth leaders and as parents.
Sex is a tough topic to address, but we’ll need to if we want to protect our kids and teens from being raped…or from becoming rapists. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the Steubenville case but I don’t think these guys had the intention of becoming rapists. I’m not condoning what they did and I’m certainly not suggesting they are victims in any way, but I am saying that as a society, we’re reaping what we’re sowing.
We cannot sow sexual indifference, sexual violence and abuse into the lives of teens and then reap anything else but the shocking consequences. Changing this ‘rape culture’ means starting at the basics: kindness. And then we have to talk about sex and about what is normal and what isn’t.
We need to teach guys respect and the meaning of the words ‘consent’ and ‘no’. We need to make sure they know what rape looks like in every form imaginable. And we need to teach girls about taking care of themselves and of each other. We need to teach them about modesty and about ‘teasing’. Both guys and girls need to be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to sex, for themselves and for others.
Kindness first, then a serious conversation about sex. Will that be enough to turn the tide and prevent tragedies like Steubenville from happening again, what do you think?
Rachel Blom is a youth ministry enthusiast and author who blogs at Youth Leader Academy. She’s also a book addict and drama series lover with a deep affection for chocolate. Connect with her on on Twitter or Google+