THE BLOG

Sexual Violence - the Rite of Passage for Young Girls in the 21st Century?

22/03/2016 11:00 GMT | Updated 23/03/2017 09:12 GMT

When you're a teenager and trying to fit in 'feminism' is almost like a dirty word, so if you're radical you label yourself a 'humanist' because while you don't really understand what feminism means, judging by the reaction of your peers it's not 'cool' and it certainly isn't sexy.

Now at 21 years of age I couldn't find one female friend or family member who doesn't label themselves as a feminist, and most of the women in my life have been on the receiving end of some kind of sexual violence at one point or another.

44% of rape victims are under 18.

80% are under 30.

47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim.

When I first experienced sexual violence it was at the hands of someone I didn't know, in the home of someone I did. It crept up on me, confused and befuddled me. It never occurred to me to scream for help, who would come? That rape alarm given out for free by the police at a recent Gay Pride festival? Mine was safely tucked in the bottom of my handbag, thrown at the end of the bed, to be whipped out in case of an emergency; an emergency kind of like this, but also kind of not like this.

Only as I was tottering home with glazed eyes trying to understand the numbness that had taken over my body did I realize that rape wasn't what I had thought it was. Though at the time I don't think I called it that, not in my head. It takes a while to connect the dots and recognize that all it takes to violate a woman's body is the decision to care more about your own immediate satisfaction than another person's well-being, and to carry on when she says no.

That day was a big turning point for me and something that really cruelly catapulted me from being a little girl to being a young woman.

It's a shame sexual violence should be the catalyst for that change isn't it? That is the case for more women than you would think.

I know for myself that I have watched as my female friends grew from girls into women, and while not all of them have directly spoken with me regarding the details, I know they have all experienced it. On a night out after one-too-many tequila shot's someone will break their silence, and the floodgates open, and each girl has a story, every one of them. Whether it was aggressively violent, confusingly gentle, a grope from a stranger in an elevator or waking up in the middle of the night to a hand down their pants; every one of them have had their consent, their bodies and their emotional well-being violated in a sexual way at some point and it does change you, and it sort of wakes you up.

The rosy fog of 'nothing bad can happen' that we enjoyed as young teenagers clears away, and each of us at some point in that in-between place going from being a girl to being a grown-up have experienced something rattling enough that we realized that we had to start speaking up. We realized that being quiet and agreeable were no longer options and that a loud, strong voice would be required to make the changes that were needed in the world happen faster.

It is hard for parents because everyone hopes that their child will never grow up to harm anyone or to be harmed, I am sure every parent who has a child just starting high school would never dream their son or daughter could rape or sexually assault anyone, and would believe or at least hope that their child would never be in a position it could happen to them. However it could, in fact it can and it does. If we don't educate our children about consent, about respecting boundaries, owning their own bodies and having accountability for their actions, this will continue happening.

By the time kids reach high school age most of them know about sex, they will usually learn about pregnancy, contraception and STI's at school, but it's largely up to parents to teach their own children about how to develop healthy emotional and sexual relationships that protect and nourish both themselves and their partners. It may be an awkward conversation but it's so important and necessary.

If these conversations can become the norm, more young girls and boys will feel able to say no when they don't want to be touched - and if they continue to be touched - shout that no and kick and scream their hearts out without feeling guilty, or that they have shirked some responsibility to behave agreeably and save another person's feelings above protecting themselves.

I hope the personal truth I have shared in this article opens up conversations about consent, victim blaming and educating the next generation. I hope it provides incentive to have those hard-to-broach conversations with the fourteen year old teens you really hope aren't sexually active yet but quite possibly are.

I am by no means implying that these issues don't also apply to men. They do. I have several male friends who have confided in me experiences of rape and sexual assault, however the percentage is not nearly as high as it is in my female circle. Whether at thirteen or thirty, most women if you provide them with the definition of sexual violence will have been on the receiving end of it at some point.

Let's start having those difficult conversations, with our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. No matter the age, we need to make discussions about consent a priority, for the sake of all the boys and girls and men and women to come.

Rape is not a women's issue, it is a human-beings issue.

"If you would talk to your daughter about safety, talk to your son about consent."

This is a quote I see thrown about on social media sites an awful lot.

Talk to both your children about consent and safety.

This should not be the rite of passage that takes children from girlhood into womanhood.