This story originally appeared in a British publication, showing that sexual assault is universal. I have rewritten it for my own use in this blog. While fictionalized, I hope it will make people think, discuss, and perhaps get on their bandwagons against sexual assault and even the nuances of it…it all starts small and can escalate rapidly. The ‘boys will be boys’ age is well past and what might have been overlooked in the past cannot and should not be anymore.
I am an Emergency Room nurse. We are not allowed to have our personal phones on us; they are to be kept in our purse, in our lockers, and out of sight. Today, a call came in through the hospital for me.
“Ms. Jones, this is Mr. Garfield from the Junior High. There has been an incident regarding Kathy. We need you to come in.”
“Is she ill? Is she injured?” Panic that all parents feel, especially one who works in the ER enveloped my chest immediately. “Can it wait until I finish my shift in two hours?” If it can wait, it can’t be that bad.
“Kathy struck another student,” he explained, understanding (I thought) my panic. “We have been trying to reach you for forty-five minutes,” he continued, a touch condescendingly. “It really is very serious.”
As I drove to the school, thoughts of my sweet and good-natured daughter went through my head. Why would she strike another student? What had caused my mild-mannered daughter to do such a thing? Would they suspend her? Or, was it bad enough that they would expel her? Had they hit back? Was she hurt and they were glossing it over? Once I arrived and went to the school office, I identified myself as Kathy Jones’ mother. The school secretary looked at me reproachfully, almost as though she was looking to see what kind of woman was raising such a dangerous daughter. I was ushered into the principal’s office where I was introduced to the principal and the vice-principle in training (she was new) by Mr. Garfield, my child’s teacher. Present was also the child she had hit, his face bloody from his nose. He looked awkward and a bit defiant sitting there flanked by his parents.
“Nice of you to FINALLY join us,” the principal said, I could hear the sarcasm in his voice. I sat in a chair across the desk from him with the others in a semi-circle.
“Yes, it was busy in the Emergency Room,” I indicated the scrubs I was still wearing when I rushed out of work. “I’ve spent the last hour stitching up a seven-year-old kid with over forty stitches who was beaten by his mother with a metal ladle. Then I had to deal with the police regarding it. Sorry for the inconvenience,” I added with a touch of my own sarcasm. I looked at Kathy and saw she was looking down at her shoes, a typical ashamed look, but she didn’t look the worse for wear.
The principal seemed a bit embarrassed. He proceeded to tell me what had happened to necessitate my presence here at the school. Apparently, the boy had snapping my daughter’s bra. She had then retaliated by punching him in the face, twice. I tried not to laugh, it seemed boys never came up with anything new to torment girls, they had done something similar when I was a teen. This gathering seemed to be a bit of an over-reaction. However, it seemed to me that they were more angry with my daughter’s actions than with the boy.
“Oh,” I said slowly, as I considered what I was going to say. “And you want to know if I’m going to press charges against him for sexually assaulting my daughter as well as against the school for allowing him to do it?”
The wording ‘sexually assaulting’ seemed to make everyone in the room uptight. They got all jittery and began to talk all at once.
“I don’t think it was that serious,” Mr. Garfield began.
“Let’s not over-react,” the vice-principal put in her two-cents.
“I think you are missing the point,” the principal stated.
The boy’s mother started to cry. I turn to Kathy and ask her what happened. I can’t make a decision without hearing both sides.
“He kept snapping my bra,” she said, embarrassed, not looking up and addressing her shoes. “I asked him to stop and he wouldn’t. He laughed at me. I told Mr. Garfield,” she indicated her teacher, looking up for the first time. “He told me to ‘ignore it.’ I tried,” she looked at me as she continued, “but he did it again and this time he undid my bra so I hit him. That stopped him.”
Turning to Mr. Garfield who had nodded, confirming Kathy’s story, I asked, “You let him do this? Why didn’t you stop him?” I made a come-here gesture with my hand. “Come over here and let me touch the front of your pants.”
He made a movement as though he was about to walk towards me before the sense of what I had just said hit him. “What? No!” he answered aghast.
Innocently I asked, “Does that seem inappropriate to you? Why don’t you go over and pull on,” I indicated the vice-principal who was staring at me wide-eyed, “on her bra right now? See how fun it is for her. Or,” I indicated the boy’s mother, “her bra?” I held out my arms wide, emphasizing my bosom. “Or mine?” I lowered my arms. “You think because they are kids that it’s fun?”
“Ms. Jones,” the principal interjected, his tone was one of exasperation at my reasoning. “With all due respect, Kathy did beat another child.”
I stared at him a moment, giving weight to my words and allowing a silence. “No. She defended herself against a sexual attack by another student. Look at him, he’s over six feet tall. He probably weighs around two-hundred pounds. She’s five feet and probably a bit over a hundred-twenty pounds. He’s a foot taller than her and nearly twice her weight. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to protect her,” I glanced at Mr. Garfield, including him in this, “couldn’t be bothered, what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard that it came undone.”
The boy’s mother was crying. His father looked angry as well as embarrassed. Mr. Garfield wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I look back at the principal.
“I’m taking Kathy home. I hope he has learned a lesson,” I point at the bloody nosed boy who was fidgeting in his seat. “And, I hope nothing like this every happens again, not only to Kathy, but to any other girl at this school. You wouldn’t let him do it to a staff member,” I glance at the vice-principal, “so what makes you think he can do it to a fifteen-year-old girl is beyond me. I will be reporting this to the school district as well as the school board.” I turn to the shame-faced boy, “And if you EVER touch my daughter again I WILL have you arrested for sexual assault. Do you understand me?”
He nodded once, I took that as an agreement.
I gathered Kathy and her things and left the school. I did report them to the school district as well as the school board. For good measure I also reported it to our local newspaper so there was a further record of the incident, without names since both of the kids were minors. Kathy was, at first, moved from any classes with him. One phone call reversed that and the boy was moved from her classes. There was no reason to punish her for his behavior.
As I mentioned, this first appeared in a British publication. I have rewritten it for my purposes. I use it to illustrate that mentality that allows these small incidents to go unpunished. That banding together of boys and men who then perpetuate such mentality. I’m not saying women might not do the same but it isn’t as prevalent, or, perhaps discussed (I welcome such discussion in a different blog). That type of misogyny must be nipped in the bud at a young age so that our young men and women realize that it isn’t acceptable, it isn’t allowed, and it isn’t going to be tolerated. The more they see of it, the more accepting of it, the more inured they become to it. In this climate of narcissistic misogyny, I fear that it will become worse, it will become the norm and I worry for future generations.
I raised two fine young gentlemen. In a time where kids were latch key kids I took mine to work with me and put them to work with me. I made them do chores that other kids didn’t ‘have’ to. I let them know there were consequences for their actions. My oldest son stated I was very strict and wondered why. I explained they were always going to be taller than me, bigger than me, and I had to sit on them when I still could. (My boys are now 6 foot 3 and 6 foot 1 respectively, I am only 5 foot 6). That wasn’t the whole reason though. I knew if I didn’t teach them respect, if I didn’t teach them manners, that I would not be able to control their impulsive and rebellious behavior when they became teenagers, and the adults they could have become would have been disastrous.
Those who sneer at good manners have a problem. Those who degrade men and boys who hold open a door for a woman or girl, are foolish. It isn’t a matter of losing your womanhood or feminism to allow this small act of chivalry, it’s manners. I do the same for my girlfriend, holding doors, talking respectfully, and treating her as I would expect to be treated. Manners and respect aren’t outdated, but they do need to be taught. If they aren’t, the behaviors escalate. Personal space, personal preference, and personal choices are all in peril when we allow such behaviors in our society to go unchecked, without consequences. No, manners alone won’t solve this problem, however, it is a good start. I hope, man or woman, would stand up and fight when these manners aren’t shown.
I may be a lesbian and some might ‘think’ it is a choice, but I can appreciate a man or a boy with good manners. I can appreciate a woman or a girl with good manners. I can appreciate a human being that treats others with the respect and dignity they are due, because they too are human beings.