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Thursday, August 30, 2012

How does a 12-year-old girl say ‘no’? ― Marina Mahathir



In the aftermath of the two recent cases of statutory rape where the young men were given what is seen as lenient sentences, so much emotion has been expended that an important point has been missed.
Both cases have hinged on the “fact” that the sex was consensual. This means that the girls in question did not say “no” to the young men. But can we then assume they said “yes”?
One opinion put it glibly as a “Form 5 boy going out with a Form 1 girl.” That may sound simple if your secondary school years are far behind you. Or if you’ve never been a Form 1 girl.
But try to remember what school was like. Schools have very hierarchical social structures. The Form 1s are the most junior while the Form 5s are the most senior. No junior mixes easily with the seniors because they seem extremely remote and certainly more powerful within the school. How easy is it for a first-form girl to mix with fifth-form boys?
But if a senior boy pays attention to a junior girl, then she would find the attention flattering. To her, he would be extremely sophisticated and worldly. What more a national bowler who even stays in hotels. If he invited her to his room, how does she say “no” and still keep his attention?
Adult women, especially if they are less educated and financially dependent, have problems saying “no” to their boyfriends and husbands, sometimes even fathers, uncles and brothers. Female employees often have to say “yes” to their bosses or risk losing their jobs.
If these women, well above the legal age, have difficulties in turning away sexual advances, what more a 12- or 13-year-old girl?
This is why the statutory rape law exists. It presupposes that an underage person cannot have the wherewithal to refuse sex with an older person. Even if the person is only a few years older. And if the younger person is female, growing up in a society where men are assumed to always hold more power in any relationship, then what choice would she have but to say “yes”?
Having said that, the violence that some people want to inflict upon the young men is also out of proportion to the facts of the case. They are not necessarily serial rapists, nor would-be paedophiles. That would involve a predatory nature that does not seem to be borne by their own histories.
Teenage boys naturally become attracted to younger girls because that’s the age group they are likely to meet. If nobody talks to them about sex, including laws about sex with underage girls, then how would they know that such young ones should be out of bounds?
In all the hue and cry about these cases, let us not forget that we also live in a society that not only refuses to talk about sex with our children but assumes that sex is only physical. Sex education also means teaching our children to say “no” because they are neither physically nor emotionally ready for sexual intercourse.
If we fail to teach our young daughters to say “no” to older boys because we cannot imagine they might be approached for sex even when they are 12 years old, then how can we be outraged at judges who assumed they said “yes”?

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