A New Version of Gold. Dealing with Sexual Assault

“This Girl Did This After The Boy At School Twanged Her Bra. What Followed Is Gold.”

Oh snap. Just ’cause you see a bra strap, doesn’t give you permission to snap it.

This headline and its corresponding story have been circulating in my social media streams for the last week.  I’m prepared to celebate any person who defends a woman being harrassed and I particularly like reading about individuals who call out the systemic condoning of sexually inappropriate actions, but this isn’t ‘gold’ as the headline suggests.  This is far from gold.

Snopes.com (the rumour researching website) explains that the story is impossible to verify.  Snopes writes that while a young woman probably punched a guy in the face for bra snapping, the story is unlikely to  be an accurate account of the events afterward.  Why do that they think that?  Well, the mother manages to find the perfect words at every turn and while that’s possible, “it seems more likely that the story was written after the incident as the writer recalled exactly what she should have said.”

Assuming that young people sometimes misstep and need to learn and develop the skills to manage themselves, I’ve rewritten the story.  This is how I think it ought to have happened.

First, read the story that’s been going around.

Phone: “This is [Teacher] from [School].  There’s been an incident involving [Son].  We need you to come in.”
Me: “Is he ill or injured?”
Phone: “[Son] was harrassing another pupil.  It really is very serious.”
I go to the school and am ushered into the head’s office.  I see my son, his head of year, a male teacher, the headmaster.
Headmaster: “Mr. [My Name],  thanks for joining us.
(He tells me what has happened.  My son had twanged another pupil’s bra and the young woman punched him in the face twice.  The young woman was back in class.)
Me: “Oh.  Does this young woman plan to press charges against my son for sexually assaulting her or against the school for not  preventing it?”
(They all get jittery when I mention sexual assault and start speaking at once.)
Teacher: “She certainly could.”
Head of Year: “I wouldn’t blame her if she did.”
Headmaster: “I think you’ve got a good point.”
Son: “I kept pinging her bra.  She asked me to stop but I didn’t.  She told Mr. [Teacher].  He told me to stop but I didn’t.  Then her bra came undone and she hit me. “
Me, turning to the teacher: Thank you for telling him to stop.
Teacher: “Of course! It is as inappropriate as you walking over to me and touching the front of my pants! Or me pulling on Ms. [Head of Year]’s bra.  Or yours.  It’s not fun.  Just because they’re kids, doesn’t make it silly or harmless or alright.”
Me: “Exactly.”

Our young people learn from the way their elders (parents, teachers, school administrators, coaches) respond.

Head of Year: “This type of harrassment is contrary to our school policy of respect. And we take that seriously.”
Headmaster: “[Son], while I don’t condone her physical retaliation, this other pupil was defending herself from your sexual attack.  You are over 6 feet tall, next to her barely 5 feet.  And you probably have 50 pounds more on your frame. How many times should she have let you touch her?  If you don’t respect our school policy, don’t listen to her, or your teacher, what could she have done?”
Son: “I’m sure she felt like there was nothing else she could have done to stop me.” I’m so sorry I did it.”
Me: [Son], I know there are messages out there that tell you it’s okay to treat women this way, but you’ve been brought up to treat all people better than you’ve treated this young woman.  Your actions frustrated her and violated her and you might have scared her too. It’s never okay to do that.”
Teacher: [Son], I remember this type of activity happening when I was a young man.  It was assualt then but my teachers didn’t stop it. We all made it okay, but it wasn’t and it isn’t.  Maybe you like this young woman? If that’s so, you need to find different ways to communicate your feelings to her.  Try talking to girls you like – as risky and as awkward as it might feel at first.”
Head: “Tomorrow we’ll put you in a different class away from the other pupil. Go home for the rest of today to consider how you will make our school safer for the young women who come here and come talk to me about it tomorrow.  I want nothing like this to ever happen again to any  girl at this school and all the pupils will soon know it.  And if it does happen, the school will have the individual arrested for sexual assault.”
Me: Thanks everyone for managing this with the seriousness that it deserves.  [Son] and I will continue to talk about how he makes decisions and about the choices he makes.  I feel confident that he can be a part of the solution.

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