What's the appropriate punishment for a teenager who is being charged with rape? If you said, "Nothing, what's the big deal?" then you would be right at home in Hoquiam, Washington, where Tyler Smith, despite being charged with raping two girls, is out on bail and playing football.
First, a little background: Prosecutors in Smith's case say he assaulted two victims — once back in 2012, and once just this past summer. Smith himself admits the girls said "no," but he had sex with them anyway.
"When detectives asked Tyler if the girls said 'no,' Tyler apparently told them, 'Yeah, but I thought she was saying 'no' for pleasure and not to stop having sex.'"
To me, that's one of the largest issues here. Yes, I hate that this boy is getting a loud and clear message from administrators and coaches that being charged with rape is just a little hiccup to back-burner while the football season plays out. That grosses me out, for sure, especially because we see it a lot, schools like Sayreville notwithstanding.
From a wider perspective, I see an issue with the way we talk to kids about sex. It is not enough anymore to be anatomically correct and throw condoms at the issue just because talking about it makes us uncomfortable. Here we have a kid who at least claims he didn't know that "no" meant "no." Either he's lying, or somewhere along the way he got confused about what words mean.
Will you know how your kid views consent, or will you just kind of hope they understand the concept, because asking about it makes you feel icky? Are you willing to ask your son, "What would you do if you were having sex and your partner told you 'no'?" Are you willing to explain why anything that isn't "stop immediately and suggest we play backgammon instead" isn't an acceptable answer?
I'm going to say we need to get detailed about sex when we talk about it. Not just the mechanics of it, but all the stuff that comes along with deciding to have it. We need to be honest about how a person's body can become aroused even when they don't want to have sex, and that their physiological response doesn't negate their vocal response. We need to teach kids to look for an enthusiastic "yes" from their partner and tell them if they are unsure about how their partner feels, then it's time to put the brakes on. If you stop and your partner didn't want you to, then the worst that happens is yay, you get to have sex after all.
As for my own kid, I don't like to think about her future sex life, but I'm not an idiot, so I know she'll have one. The way I'll talk to her about sex is this: If you aren't mature enough to explicitly say what you want your partner to do, then you aren't mature enough for sex. Conversely, anyone who is willing to ignore that statement is not a good partner.
It might sound dark to have to add a rape talk to the usual, uncomfortable sex talk, but I think it needs to be done. And not just with girls. All the lectures about precautionary living aren't worth jack if we don't talk to our boys about how not to be a rapist.
That's a lesson it doesn't seem like Smith learned. If your kid is unclear on what "no" means during sex, then I am sorry to say that you did a pretty poor job explaining it to them.
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