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Teach boys not to rape?

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  • Teach boys not to rape?

    Teach boys not to rape?

    By Adam Belanger (pseudonym)

    Though I’ve never raped a woman, I admit that I’d assaulted one many times and came close to raping one once. I’m not writing this to make a confession: I see no practical value and even see harm in so humiliating myself. I’m writing this rather to explore what in my childhood prevented me from learning how to understand, build, define, respect, protect, and defend my and by extension others’ emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries and how we could properly teach boys in similar circumstances.

    I was raised in an emotional pressure-cooker throughout my childhood. My babysitter sexually abused me when I was around eight years old and I soon afterwards started making sexual advances towards a classmate. This was before I was physically developed enough to even have an orgasm or understand sexual pleasure. The school suggested I see a therapist. My dad thought I just needed more discipline. Fearing my dad, I soon learnt to fear authority figures, and my babysitter was an authority figure of sorts. Because I feared him, I dared not tell anyone and especially him what was happening and this unfortunately allowed it to continue for some time.

    When I was twelve years old, my father had given me a glass of wine on Christmas Eve. I didn't like the taste of it, but soon realized that it relaxed me more than I'd ever felt relaxed before and so I started gulping it until he raised his voice and hand at me telling me to slow down. I've feared the addictive power of alcohol ever since.

    I left home young to get away from the trauma. Though I could befriend women, I could do so only within an organized group. I was raised to obey, I simply never learnt to respect my boundaries, and I knew it, so I took precautions accordingly to protect myself from myself. I could never see a woman alone and especially not in private. Though there existed many reasons for me to not want sex with women, one among them was the fear of feeling obligated to a woman afterwards along with a desire to better control my emotions.

    I broke the rule one day. A young Muslim refugee woman of around 17 years old (I was 19) whom I befriended called me a few times to invite me to her home for dinner. I'd read the Qur’an and so went on the stereotype that even if she should have any sexual interest in me, she'd keep it to herself since I didn’t profess Islam and Islam prohibited fornication.

    After dinner, she begged and pouted for me to stay at her place. She didn't necessarily want sex, but she did want me to sleep over at her place anyway. Though I was physically stronger than she was and she was merely begging and pouting, her behaviour threw me into an inexplicable panic attack: my muscles tensed up, my breathing and heart rate accelerated, my stomach turned, and I just didn’t know how to react.

    Trying to manipulate her into agreeing to let me go, I made an unwanted sexual advance towards her. Ironically, I didn’t want to have sex with her at all and so was violating both of our boundaries. Instead, I was trying to scare her into letting me leave. For reasons that I can’t explain, when she begged and pouted for me to stay, I froze at the prospect of putting my foot down, turning my back to the door and leaving; yet I could somehow make an unwanted sexual advance towards her even though I didn’t even want to have sex with her. I believe that there were a few reasons for this. Firstly, I bought into the narrative that a heterosexual man always wants sex even though my own personal experience contradicted that. I simply concluded that I must be an exception. Misguided with this stereotype about men in my head combined with my education to never talk back to women, the stereotype that women can't handle rejection, and my desire to not hurt her, I thought on some level that for me to ignore her begging and pouting and to turn my back on her might insult her beauty (and she was beautiful) and so could offend her. Instead, making an unwanted sexual advance towards her would acknowledge my physical attraction to her while still, based on my stereotype of a Muslim woman, cause her to push me away which would then give me my queue to leave. Though she did push me away, she did so only sexually. As soon as I took that as my queue to leave, she immediately returned to begging and pouting for me to spend the night.

    The next morning, she begged me to promise to return to her home that evening. I did. Since I promised, I felt obliged to return to her home, had dinner there, and again repeated the struggle of the previous evening as she begged me to stay, I made an unwanted sexual advance in an attempt to get her to push me away, and again she pushed me away only sexually while still begging me to stay and making me promise the next day to return. This cycle went on daily for a week.

    On a Saturday morning, I left to go clean my home. She followed me to help me clean it. Evening came, and I tried to convince her to leave. She begged me to walk her home; but since I knew she'd want me to stay again, I refused, so she refused to leave. I again started making sexual advances towards her and she silently and gently but physically resisted as she had before. This time though, since I was already at home and had nowhere else to go, I decided to push her boundaries in the belief that I'd cross a Rubicon beyond which she’d finally want to leave. I removed her trousers. While she still resisted, she was not escalating the resistance in any way. I then removed her panties, then my trousers, and finally my underwear yet while she continued to resist, she still wasn’t expressing any desire to leave. Not knowing what else to do, in utter confusion, and slowly losing sexual control, I began to spread her legs when she cried her first words since my advance: 'Please don't rape me.'

    I recoiled, threw my clothes back on, stormed out of my home, and reached the nearest intersection on foot before she finally caught up to me. I tearfully and angrily told her that we were in an unhealthy relationship and that we had to break up. She apologized and then begged me to walk her home. Feeling guilty, I went back home, locked the door, and walked her home. As expected, she again begged me to stay the night. Too emotionally exhausted to resist, I didn't make any sexual advance towards her and instead just went to bed.

    The daily cycle repeated itself the next morning and the next evening. That evening was different. She again begged me to stay the night, I again made an unwanted sexual advance hoping to get her to let me go, but this time she didn't resist. Before I started to unbutton or remove any piece of clothing, seeing that she was no longer resisting, I broke off to leave. This time, she started to make sexual advances towards me. I started to plead with her to let me leave, but she started to cry as she continued to kiss and hug me. Emotionally exhausted, depressed, resigned, and sexually aroused by her physical advances, I acquiesced. That was the beginning or our sexual relationship. I never initiated any sexual advance towards her in the hope that she'd push me away again since now she was making unwanted sexual advances towards me and I acquiesced mostly out of emotional exhaustion, depression, and resignation and to a much lesser extent sexual arousal from her unwanted advances. As I continued to try to break up with her every now and then over a period of many months as I mustered the emotional strength, she escalated the pressure until she'd eventually threatened suicide if I broke up with her. Resigned to my fate, the relationship continued to degenerate into marriage (dysfunctional as you can imagine), divorce, and finally attempted suicide on my part.

    I believe that what was missing in my education was to understand, build, define, respect, protect, and defend my and by extension others’ emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries even against female coercion. Ironically I could have fought a man off more easily, not only because I am a heterosexual male but also because I would have been less fearful of hurting his feelings or even of using physical force against him if necessary. For example, if a man that I didn't even know well begged me to stay the night or even threatened suicide, while I might empathize with him, I'd probably just have found him a phone number to call for help, left, and not felt guilty at all about hurting his feelings or whatever he might do to himself as a result. I might be willing to give him some of my time, but at my own chosen time. Additionally, I would have thought of him as being emotionally tougher and so able to handle my rejection anyway. Because she was a woman and I a heterosexual man, and I’d bought into the stereotypes of all 'normal' men always wanting sex and of women being emotionally more vulnerable and so unable to handle rejection, I’d effectively been taught a form of emotional submission towards women from an early age and so my superior physical strength against her was of no use when I didn’t know how to defend my emotional, physical, and sexual space from a woman's intrusion into it.

    The above is not to excuse my behaviour but simply to try to understand why I made the mistakes that I made and what I would have needed to learn to not make those mistakes. My ignorance of how to simply defend my own boundaries without needing to violate hers to do so, combined with how I was taught to defer to the 'weaker' sex, emboldened me to violate both of our boundaries in an attempt to force her to defend my boundaries for me by pushing me away from her. Ironically, out of a fear of hurting her by rejecting her, I hurt her more and me too by violating both of our boundaries in an attempt to hurt her less.

    I think that a few things could have helped me. Firstly, it’s estimated that one in six boys have suffered sexual violence in childhood ( That’s around seventeen percent of the male population. With that in mind, a public-school sex-education teacher should teach on the presumption that at least one student in that room has probably already suffered some form of abuse and will need to learn to build his boundaries.

    The sex-education teacher should not presume the child’s knowledge and instead teach him everything from scratch. For example, we might want to teach explicitly that men do not always want to have sex (since even some boys will believe this myth while just dismissing their personal experience as an abnormal exception). We might also want to teach, again explicitly, that a healthy-minded girl or woman can handle a kind rejection and how to identify and resist different forms of coercion. We could teach a boy to resist coercion through role play, as that would leave a mental imprint in his mind of resistance and a positive outcome when the girl just smiles and happily walks back to her seat at the end of the role play. That image could then give him the confidence to resist a woman’s coercion in the knowledge that she’ll bounce back from it unscathed; and his confidence in his ability to resist a woman’s coercion could ironically also protect women from his violating their boundaries in reaction to their violating his.