Lightening strikes twice all the time really
(*If you have had a traumatic experience with sexual violence the news articles reported in this post may be triggering for you.)
West Contra Costa school district, the school district of Richmond High School, is the site of another student rape on campus during school hours. This time the alleged rape (witnessed and interrupted by two students) took place at a middle school during school hours and within the confines of the school building. The victim was a 12-year-old female and the attacker was a 14-year-old male.
According to reports: The two knew each other, but not romantically. Detectives say the suspect forced a sex act upon the victim in a stairwell. At least two students witnessed the assault while passing by; one found an adult, while another physically interceded to stop the attack.
Seeing this headline: Rape during classes at middle school prompts suspension of El Cerrito principal, in my news feed this morning I felt that knowing terror females are groomed to feel as they slowly become accustomed to the sexual violence awaiting them around any given corner.
This is what girls learn as they enter middle school, if not sooner, young girls learn that their body is the object of someone elses sexual desire. Girls learn that their very sexed being can be taken violently at any given moment and in any given location. They learn that they must be on guard. They learn that boys and men are all too often sexual predators. They learn that when they are attacked the general consensus will be that they ‘let their guard down.’ They learn a very important part of what it is going to mean to become a woman. And they are often told this knowledge may save their lives.
And what, I have to then ask myself, are boys learning from all of this sexist violence? For their must be a complimentary gender lesson in all of this for boys as well. A lesson about the bodies and sexualized lives of girls and about their bodies and sex lives as boys as well. A lesson telling them that every corner of society is an open market for girl consumption. That male sexuality is quite often wild and violent. That growing boys are generally to view all girls categorically as potential sexual conquests. To see a girl’s body as primarily a vessel for sex organs and secondly as belonging to a person. And they are learning that a males sexual conquest can be sought at any time and at any price.
These very common lived experiences of sexual violence and the subsequent stories of sexual assault are a significant part of how we school our children in sex and gender norms. How we school them to become the men and women of tomorrow.
As I read the story about this pre-holiday sexual assault on a 12-year-old child, a flood of thoughts ran through my mind. And then this one little word in the news report stopped my cascading thoughts: They say he cornered the victim, a seventh-grader, shortly before 2:45 p.m., during the last period of the school day, police said.
And as I re-read that sentences there was a watershed moment for me. I suddenly recalled the number of times I heard that word, cornered, when having conversations with middle school students about the boundaries between flirtatious play and sexual harassment. I remember asking students over and over to explain what they meant when they said someone was cornering them. Or when they said someone was always cornering girls in class.
Male Student: Oh, he corners girls.
Teacher: What do you mean? Corners?
Male Student: Yea, you know. He pushes them into a corner and rubs his body against them.
Teacher: Where? In the halls? By the lockers?
Male Student: Oh, really anywhere, in class, at the pencil sharpener, at the sink, anywhere. He just blocks them, you know corners them. But it’s no big deal we all do. It’s just a game. He’s just too… you know… so girls mostly stay away from him.
Teacher: Why are you calling it ‘corners’?
Male Student: Because if you use a corner they can’t get out until you let them.
I had to look that little conversation up in my notes to capture the whole thing. And that is exactly how that practice was shared with me by a young middle school boy when I asked him if he could think of anyone who engaged in out of hand flirtation that seemed like it might be sexual harassment.
Female students explained the practice of cornering to me as well. And they did so in the same matter a fact a way – explaining that all they guys do it, it’s just a game. But, according to the females and some of the males, some boys go to far so you have to watch out for them.
All I have left when I think deeply on this is to sigh, pray, and shout louder from the rafters – this does not need to be ‘normal.’ This sort of bizarre heterosexist social interaction between boys and girls is neither necessary or natural. It is quite simply a scripted play about gender, sex, and power that these children are working out on their own while maturing within an utterly sexist and violent culture. (I won’t bother to link to every crime program on television, every pop song laden with sexist lyrics, every macho violent video game, every sexist narrative of a celebrities infidelities…you get the point)
And within this living drama, another child has just been raped, two children have witnessed and interrupted this rape, the classmates, the families, the faculty,and the whole community are all now scarred by the knowledge of this inhumane possibility awaiting other little girls. So much damage and in a place already so deeply scarred by a gang rape this fall. A community trying very hard to isolate and prevent the very thing that has just occurred at El Cerrito middle school.
Because if you remember, WCCSD’s Richmond High School was the site of the 2009 homecoming gang rape which involved a minimum of 15 rapists and observers sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female student over a two-hour time period. On that occasion, witnesses did not interrupt but rather took part in the activity, left and told other people about it, and sent out other observers.
I suppose if this story enters into a national conciousness people will be quick to point to the demographics of this community and suggest that this could only happen there – with those kind of people…That was the meme of the day after the homecoming assault.
Would that this were the case. Would that little girls elsewhere* were safe from school based sexual assault, safe from misogynistic objectifying of female bodies, safe from adults willing to sexually assault children, adults use power to gain sexual access to them, safe from all of these lessons girls and boys learn about the sexual value of a girls body and the relative worthlessness of her soul.
Yes, the 14-year-old boy who used a vacant corridor to rape a 12-year-old is, as the district superintendent labeled him, a little sick.
But so is an entire society* in which girls grow up learning that no stairwell,no portable classroom, no unmonitored corner of the school, no bus driver, no parking lot, no teacher or supervisor behind closed doors, no police officer, no sports team, no class party, no place can be considered ‘safe’ from sexual assault and sexual violence against females. Welcome to womanhood young girls. Cornering is just the beginning… your very being marks you as a target for all sorts of potential sexual violence.
*Every one of the above links is from a recent sexual assault against a school age girl in another region of the U.S.
And by the way, it wasn’t that long ago that Las Vegas, NM was feeling that lightning strikes twice – well really at least four times feeling with regard gender, sex, power and sexual assault. In late November this community was addressing concerns that two more teachers (this time female) were involved in potential statutory rape. This concern arose following the publicized arrest of male Coach Clayton Jay Quintana for statutory rape of a former female student. Along with the ongoing trail of the four football players who hazed raped teammates during a training camp. I took a look at the teacher misconduct back here . And a look at the hazing back here.
There sure is a lot of lightning out there.