“This never happened in my day; I blame the internet”

[cut for sexual assault triggers]

What’s really cheesing me off today is the fucking annoying media reaction to the child “sex attacks” in a Queensland primary school. Yes, I’m just as horrified as everyone else that grade one boys forcibly took off a girl’s knickers and performed “sex acts” on her (which haven’t been described).

What is specifically pissing me off me about the media reaction is the “Oh, this never happened before the internet” remarks. “Early sexualisation of children!”, they shout, “Is NEW and is causing these NEW things that NEVER happened before! They must be imitating things they saw on the internetz! And, oh my, primary school sexual attacks are VERY, VERY RARE!”

Well, if Dr Carr-Gregg, child psychologist, has never come across such a thing in 20 years of practice, I can only say it is because the children in his care aren’t telling him everything.

Child-on-child sexual assaults and indecent assaults and harassment are not only not rare, they’re downright commonplace, unless I went to bizarro-world schools. (The schools I’m particularly recalling were a public primary school in an upper-class area, and a high-end Catholic primary school. Happily for me at the time, I was in an all-girls’-school by the time I got my period.)

There were routine routine bra-strap snappings and related taunts, in later primary school. But this crap sure wasn’t absent in early primary school, either. Gangs of boys would run up and grab a girl’s around the hem, lift the skirts, and spin her around and around while jeering various taunts at her. If a girl had new breast buds, they would punch her as hard as possible in the chest so that they could enjoy her pain and mortification. I remember another gang of boys who had a girl with cerebral palsy up against the back fence with her knickers off, doing who knows what to her. Hands up dresses and unwelcome touching happened all the time. And then there is whatever else I can’t remember. I haven’t combed my memory too closely.

We just didn’t tell anyone, and the teachers didn’t see, because the boys were smarter than that. And if we did tell someone? “Boys will be boys.” (Which a commenter has actually said in the Courier Mail comments thread about this incident.) You must have encouraged them somehow, (you dirty little bitch). Shall we call your parents in?”

That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.


Addit 21 Sep @2150:

Whew, now that I have that analysis-free blurt off my chest: What I think is going on here is a complete retconning of the Seventies (and thereabouts) to suit what is essentially a conservative agenda. The message is a straightforward When-I-Were-A-Lad one: “This sort of thing never happened in the Good Old Days; I blame new-fangled technologies and customs!” The proposed solution, of course, is to return to the Good Old Days as much as possible, to resist social change, for there be dragons.

The progressive agenda, on the other hand, demands a critical, reality-based account of history. It demands that we recognise that there was no golden age of chivalry. There was no time when men and boys respected women and girls, when the societally dominant protected the oppressed, when benevolence reigned. There was no time when harassment was very rare and child sexual assault didn’t exist; there was no sudden, sharp, recent decline into child sexualisation with a corresponding spike in attacks and assaults and disrespect and kids all over the lawn. This shit has gone on FOREVER, and the only way it’s ever going to stop is if we move forward, not backward.

Categories: gender & feminism, media, violence

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. I love how that site put “attacks” in scare quotes. Because it’s not a *real* attack, is it? Ugh. 😦

  2. This is a great post Lauredhel.

  3. This sort of thing happened in the ’80s and ’90s, too. And it wasn’t just boys; when I was nine, I was bailed up in the toilets by some older girls, who pulled off my bra to “prove” that I was stuffing it with tissues. Their motivation wasn’t sexual, but that didn’t make a difference to my reaction.

  4. Flashback to the 70’s: I loved playing sports and climbing things, but many boys would make fun of girls who did so by looking up their skirts, so I chose to wear terry towelling shorts (as was the fashion at the time) under my school tunic every single day. Then I felt that I could do what I liked, and just roll my eyes at any taunters and say “I’m wearing shorts, fool.”
    I was fortunate that I was athletic and hit home runs in softball and kicked goals in soccer – the boys all knew that I could and almost certainly would hit/kick them hard if they harassed me. But I shouldn’t have needed to have that physical edge in order to avoid being harassed/assaulted. I’m deducing now that other girls at school were less fortunate, but the boys were clever enough to isolate their victims for plausible deniability, so it wasn’t generally noticed or talked about.
    The other side of my reactions in retrospect is that due to autistic spectrum type concrete thinking patterns etc, a lot of the time that boys were making suggestive remarks I simply did not get the hint/nuance/double-entendre etc – it rolled right over me so that I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be upset by something being said. This mean that I had a perfect poker-face blank reaction instead of the embarrassment they were aiming for. I’m sure they thought this was deliberate on my part, and as perfect poker face wasn’t any fun, they just stopped teasing me in those ways. But if I’d been neurotypical and trying to have a poker face at that age, I almost certainly would not have been able to pull it off. Unexpected and at the time unappreciated benefits of ASD.

  5. “Boys will be boys.” (Which a commenter has actually said in the Courier Mail comments thread about this incident.)

    There was a great deal of this said about the high school aged perpetrators of the male-on-male sexual assaults at Trinity Grammar in 2001, as I recall by the parents of the perpetrators among others, and it sounds from this article like it was pervasive at the school.
    I too remember assaults and harrassment among and from my school-aged peers, although in my case more at the very late primary and early high school ages. Some but by no means all incidents were partly informed by early access to pornography I think, mostly forcibly by fathers or older brothers, so there was as always some perpetration of patterns of assault going on.
    When I think of this kind of thing, I am very happy about some changes in childhood actually. I’ve seen kids confidently and insolently blow off what seemed to me to be predatory interest of some kind from unknown adults: adults can’t assume they can corner kids into ‘politely’ answering personal, embarrassing questions any more. I was still (early 90s) able to be victimised by the old “haha, you knew we were talking about sex even if you don’t know the words, that makes you a slut” trick, but more teen and tween girls can’t be shamed by knowledge sexual overtones now.

    This shit has gone on FOREVER, and the only way it’s ever going to stop is if we move forward, not backward.

    Totally agree.

    • I was still (early 90s) able to be victimised by the old “haha, you knew we were talking about sex even if you don’t know the words, that makes you a slut” trick, but more teen and tween girls can’t be shamed by knowledge sexual overtones now.

      There’s another late primary school memory. It would have been Year 4 (just before I moved to a new school is the only reason I can place it that accurately). One of the boys was singing rugby songs and reciting lewd limericks and trying to do that shaming reaction when girls looked embarrassed. Due to years of listening to limerick contests around bushwalking campfires, I reacted by reciting one back instead of blushing. Then we competed for how many we knew. I won.
      Again, I didn’t realise then that I was supposed to be ashamed because I was betraying knowledge of sexuality. I did realise that he was embarrassing my friends, and sorta figured that I might embarrass him by matching his efforts, so I was definitely pushing back, but without full awareness of the nuances of the social bullying going on. Still, after that he treated me with a profound respect, which again retrospectively is very troubling with regard to separate expectations re the “being one of the boys” aspect of women fitting in with men.

  6. There was no time when men and boys respected women and girls, when the societally dominant protected the oppressed, when benevolence reigned. There was no time when harassment was very rare and child sexual assault didn’t exist
    No, just a time when no one talked about it. That’s what they really want back.

  7. Since the conversation is turning in the direction of “boys giving respect to girls who act like boys”, I’m going to link to tor’s post at adrift and awake on that subject, which ties in nicely.
    And yes, another hand up to remembering bullying of that kind. Fortunately for me, I don’t remember any physical bullying, but lots of memories of verbal harassment. TT, I did manage to learn the poker face that came naturally to you, but it was definitely a learnt response.

  8. One of my more unpleasant memories is a boy trying to press up against me on the school bus making sexualised remarks — and doing to it amuse the boys around him. I was eleven, and he was a year or two older. I’m quite sure that he had never been exposed to the internet.

  9. When I was 11, a boy at my school would announce (in the classroom not the playground mind you) that he was going on a “raping rampage.” He would then chase certain girls round the room, corner them and – for want of a better word – hump them. The girls he chose were not outspoken and did not complain, however I did complain, as did some parents.
    This was handled, in my view, very badly. We were all called in to meet external counsellors. Now, I actually think that counselling for all involved is a good thing. The boy in question was only 11 and deserved education and care, not punishment, in order to prevent a continuing cycle. But for all of us to be addressed as a group, as if each were an equal party was appalling. The girls were accused of bullying him, thus provoking the attack. My enraged feminist mothers approached my teacher, who in turn had a tantrum, cried and threw a chair across the room in frustration, telling my parents she “couldn’t handle these kids.”
    In my view, everyone in this situation suffered. The girls, who were taught that they could be at fault in this kind of an abuse situation. The boy, who was not given a thorough understanding of the ramifications of his behaviour. And the teacher, who obviously was not given sufficient training or support.
    When will people realise that arming children with information and being honest with them is far superior than trying to preserve the “innocence” (read: ignorance) of childhood?

  10. My little sister and her friends were harassed by a boy at her school. He forced one of her friends to do sexual things and it was because he was exposed to pornography far too early. Guess when mankind started making pornography? About the time he learnt what drawing was.
    Stupid media. They’ll whip into a panic about anything they think people will swallow.

  11. Seriously.
    For me, it was mostly the boy whose mother talked to him as an adult confidante when her marriage disintegrated, telling him intimate details of her sex life when he was four. He was also allowed to sit in the loungeroom with the adults when they were watching movies, no matter how sexual, how violent.
    Perhaps unsurprisingly, he tried all sorts of shit which we quickly learned never to bother telling his mother about. And when he was thirteen, some poor girl he’d attempted to rape told her parents, and they ended up moving away because they couldn’t get anyone to take it seriously -not his mother, certainly not the police. This was 1998, starting in about 1990.
    SORRY, FAILY NEWS STORIES. He didn’t have any sort of access to the goddamn internet until fifteen, when they bought a computer with Windows. And his messed up bullshit started ten years before that.

  12. The “When I was a boy / girl” brigade never cease to amaze me with their selective memories, or perhaps just invented memories.
    I was schooled in the the 70’s and 80’s. We had bullies, school yard brawls, nasty messages passed around & written on changeroom walls, hate campaigns etc. There were parents who spent all their disposable on drink or drugs, there were parents who abused their children. Nothing has changed except, as someone above pointed out, we now talk about it. Surely this is an improvement?
    We didn’t have the technology, but the behaviours were the same. Many believe bullying is worse now because it’s online, but I’m not convinced. I remember more than one kid who remained forever ostracised after some rumour or event, and more than a few kids who changed schools for the same reason.
    A stand out memory of mine was the day of the traditional excursion to a swimming centre in the last week of school. The two resident boy bullies systematically isolated each girl in turn, and under the guise of horseplay managed to insert their fingers into a majority of us.
    I was 12, it was 1983.


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