"Say I'm hooking up with a girl, and it's going well.
"You progress, and she doesn't stop it (but doesn't want to have sex), is that rape?"
- Ryan, 18, senior
Teen Attitudes Toward Dating and Sexual Abuse
By Dina Gerdeman
The Patriot Ledger
In the minds of many high school boys, rape isn’t always wrong.
A Patriot Ledger survey of 527 high school students conducted for this series found that 7 percent of boys said it was OK to force a girl to have sex on a date.
The lines got blurrier - and the numbers got higher - when the boys were given various what-if scenarios.
Twenty percent of boys said it was OK or sometimes OK to force a girl to have sex if they were dating and had had sex in the past.
Fifteen percent said it was at least sometimes OK to use force if the girl consented but then changed her mind.
And 11 percent said it was OK if the girl was drunk.
School officials and parents are trying to instill in teenagers that when a girl says no to sex, a boy should stop, but the survey results show many teenage boys are still finding gray areas: Was she drinking, was she flirting, was she asking for it?
“One of my close friends, her boyfriend says, ‘You’re a slut.’ She’ll go cry about it, but then go out with him the next day.’’
The Patriot Ledger brought in 10 teenagers from various South Shore high schools to explore the survey results further during a focus group discussion that lasted close to four hours.
The teens, whose names have been changed, agreed that no should always mean no, but at the same time, some of the boys had questions.
Alan, an 18-year-old high school senior, wonders whether flirtatious girls understand the sex signals they’re sending to boys - signals that he says can be dangerous.
“This one girl in my school, she’s very flirty, very annoying,’’ he said. “She doesn’t do anything, but she’s flashy. At parties she takes off her shirt. I want to say to her, ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to get raped.’ (If she was raped), the underlying theme is that she had it coming.”
Mark, a 16-year-old sophomore, believes a guy should stop if a girl says so, but he believes the girl should give a reason for stopping.
Ryan, an 18-year-old senior, also believes a guy should back off if a girl says no, but what if the girl’s disapproval is unspoken?
“Say I’m hooking up with a girl, and it’s going well,’’ he said. “You progress, and she doesn’t stop it (but doesn’t want to have sex), is that rape?”
But some of the girls in the group questioned whether boys were truly confused or whether they chose to ignore a girl’s protests.
“There are so many guys who are going to get caught up in the moment and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t hear you say (no),’’’ said Jocelyn, an 18-year-old senior, said.
The confusion teenagers feel was apparent in the mixed messages found in the survey results.
Twenty-three percent of girls said they have been emotionally abused or physically hurt by a boyfriend or date, and nearly half said they have friends who have been abused.
Despite those high numbers, however, only 12 percent of girls said that dating violence was a serious problem among their classmates.
All of the teenagers in the focus group said they knew another teenager who had been abused or raped.
One girl had a close friend who was raped by an ex-boyfriend, and teens from three other high schools said there were reports of rape that rippled through their classrooms.
The teens said they notice more emotional abuse than physical abuse among high school couples. One person is often jealous and controlling.
One boy, for example, forced his girlfriend of three years to wear sweat pants and put her hair in a ponytail every day so she wouldn’t appeal to other boys, Jocelyn said.
“She wasn’t allowed to talk to other boys,’’ she said. “He would cause a scene and scream at her.”
Victoria, an 18-year-old senior, is surprised that some of her friends allow their boyfriends to call them names. Some girls diet because their boyfriends call them fat.
“One of my close friends, her boyfriend says, ‘You’re a slut.’ She’ll go cry about it, but then go out with him the next day,’’ she said.
Control goes both ways. Victoria knows some girls who “mess up their boyfriends” emotionally. One girl, for example, demanded that her boyfriend buy her a ring for Christmas, so he sold his guitar to buy it.
Although physical and emotional abuse is obviously a problem, the good news is that teenagers say it’s less common today than it was in 1993, when The Patriot Ledger conducted a teen survey with some of the same questions. Compared with nine years ago, fewer girls today say they have been abused, and fewer have friends who have been abused.
Carole Sousa, consultant to the state education department’s teen dating violence program, said that’s because schools have been making headway in their violence prevention programs.
Still, the programs haven’t gone far enough, she said, when 7 percent of boys think it’s OK to force a girl to have sex, and that’s higher than the 4 percent who said it was OK in 1993.
“We’re fighting an uphill battle,’’ Sousa said. “There is so much in the media telling boys that they have a right to treat girls as sexual objects. They are constantly bombarded with this idea that they are entitled to sex, and however they get it, it’s OK.”
Dina Gerdeman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.