The “Willingly” Myth
“Relatives say 11-year-old went willingly with man wanted by police”
“Teacher’s Lawyer: The student went with his instructor willingly”
“Girl went with man willingly, but under law, case is still kidnapping”
All three of these headlines come from recent cases where adults were on trial for sexually exploiting or kidnapping a child. These headlines paint a disturbing picture as to an emerging trend of blaming children and teens survivors of their own sexual abuse.
One of the most common lures of abusers is to use Attention and Affection to convince the child or teen that what is occurring is in the context of a relationship instead of the sexual abuse that is really happening. If the twenty-four year old man can convince an eleven year old girl that they are boyfriend and girlfriend, the child becomes far more invested in the abuse and does everything she can to help keep the secret. The adult’s behavior is still criminal and wrong, but the child feels equally at fault for the secret that s/he is being asked to keep.
Re-read the headlines and then ask yourself these questions:
• If I were a child who had been lured using the Attention and Affection lure would I be any less a victim of sexual abuse than a child approached on the street?
• If I were a child currently being abused by a family member or other trusted figure, would I be more likely or less likely to come forward after seeing this coverage?
• Are we putting the blame of the situation where it belongs?
We have statutory rape laws in this country for a reason. As a nation, we have decided that adults do not get to use their power and authority to sexually abuse our children. Compliant victims are still victims and do deserve our protection.
The media often reflects back what the general public thinks and believes. Please take time to think about the word “Willingly” in the context of children and youth being sexually exploited by adults. If it is a term that does not reflect your values or beliefs, please make yourself heard when you hear it used in conversation or in print. As a society we have come a long way from asking survivors of rape why they were dressed a certain way or if they were “asking for it” by their behavior. Do we not owe our children and youth the same measure of dignity and respect?