For Young Women, Sexual Violence Is the New Normal

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

Most young women assume that being harassed, assaulted and abused is simply something that everyone experiences, according to the results from a forthcoming study that will be published in the next issue of the journal Gender & Society. The perception that gender-based violence is normal dissuades most victims from reporting those crimes.

In order to arrive at those conclusions, sociologist Heather Hlavka analyzed interviews conducted with 100 young women between the ages of 3- and 17-years-old. The interview subjects had been identified as potential sexual assault victims through an advocacy group that works to combat child abuse. Hlavka discovered that most of those girls rationalized their everyday experiences of abuse and harassment, simply believing there was nothing unusual about being victimized.

“Objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse appear to be part of the fabric of young women’s lives. They had few available safe spaces; girls were harassed and assaulted at parties, in school, on the playground, on buses, and in cars,” Hlavka writes. “Overwhelmingly described as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘guys do’ or tolerating what ‘just happens,’ young women’s sexual desire and consent are largely absent. Sex was understood as something done to them.”

In other words, these young women tend to believe that men can’t help it. They’ve been taught that men can’t control their aggressive sex drives, so it makes sense to them that girls will inevitably become the subject of that aggression. That’s a central aspect of rape culture, and Hlavka argues it’s been deeply socialized into young women. Most of the study participants didn’t understand that there was any other way for men and women to interact.

These attitudes are so firmly ingrained that women aren’t necessarily supportive of other victims, according to Hlavka. She found that young women avoid reporting sexual violence because they’re too afraid they’ll be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of lying. They’re worried about this reaction from authority figures, who they assume will blame them for provoking the assault, but they’re also worried about the same backlash from their peers.

It’s not hard to see examples of Hlavka’s findings playing out in the public. When young girls come forward to report incidences of assault and abuse, they are quickly labeled as liars and sluts. Their character is usually called into question, their stories typically aren’t trusted, and sometimes their entire communities turn against them. The backlash can be so intense that it occasionally drives rape victims to take their own lives.

The new study echoes previous research that has confirmed unhealthy attitudes about sexuality tend to take root at a young age, contributing to an adult society in which men often simply feel entitled to women’s bodies. Most adolescents grow up without learning anything about rape or consent. Many rapists report that they don’t believe they actually did anything wrong.

Hlavka concludes that Americans have some serious work to do to shift the status quo in this area. “Alternative solutions for the education of young people on sexual relations and abuse are long overdue,” she writes. “The lack of safe, supportive space for girls is palpable. We can thus better understand why young women in this study felt they were expected to protect themselves from everyday violence with little help from others, including those in authority positions. The lack of institutional support assumed by girls in this study should be deeply concerning for educators and policy makers.”

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: littlefishyjes via Flickr

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Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

All the men I meet are astonished concerning my interests.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

If men don´t learn the nice way (I mean by not doing nothing to them as it happens in many countries, or going to jail) let´s make them learn the bad way!! Until when? I´m so sick of this, no one will miss a raper, kill them all!!

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm1 years ago

HOw about educating EVERYONE. Men have NO right to EVER take what isnt offered.
And NO wearing a seductive outfit is NOT an offer to do ANYTHING but admire……not ever. Our society simply accepts this idea that men are more loaded sexually than women. That is and always HAS been bullshit. In almsot all of the animal kingdom the male approaches with extreme caution. he has to PROVE to the females he SHOULD be the sire. If he takes when she isnt reecptive he suffers tremdously.

Men. You NEVER have any right to have sex unless someone invites you in specifically. Women should ALL be trained to stop attackers of all types all through grade school and high school.

Hell 90 year old women are raped. Dont tell me its about sexy attire.

Susan T.
Susan T.1 years ago

Educate girls.

Jessica L.
.1 years ago

Educate men and boys: Tell them not to rape.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm1 years ago

I go to my GRankids school regularly. There is TONS of hope and happiness there Darryll. And no they dont teach if it feels good do it. Very few if any schools do. Evolution fits in VERY well with creationism……..unless you simply refuse to see it. God had to use SOMTHING to create us. WHATEVER life is here requires that it work within THIS system. So he created us from something IN this system. What that is we simply dont know.

Darryll Green
Darryll Green1 years ago

you can thank the dept. of education, when it was started up, it was run by secular humanists, they teach evolution which says we are nothing but animals and accidents of "nature", they have taken almost all hope from the schools, they teach the"anything that feels good,do it" principle and you wonder why sexual abuse has skyrocketed

John W.
.1 years ago

What a horrible thing to say! Imagine:
Tell Jews not to cheat!
Tell Blacks not to steel!
It is worth remembering that it was men who made rape a crime & only 10% of men ever do commit rape.

Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing1 years ago

That is an extremely disheartening study. And I'm afraid it is too accurate. Not only are girls "taught" that guys can't control their libido, so, too are GUYS taught that it is their nature to sexual predators, sort of like "you can't control yourselves, so you might as well give in and enjoy it"

Luna starr
luna starr1 years ago

No one should have to put up with this