“Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see.”
– Stephen Sondheim
The recent fallout over recorded remarks by Donald Trump are far more than unfortunate or embarrassing and should not be dismissed or diminished by anyone who chooses to stand by the Republican nominee. There is a clear and undeniable danger that underlies the kind of language that should never be deemed acceptable and further sends a message to children – young men in particular – but also men in general that it is all right to engage in conversations that encourage disrespect for women and girls.
On the contrary, it is never all right.
Whether Trump actually committed sexual assault or was just running his mouth, as he is known for doing, remains a matter for law enforcement and the courts. But the court of public opinion seems unfortunately divided.
Sadly, those who dismiss this conversation are doing so for political expedience. They also dismiss the conversation at a time when concerns over how we guide our children away from harmful beliefs and behaviors is crucial to our future as a society.
The message and the language take on an extremely dangerous life of its own that signals to our youth that objectifying women and young girls is not only acceptable, but is in fact an expected part of some rite of passage, or shop talk, or just private conversation between the guys. There is no excuse for this kind of language and there should certainly be no exceptions at any time or under any circumstances.
One in four women will experience sexual assault in this country by year’s end, and an estimated one in six men will be sexually assaulted as well. Regrettably, these numbers represent only reported cases, which suggests that the numbers are significantly higher due to so many women and men who choose not to report for fear of reprisal, or out of a belief that nothing will be done to bring perpetrators to justice.
We can cite the recent decision by a judge in a Stanford athlete’s case that amounted to a slap on the wrist for an obvious criminal while no thought was given to how a woman’s life was destroyed by a selfish act of sexual assault. Men watching that outcome may be left with a belief that they have nothing to fear for acting on this misguided perception of entitlement.
Where does such belief come from and why is it a reality in our society?
While we can probably come up with a litany of answers, one that stands out clearly for me is that far too many people in our society will excuse sexual assault for convenience, and out of a sick and distorted fantasy of male privilege.
For those of us who work in the sexual assault prevention arena, we seek to convey a central message that consent must be respected. Expanding that message even further, I would submit that no one should ever consent to being sexually assaulted verbally, and clearly not physically. Therefore any discussions about this scourge should be rejected as disrespectful at the very least, as outright disgusting, and even illegal.
Our youths deserve to grow up in an environment where no excuses are ever made or accepted. That process begins with each of us, regardless of our political alliances, holding one another accountable for what we say and do.