Girls gone wild?

Some startling results from a Hillsborough County, Florida survey of about 5,000 randomly selected middle-school and high school students:

More male high school students – 16 percent – reported being physically hurt by their significant others than female students, at 11.8 percent.

More than 9 percent of male and nearly 12 percent of female high school students said they were physically forced to have sex.

“I know that is happening, because my son constantly gets letters from girls who want to do sexual things to him,” said Paula Thomas, mother of five children ages 9 to 16. “It starts in the sixth or seventh grade.”

(Hat tip: Dr. Helen.)

The findings on dating violence contradict a lot of received wisdom, and are in line with findings from previous studies. When will dating violence prevention curricula reflect this reality?

As for the findings on sexual aggression: I’m not questioning the fact that males can sometimes be sexually forced by females. But when a study finds that 9% of high school boys (only slightly lower than the figure for girls) have been “physically forced” to have sex, I have to wonder how this study defines “physically forced.” (Surely gay male students cann’t account for more than a fraction of this figure.) Are we talking about being physically overpowered or restrained, or threatened with violence, or being otherwise placed in a situation where they cannot avoid sex without some risk of harm? Or one person making persistent but non-forcible, non-threatening physical advances, and the other giving in for lack of assertiveness? There’s a big difference between being forced into sex and being pressured into sex, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of the rhetoric on date rape has blurred that line (with the ironic result, it seems, of branding many teenage girls as date rapists).

30 Comments

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30 responses to “Girls gone wild?

  1. Revenant

    “my son constantly gets letters from girls who want to do sexual things to him”

    “They know to stay out of certain hallways because of the girls.”

    Ok. I’m trying to picture a teenage boy saying “Dude — don’t go over there. Girls will try to have sex with you!”. It isn’t working.

    When I was in high school I lied my ass off on those sex-and-drugs surveys. I wasn’t the first or the last, and I suspect the tradition continues to this day. “These kids are making stuff up” makes more sense than “teenaged boys are sick of being asked to have sex”. Pft, they wish.

  2. Ampersand

    Keep in mind being “physically hurt,” in this survey, could include anything from being brutally beaten up to being playfully faux-slapped. The questions for both dating violence and for rape are so brief and unspecific as to be useless, in my opinion.

    Here is the COMPLETE section on dating violence and forced sex, from this survey:

    21. During the past 12 months, did your boyfriend or girlfriend ever hit, slap, or physically
    hurt you on purpose? (Yes/No)

    22. Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to? (Yes/No)

    There’s pretty much a consensus among social scientists who work in this area that multiple, specific questions lead to much more accurate results. I’ve seen worse survey instruments than this one – but not many.

    As for spreading confusion about the results of date-rape surveys, in my opinion the fault lies at least as much with “dissident feminists” who have misrepresented such surveys in order to attack results they don’t like.

  3. mythago

    I have to wonder how this study defines “physically forced.”

    This is why it’s always good to rely on the original study, and not a news report or a blogger’s version of a news report of the study.

    Amp’s right that this is a pretty lame study–what about students who have been forced into oral sex or non-penetrative sexual contact?

  4. jw

    The study may well be of less than stellar quality. That said, there clearly is a problem of male victimization in dating relationships. Worse, there is open joy in trying to minimize that problem.

    How big of a problem? I don’t know, bigger than most are willing to admit, that much is for sure. Also, dating violence education does not include the female offender or the male victim and that is a great wrong.

    As for female offender sexual assault against males. It is well described in the literature. Bill masters was very hard on the rest of the social sciences due to the lack of recognition.

    In my own case it was a drugging. She also used belts and kicking to finish it off. I nearly died. My todlers watched me swim in my own vomit.

    Pity that all social scientists demand that I, the male, must be at fault.

  5. Andras

    being playfully faux-slapped

    … which still constitutes assault, at least according to the Criminal Code of Canada.

    As for spreading confusion about the results of date-rape surveys, in my opinion the fault lies at least as much with “dissident feminists” who have misrepresented such surveys in order to attack results they don’t like.

    “As much” as with (radical) feminists “who have misrepresented [such] surveys in order to attack results they don’t like”?

  6. Synova

    I doubt it’s faux slapped so much… girls aren’t really taught not to hit people, are they? And if, like most kids, they are “trying on” adulthood it makes perfect sense to me that they’d think getting physical when they are angry is a nicely dramatic grown-up response. And on television, how often does the male person give the slapper a cold look and walk away forever and how often is there a sense that the female is brave and strong and they make up again?

    As for boys staying away from sexually agressive girls… boys like to be the agressor, no matter how much they like to brag to their friends that she can’t keep her hands off him.

    In any case, I’m reminded why my kids aren’t in school. And that’s a good thing.

  7. Ampersand

    Andras and Synova, I’m not saying that women never abuse; obviously, some women are abusers. But it’s also obviously true that both boys and girls sometimes play-slap or kick each other under the table in a way that is substantively different than attacks that are intended to harm or that cause real fear of injury in the victim.

    It’s my anecdotal experience that girls do this more often, as a sort of friendly flirting (often accompanied by saying “slap slap” aloud), but I realize that my anecdotal experience might not be typical.

    Any survey that contains no way at all to distinguish between real attacks and harmless play is missing something that’s substantively important. And if Canada’s laws cannot make that distinction, then that’s screwed up.

    “As much” as with (radical) feminists “who have misrepresented [such] surveys in order to attack results they don’t like”?

    My experience is that radical feminists (Andrea Dworkin is the example I have in mind) are less likely to misrepresent surveys, as they are to choose to focus only on a few outlier surveys, without acknowledging that to their readers. It may not be misrepresentation, but it’s deceptive, and that’s wrong.

    At the same time, I think that feminists who cite best-practice, non-outlier studies are often accused of misrepresenting the results, or of using sham surveys, by right-wing feminists.

  8. beenaround

    Ampersand says:


    At the same time, I think that feminists who cite best-practice, non-outlier studies are often accused of misrepresenting the results, or of using sham surveys, by right-wing feminists.

    Can you dig up some specifics? URLs will do.

  9. Ampersand

    Warren Farrell considers himself a feminist (or did when his book Myth of Male Power was written; I assume he still does today, but I don’t know for sure). In Myth of Male Power, he writes the following:

    A Ms-sponsored study which the mass media widely quoted as saying that 25 percent of all women were raped by the time they were in college used this question to reach the 25 percent figure:

    “Have you given in to sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because you were overwhelmed by a man’s continual arguments and pressure?”

    Two problems with this passage. First of all, the study in question found that 25% of college women have experienced rape or attempted rape at some time in their life; the number for complete rape is closer to 12%. One could argue that Farrell was just repeating how the study was reported in the mass media, but it’s irresponsible to do so without also reporting the correct figure. Besides, the sentence as a whole seems to attribute the 25 percent figure to the study itself – it is the study, not the media, which (according to Farrell) “used this question to reach the 25 percent figure.”

    Second problem: Farrell is either an incredibly careless reader or a liar, because the study didn’t use that question for calculating rape prevalence. (The study did contain that question, but used it only to report instances of “pressuring” – not rape.)

    So Farrell, in “criticizing” the study, misrepresents both the study’s results and its methodology.

    (I discuss how the “1 in 4″ misunderstanding is spread by both feminists and what I then called “anti-feminists” in this post from a year ago.)

  10. Pooh

    I’ve heard of this problem, yet there is such cognitive dissonance that its hard to wrap my head around it. It might well exist, but it matches nothing that I experienced or was aware of during my early adolescent years.

    As a question, could this be a manifestation of the stigma that exists for girl’s ‘giving in’ or ‘being taken advantage of’ that does not attach to males, and how that stigma has been internalized?

  11. William R. Barker

    First, allow me to applaud Revenant’s “Dude” scenario. (*GRIN*) Second, on a more serious not, allow me to second his distrust of these sort of surveys.

    Hell, even beyond “lying,” there’s different individual interpretations to consider. People “read into” both questions and answers in totally different ways. And frankly… even most “professional” surveys are poorly written.

    On this thread I’ve gotta applaud Mythago for pointing out in most instances it’s unwise to rely upon even the most well-intentioned media (and that’s giving a BIG benefit of the doubt!) when there’s an option of reading the original source material.

  12. Anonymous

    Isn’t that study show that many women did not know they were raped?
    Amp and mythago are radical feminists who want to continue this propoganda to gain power nothing else. Once they can brand all men as rapists they can prove their patriarchy theories very easily. I mean if 25% women are getting raped in college that means close to 25% men are rapists. Look around you if you see four men your son, brother, father and friend one of them is a rapist. Amp obiviously is not a rapist!

    I think it’s prudent thing to be suspicious about radical feminists. Their world view is entirely different than yours and mine. For fuck’s sake these people talk happily about reducing men’s population to 10% overall and other bullshits…To achive their utopia they will fuck around with anybody..

  13. Pooh

    classy to say all that anonymously

  14. jw

    A girl punches a boy on the shoulder. A boy pushes a girl with his upper arm and hip.

    Both things are body language for “You’re silly: I like you.” Yet, women’s groups demand that the girl’s action is part of mating behavior and the boy’s part of violence: These women are wrong and sexist.

    Struckman-Johnson did several studies on sexual assault in universities. She found that women used drugging and threats to third parties at a significant rate. It is safe to say that high school girls do the same. In spite of this, no action has been taken on the part of anyone to stop females from using drugs and threats to third parties.

    BTW: Both threats to third parties and drugging raise the seriousness of sexual assault: I doubt there is one North American jurisdiction that does not consider both to be serious aggravation of a sexual assault.

    We cannot solve the problems inherent in violence without actually solving those problems! We must include both sexes as offenders and as victims. Furthermore, we must remove from anti-violence activity all those people who have a sexist agenda.

    We must also consider contempt for either sex to be violence.

  15. Ampersand

    Amp and mythago are radical feminists who want to continue this propoganda to gain power nothing else.

    Oh no, Mythago, he’s on to us! Quick, to the Radfemobile!

    We’ll go hide out in our secret Radfem-cave, where we can plot our next nefarious scheme! Soon the world will be ours! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

  16. Stevie Hensen

    Interested. Keep Blogging!

  17. Cathy Young

    anonymous: I don’t particularly appreciate the name-calling and the profanity. Knock it off.

    Amp, thanks for clearing up the issue of what questions were used in the poll. I read the Tampa Trib piece, but couldn’t find the original data.

    A question: In a poll that asks people about being “hit, slapped or physically hurt,” do you think a lot of people would be likely to report “play-slapping”? I do agree the question needed to be better phrased.

    By the way, I’m well aware of the fact that the Koss survey did not equate sexual pressure with date rape (and that Farrell misrepresented her survey). However, a lot of date rape education programs do, which is why I wonder what these kids mean by being physically forced into sex.

    By the way, I don’t find it surprising that boys can feel very intimidated by sexual aggression from girls. If we’re talking about kids 12-13 years old, girls are often more mature than boys at that age, and boys are often still at a stage where sexual stuff (in real life as opposed to fantasy) scares them.

    True story: some 15 years ago, the son of family friends of my parents’ (about 12 years old at the time) asked his parents very urgently to take him home from summer camp. When they pressed him for the reason, he didn’t want to tell them at first, and then finally confessed that a couple of girls were being very sexually aggressive toward him and were taunting him as “gay” because he wasn’t reciprocating their interest.

  18. Darleen

    Yet again the argument is over terms and definitions. And some terms become so politicized as to be nearly useless.

    And the neat little trick of lumping not-so-serious and serious together to ramp up the stats hasn’t lost it appeal.

    My own personal observations, its not so much that teen boys or girls are more sexually aware then they were in times past, but have been more sexualized via pop-culture and erosion of parental responsibility/authority.

  19. Ampersand

    A question: In a poll that asks people about being “hit, slapped or physically hurt,” do you think a lot of people would be likely to report “play-slapping”? I do agree the question needed to be better phrased.

    I think the question needs to be junked and replaced with 10-20 better phrased questions.

    To answer your question, when people, especially kids, are faced with a long list of scattershot, themeless questions (“have I ever driven drunk, how often do I exerise, have I used illegal drugs…” etc etc), such as this survey presented, some kids look for excuses to answer “yes,” if only to break the monotony. That’s one reason I think the best questions in these surveys are specific and narrow. (I.E., “has a boyfriend or girlfriend slapped you in a way that hurt you physically or made you feel frightened” would be a better question about slapping).

    Even better would be to follow up “yes” answers with detailed questions about the incident. I don’t have the reference handy (I could find it if you want), but one study which added follow-up interviews to the Straus/Gelles C.R.S. found that one report of abuse was actually a case of playful kicking under the table.

    Play-slapping aside, not all violence is the same, because physically women and men aren’t the same. I once had an angry girlfriend punch me as hard as she could; I walked past her and left the room.

    What if the situation had been reversed? Would she have been as unhurt as I was, if I – a foot taller and 150lbs heavier than her – had hit her as hard as I could? Would she have been able to brush by me and leave, confident that I wouldn’t be able to stop her?

    What my girlfriend did to me was wrong. But it simply wasn’t the same magnitude as if I had done the same to her. Sometimes the meaning of an act is altered by context.

    This particular result from Florida is an outlier; as far as I could tell from a brief glance, most of the times they’ve run this particular survey instrument, it finds that there’s about equal dating violence between girls and boys. My guess is that this result is accurate, and not attributable to “play slapping” and the like.

    But I also think that if they asked more questions which took outcomes into account – such as “have you ever been beaten up by a boyfriend or girlfriend” or “have you ever been physically assaulted by a boyfriend or girlfriend in a way that made you feel terrified or helpless” – the picture would no longer be gender equality.

    Have you ever read Michael Johnson’s essay “Patriarchal Terrorism and Common Couple Violence” (Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (1995). 283-294)? Despite the use of the word “patriarchal,” which I know you hate, it’s worth a read. I think it’s the best attempt I’ve seen to reconcile (rather than find excuses to ignore or deny) the disparate data on intimate violence.

  20. mythago

    Soon the world will be ours! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

    Silly, the world IS ours! Don’t you read any of those anti-feminist websites?

  21. Apesnake

    Maybe all children should be taught that they have certain rights to what when they can be touched and where. Maybe those in authority should be more aware that if some child or teenager is complaining about how peers or faculty are interacting with them there would be far fewer incidences of this kind.

    I have recently seen an article that examines female sex offenders at a time when Australian airlines are asking males to change seats so they don’t sit next to unaccompanied minors. I agree that men are in general a greater risk but making the problem seem to be a male only problem is dangerously naive and detrimental to the view of men in society.

  22. jw

    cathy young asks: “In a poll that asks people about being “hit, slapped or physically hurt,” do you think a lot of people would be likely to report “play-slapping”?”

    Some people clearly will include play slapping/punching. Others will not. I doubt there’s any way to predict the breakdown of will/won’t in any group smaller than a few hundred thousand. There are simply too many variables. The question needs to be reworded.

    Also, one needs to use a lot of care when asking males about violence, doubly so with sexual assault. Males tend to be a lot more susceptible to wording.

    The classic of this is that if you ask 100 male sex assault survivors if they have been raped you will be lucky to get one yes. In 1992 I asked every man I could find who was sexually assaulted by a female this question, (it was a rather nasty hunt). I found 42 such men and got zero yes answers.

    I should note to those who think along gendered lines:

    I’m 6’1″ & 200 lbs. My wife is 4’8″ and 90 lbs. She is faster and stronger than I and by quite a lot. This due to my disability. Unfortunately, those who think along “males are big and tough” lines never seem to take disability into consideration.

  23. Ampersand

    JW, to any generalization, there are always individual exceptions. I don’t deny at all that some men are seriously abused by their wives and girlfriends – including some men who are much bigger than their abusers.

    However, when looking at global statistics, I don’t think it makes sense to ignore the fact that in general being bigger makes a substantial difference, even though there are individual exceptions.

  24. Daran

    Am I the only one who doubts that 3000 Hillsborough students were surveyed? This is like a major national survey squeezed into a single county.

  25. peter hoh

    For what it’s worth, quite a few of my 4th grade boys reported being the target of sexually loaded taunts from middle school girls.

  26. colagirl

    Taking off from ampersand’s comment….I’m 5’4″, 5’5″ on a good day, and weigh circa 130 pounds. My fiance is 5’11″ and weighs >200 pounds. We are both in reasonable health. I can’t ever imagine either of us becoming physically violent with each other, but if I hit him as hard as I could, I might leave a nasty bruise. If he hit me as hard as he could, I doubt I would still be standing. *shrug*

    That being said, I suspect a court would be somewhat less likely to take seriously a claim that I was abusing him than the reverse (and for just that reason).

  27. Darleen

    ampersand

    if I may make an observation from having worked now for about 7.5 years in a DA office, anecdotal as it still remains.

    Men do still commit a majority of domestic violence cases (that includes dating relationships, regardless of straight/gay). But women as aggressors is not rare by any means. Maybe 3 or 4 out of 10. And while women may be smaller, they have a tendency to make up for that by using weapons much more often. Knives, cans of food, whatever is handy.

    And we reject a great many cases for filing because of mutual combat.

  28. jw

    darin: They probably tried to get every student in the district. It’s one way of getting a statistically valid sample.

    colagirl said “… I suspect a court would be somewhat less likely to take seriously a claim that I was abusing him than the reverse …”

    Yes. That does appear to be a problem. Some judges seem to see the size and ignore the many other factors.

    Certainly for men who have de facto custody –they have the kids– and are seeking an order of protection, judges very often refuse based on the “he is bigger” standard. This hurts children as well as men.

    darleen: Your experience matches well with statistical evidence based on requirement for medical care. Using that standard one expects one third male victim for single offender and a lot of both-parties cases, ie above 33%.

    The two to one based on “need for medical care” standard seems to be the only one being put forth by serious researchers these days. For that reason, I think it is the best standard to use.

    What most concerns me about the whole thing is the number of people who do mental and statistical gymnastics to try to make the number of male victims insanely small. Whenever I see people doing such mental twists I know something important is happening.

  29. Anonymous

    Did anyone else see that Newsweek article about a year ago(maybe?) on the increase in violent acting out among, particularly young, women?

    Z

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