Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Other Half of the Equation

Two weeks ago, officials in Portland, ME decided to allow a middle school health center to provide birth control pills to girls as young as 11. There were seven pregnancies reported in Portland’s middle schools in the last few years. At the King Middle School, five girls told the school nurse that they have been sexually active. This has caused national hysteria, of course, fueled by the right wing media. The pious prognostications about the end of civilization have reverberated from sea to shining sea, mouthed by Rush Limbaugh and others of his kind. We’ve even seen them on the pages of the Conway Daily Sun, where another columnist bizarrely attempted to blame teen pregnancies on Hillary Clinton. I feel confident in saying that whatever Senator Clinton may be guilty of, impregnating teenaged girls isn’t on the list.

There’s plenty of blame being circulated. The right wants to blame Democrats (whom they incorrectly call “the left.”) The Christians want to blame godless heathens. The Republicans want to blame what they call “government” schools; linking public education to the government in the hopes of killing public education. There are those who blame our permissive society, and insist that giving access to birth control is condoning adolescent sex. These are often parents who don’t think their kids are old enough to be taught sex education. My very informal survey of teens and young adults reveals that most kids don’t get sex ed at home. Some blame the parents, some blame the kids – there’s enough blame to go around.

I’ve read many of the news stories published about this decision. Some stories feature fairly objective coverage, others are quite slanted toward a religious right wing view. Some make very subtle and revealing comments about how providing birth control will enable these kids to “avoid the consequences.” Apparently that particular writer feels that a 12 year old pregnant girl deserves to suffer the consequences for the rest of her life. One newspaper story had room for reader comments. One man stated that any girl who gets pregnant at age 11 deserves it. Apparently these little Jezebels should have to endure a lifetime of poverty, because they flaunted themselves and got what they deserved.

There is a piece missing from every single story I’ve read about this and every online discussion I’ve seen. The fathers. There is absolutely no mention of the fathers, no speculation as to whom is impregnating these middle school girls. It’s hard to imagine that half the equation could be completely ignored – but it has been.

The most cursory research reveals some interesting data about girls 15 and under and their sexual experiences. A study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 29 percent of teens reported feeling pressure to have sex. Another 33% of them reported being in a relationship where they felt things were moving too fast, and 24% reported that they had done something sexual they didn’t want to. Another study showed that 60% of teen mothers claimed that their pregnancy was preceded by unwanted sex. This is RAPE. Coercing or forcing teenaged girls to have sex is RAPE. Yet, somehow, in all of the uproar – no one is talking about rape or coercion.

The Guttmacher Institute found that 60% of girls who had sex before age 15 were coerced by males who on average were at least 6 years older. Adult men, in other words. That is the missing piece. The National Center for Health Statistics finds that two-thirds of teen births are fathered by adult men. No one is talking about this. The pious-finger wavers are ignoring this. The well intentioned folks at the school aren’t talking about this. Adult men are preying on post-pubescent girls. Isn’t it about time we stopped blaming the girls, and started addressing MALE behavior?

I would rather not see young girls taking the Pill. There are a lot of health risks, and without a condom as backup, they’re still at risk for HIV/AIDs and STD’s – in fact, having adult male partners puts them at great risk for disease. At the same time, I know how a teen pregnancy can impact a girl’s life. The fastest route to poverty for a girl or a woman is motherhood. A teenaged girl should not be a parent – nor should she be the victim of an adult lothario.

This story has been accompanied by plenty of hand-wringing about the decay of our society, our morals, etc. Well, society – what are we going to do about it? Are we going to only deal with half of the equation – the girls? Rape is endemic in this country – yet there is still an undercurrent of blaming the victim. Most rapes are committed by acquaintances, and most go unreported. Still, nothing much is done about it. There is no male movement to end violence against women. Men could have an enormous impact in stopping sexual harassment and violence, if they decided to open their mouths when they hear harassing statements, or worse. Instead, most turn a blind eye. They maintain the male version of omerta.

Two-thirds of teen births are fathered by adult men. Clearly adult men feel a certain entitlement to molest barely pubescent girls. What are we going to do about this? Will we, as a society dare to tackle this problem? Or will we continue to blame the girls themselves, Hollywood, blue states, Democrats, and possibly even Hillary Clinton?

“‘Just say no’ prevents teenaged pregnancy the way ‘have a nice day’ cures chronic depression.” Anonymous

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