Tuesday, September 21

‘Men Are Like Dogs’: What I Was Taught About Sexual Assault At My Private Catholic School | Rape and sexual assault


When a petition went viral recently, documenting more than 3,000 cases of sexual assault by children in Sydney’s private schools, I was saddened and scared, but not surprised, to find the testimony of a student at my old high school. I was also surprised, but not surprised, that the then 16-year-old girl said she was embarrassed to tell someone about her sexual assault.

I understood his shame. It was a feeling I learned during the 13 years I spent in a private girls’ school in Sydney, run by an ultra-conservative faction of the Catholic church.

Perhaps, like me, the student first learned about the concept of consent with the story of Santa Maria Goretti. When we were in fifth grade, a teacher told us about an 11-year-old Italian girl whose neighbor tried to rape her. It was not clear what the word was violation I meant, just that it was obviously a sin for everyone involved.

The virtuous girl begged her would-be rapist to kill her so that she would remain pure. This meant that he could go straight to heaven instead of hell. The teacher said. He stabbed her to death, and now Santa Maria has the dubious honor of being the youngest virgin martyr in the church.

Perhaps the student was also given the warning about a teenage couple who participated in the act of fornication – another word I didn’t know. Driving home from where this disgusting encounter took place, they were in a horrible car accident. The girl was murdered in a particularly gory manner, described in a level of detail that I have not forgotten more than two decades later.

But the climax was when the police arrived on the scene and the boy sobbed: “I led her to death, but I threw her into hell.” This was because he did not have time to repent for fornicating, our teacher explained quite naturally.

I was the same age as young Santa Maria Goretti when I heard these “true” stories in class. With my murky understanding of sex and rape, the two became indistinguishable: both were mortal sins with eternal damnation as punishment. Consent was inconsequential and was never mentioned.

As tweens, we were each given a prayer card with the image of this holy girl, so that we could beg her to have the same strength to choose death over impurity.

When we got to high school, our sex education consisted entirely of bullying ourselves into fear of losing our virginity. They gave us a lecture on how the pill would give us cancer and told us that the only proven form of contraception was abstinence. “Just say no!” If our Do not was ignored? It meant we weren’t saying it clearly enough.

We saw videos called Sex has a price tag and Sex still has a price tag. In them, we saw American evangelist Pam Stenzel traveling through schools to yell at the teenage audience that girls who have sex with more than one man are like duct tape losing its cane.

I wonder if the sexual assault survivor at my school was shown these videos as well, if, like me, she learned from a young age that her intrinsic worth as a woman and as a human was no greater than her purity.


IIn the absence of actual contact with children, we learned a great deal about them through a bewildering array of euphemisms: Men were like dogs, and if you put food in front of them, they had to eat it; They were wild stallions and the women held the reins bravely; They were cars and if you rev ​​their engines but left them stuck in neutral, they would explode. It is up to women, always women, to keep a firm foot on the brakes.

After all, men’s brains were smaller than women’s, so they couldn’t be held responsible. That’s why they always did stupid things without thinking, like abseiling without harnesses.

And sexually assaulting teenagers.

Although we did not know any man, we already had the burden of controlling his thoughts and actions. My first failure occurred at age 13, when I received an arrest on Saturday for “flirting with a field instructor” (a 30-year-old man) because he was wearing shorts above the knees and was sitting with my legs slightly apart.

The director took me to her office, one of many similar visits, and was enraged: “Where is the fidelity?” I had already cheated on my future husband by showing another man my teenage knees.

After my infidelity, our outdoor camps were quickly replaced by prayer retreats so that there would be no exposure to male instructors. But there were still priests, and they forced us to cover our shoulders and forearms so that they couldn’t see our naked flesh. “A priest is still a man,” we were regularly reminded.

One student even had a sweater forcibly put on before the teacher took her to the hospital after she fell and broke her collarbone. The girl’s pain was secondary to the imaginary horror of a doctor having impure thoughts while doing his job.

“Impure thoughts are also a sin,” they told us. And we understood that a man’s thought was Our without.

At 16, our bodies were becoming problems that needed to be managed as they filled up in the places most likely to tempt men.

Our teachers, many of whom belonged to this religious sect and were celibate for life, watched and watched how we walked, talked, and dressed. We had etiquette classes to teach us the correct way to sit and stand and to show us how to wear a white blouse without the outline of our bra being visible. The teachers’ job was to make sure that we never let our guard down even for a moment in case we lured men into sin.

That’s what the rape was. It was not a crime, a rape or an abuse of power. There was only sin, for which women were not equally guilty, they were to blame.


FIf fifteen years after my 2001 graduation from the private girls’ school, I got really drunk with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I woke up the next morning to find him in my bed, along with scant memories of him on top of me the night before, between fainting spells. He had bought us four bottles of wine.

I thought the feeling of rape would be the worst part. But then came the shame.

I was deeply ashamed of this encounter because the shame etched itself on my sexual identity and self-esteem while I was still in the fragile process of forming them. I had been told that I was bad so many times throughout my childhood and adolescence that I really believed it.

I was ashamed because, like all the girls in our school, I knew very well that if you touched alcohol, you were asking for it. “Just say no!” it didn’t work if he was unable to say anything at all; then you had provoked it.

I was embarrassed because if you got alone and intoxicated in a room with a man, then it was natural for him to have expectations. You cannot give the bone to the dog and then take it from him, they told us at school.

And I was embarrassed because I forgot for one night to tightly hold the reins of the stallion exactly the way I was trained. I had no doubt in my mind whose fault it was. He was supposed to be my friend, but I it was who had guided him.

I was 32 when this happened, not 16. But all those intervening years weren’t enough to repair the damage done by my private school education. We didn’t learn about alcohol and consent, because we didn’t learn about consent at all. I’ve never heard the word spoken once in 13 years, and I’m sure the kids at our sister school didn’t either.

At that same suburban Sydney private school, and others like it, testimony after testimony after testimony makes it clear that young girls are still learning that they are to blame for their sexual assaults. I wonder how many others don’t even realize that what happened to them was not a “sin” or a “bad choice.”

And without the proper education for the consent of boys and girls, I fear for another generation of young women who will have to live in shame their entire lives.

In Australia, the crisis support service Life line en 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found through www.befrienders.org.


www.theguardian.com

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