June 19, 2008

Girls, Boys, and Violence: Who's Really at Risk?

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

I was in a hotel elevator recently, heading down for breakfast. The doors opened on a floor and there were two women and about eight girls who looked to be around the ages of seven or eight. To the side was a man who gestured them to enter the elevator and follow them in. The women declined his offer and gestured for him to go ahead and one said that they would catch the next elevator. He continued to gesture them towards the elevator, the women did their best to stop the girls from entering and said very politely to him, “No, you go ahead.” 

Eventually he laughed and said as he continued to gesture, “Hey, I’m not one of those, I’m not one of those guys on the post office wall, I’m OK! Really, I’m an OK guy!” 

When he said this, the girls seemed oblivious to his meaning but the women recoiled and put their arms around the girls and pulled them back while the one woman said louder and with emphasis, “No, really, you go ahead, we’re fine.”

He got on the elevator, the group of girls did not, and we rode down to the ground floor. 

I was a bit creeped out by his response and turned to look out the elevator windows and away from him. Later I asked my spouse, who was with me for that exchange, if he had noticed it and thought anything about it. He hadn’t really paid attention to the content of the interaction, since he was ready to get breakfast and didn’t care who got on the elevator as long as someone did! (He’s not a sociologist although he has developed a sociological imagination from clip_image002living with me for the last 24 years!)

Later at the family gathering we were attending, I asked my relatives their opinion about the exchange. All the women were as appalled as I was at the man’s comments. 

Our reactions had strong commonalities: why did the man choose to define himself as a non-predator? Why did his mind go there so fast when there were a myriad of other things he could have said? And, why was he laughing about such a premise, when his comments had made the women visibly uncomfortable?

In our society, we socialize women to be aware of threats, especially from strangers. Girls are kept closer than boys when they are playing outside. Women don’t tend to go out alone at night, and there are a host of other protective behaviors that constrain what they do on a daily basis. We are taught these things to stay safe. In general, men don’t learn these things and they don’t grow up thinking about how safe they are at any given moment.

Whether or not there are real threats, girls and women often assume that we must not trust strangers and not expose ourselves to outside dangers, especially when we’re young.

Let’s look at the data on violence and assault to see if these protective behaviors are useful for women and girls. The National Violence against Women Survey, published in 2000 and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, validates what we know from other studies on these issues.

clip_image002

In Exhibit 12, from the NIJ/CDC study, among those victimized as a minor, physical assault by a caretaker is the most likely threat for both gender groups while rape (by any perpetrator) is slightly more likely for women compared to men. This data show that 40% of women and 53.8% of men have been physically assaulted by a caretaker before they were eighteen; 9% of women and 1.9% of men were raped before they were eighteen.

clip_image004

Exhibit 14 illustrates that relatives and acquaintances are the most likely perpetrator of rape for both men and women prior to the age of eighteen. Stranger rape accounts for a smaller portion of rapes for females than for males.

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If you’re wondering about the age distribution of rape victims, Exhibit 13 shows us that 21.6% of female victims and 48.0% of male victims are less than 12 years old. Note how the pattern is different for females and males: rape becomes less likely for males as they get older while for females, there is a more gradual distribution and the most prevalent ages are 12-17 years old and 18-24. 

clip_image008Exhibit 21 illustrates the adult victimization types and shows that, compared to childhood and adolescence, the rates of physical assault decline for both men and women while the stalking threat increases along with the rape risk for men – and only slightly for women. 

If our main question is the source of the threat and from whom should be protecting ourselves, let’s take one more look at the data: what are the victim-perpetrator relationship patterns for adults?

Exhibit 27 shows that once we are adults, the source of the greatest threat changes-- although the most radical change is for men. Adult males are much more likely to be raped or assaulted by strangers while women’s threat comes primarily from their intimate partners.

clip_image010Considering this data, do we socialize men and women appropriately? 

If we socialize girls and women to suspect strangers and people outside their families, does that work effectively to protect them since most of the real threat comes from people they know?

If we socialize boys and men to assume they are safe from outside threats, are they adequately prepared to protect themselves in childhood and adolescence from people they know and from strangers when they are adults? 

In any case, should we be socializing people at all to be fearful of attack? If we do that consistently, what might happen to the fabric of our society? Will we retreat from social life, as we fear people we know and those we don’t?

It is not effective to teach people to fear those who are less threatening and to trust those who could be a threat, but this is exactly what we socialize women to do. It is also not effective to teach people they are not at risk and can do just about anything they want, yet this is how we socialize men. 

If you were crafting a social policy and educational plan to effectively reduce violent behavior, what would you focus on?

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Comments

The simplest explanation is not that the educational bias is wrong per se, but that the statistics are different exactly beacuse of the educational bias.

Since women are trained to trust people they know and distrust/avoid people they do not know, they will be on average more vulnerable from attacks the former, and so they are more attacked by the latter ones.

Men have a sort of more neutral approach: like everyone, they trust people who they know, but they fear less people they do not know. If we assume these effects cancel out, the attack statistics on men shows that strangers could be effectively more dangerous than non-strangers.

Of course this is oversimplification, but this kind of bias should be investigated. Refocusing educational policies is at risk of simply reshaping statistics without solving the problem of being attacked.

"...rape (by any perpetrator) is slightly more likely for women compared to men." ??? 9% for women compared to 1.9% for men is not a "slight" difference! That is almost one in ten women while less than one in fifty boys are victims of it! The other question is who are the perpetrators? Men or women?

There are both scary statistics backing up both men and women victims. There is a higher rate of risk for women as they get older. Where as for men it seems when they are younger that are more victimized. Predators seem to play up on the role differences. Men are suppose to be more masculine and able to defend themselves. Women are feminine and weak, and cant fight off people as easy. We need to find out who is doing these criminal acts and find a way to stop them.

I have noticed before that being in places with men I don't know makes me nervous. It is true though that most rapes and other things happen with people who are not strangers. It is usually the people you would think you were safest with. So than why are us women talk to be afraid of the strangers?

From previous experience with my girlfriend i find that it makes her feel safer when she is with me rather than by her self. Because of all of the rapes in the US most women feel safe when they are with their significant other. I didn't realize that most threats come from a woman's partner and i didn't realize that most of the men are threatened by someone they don't even know. this was a very good informational article that helped me realize the true information.

Mentalitys of each gender when they are born has as lot to do with being violent or being attacked when grown up. Males are born with a sense of being a protector, which is more masculine. While women are raised to believe that they have trouble protecting themselves, and feel better walking at night with a partner. I do not think it is possible to change the way we raise children. The overall face that men are more built and suited to be stronger so that gives them an edge of defending themselves or being a predator. While woman are more vulnerable for attacks because of their physical attributes.

I think that the guy resorted to that because that was the reason that they were not going to get on the elevator. The guy was just trying to be nice. If he were a preditor he would not mention it at all.

I selected this article because I am becoming more and more aware of gender rights and equalities. Also about why women and men play the roles they do in everyday life. I have witnessed a few incidents like the one in this article and thought it would be interesting to do the assignment on it. I too was appalled by the man’s actions and thought to myself that he must be pedophile or perpetrator. As Raskoff pointed out that why would he laugh and present himself as not being one of those guys. The man could have simply proceeded on his way after the women declined his first gesture. I talked to my spouse as well about the article and she too was as appalled by it as I was (she’s a training coordinator/counselor for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center). All my life I try to be as respectful and a gentleman to both women and men and to witness or hear about such things as this article really makes me think what is wrong with people? Is it how they grow up, trauma they have had or do they just not care at all for people? I believe that if children are taught at a young age in school and educate them about gender equality that there might be a chance. But we can’t control people, we can only educate them.

Of course he mentioned that he wasn't a predator - you were treating him like one by avoiding him at the elevator purely because of his gender.

As it is considered girls are on risk.They are considered as weak so they are targeted.

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