Thursday, November 7, 2013
Roast Busters Rethink
I have been thinking a lot about the issues around sex and teenagers and have decided that, rather than blame our youth for their dysfunctional and highly worrying behaviour, we (as in the wider community) should be taking greater responsibility. I am actually appalled at the whole media flurry around the Roast Busters issue and how our society is managing the issue of teenage sex.
Being a parent of teenagers (a boy and a girl) and having a background in teaching young adolescents I have some idea about the developmental stages young people have to work through. Sadly, as a society, we probably make the transition to adulthood more difficult for our young people than we need to and expect them to be more responsible than is biologically possible. Recent research shows that it is not until the age of 25 that the brain is fully developed and impulsive decision making is common until then.
Before I say anything more I would like to celebrate our youth for what they actually add to our society. New Zealand Statistics has revealed that the level of volunteering amongst 12-24 year olds has increased by 5% over the past 11 years and this group now makes up almost a quarter of all those doing unpaid work. The Student Army surprised many when students came out in force during the Christchurch Earthquakes and were a hugely important part of the recovery. 2500 students were mobilised and they collectively shifted 65,000 tonnes of liquefaction. The Rugby World Cup show cased our youth during the opening and closing ceremonies and our young people compete well on the international stage in academic, cultural and sporting events. Our youth are a taonga we should value and cherish.
While we can celebrate the achievements of our youth we also have some statistics that are a concern. We have the 2nd worst rate of youth suicide in the world, the 2nd highest level of teenage pregnancy and 12.5% of our youth are not in employment, education or training (NEET), which is higher than the OECD average (for Maori it is 22.2% and Pasifika 17.6%). We have a culture of binge drinking amongst our young people, with females now competing with males as regards alcohol consumption. Around 25% of our youth live in families experiencing poverty and 50% of all children will experience poverty at some stage. Around a quarter of our young people come from one parent families. There is an expectation that all parents should be in employment, so for many youth it is increasingly common to come home from school to an empty house (no adult).
Young people often have access to hardcore internet pornography and they are bombarded on a daily basis by commercial interests promoting junk food, alcohol and other consumables with dubious benefits (including legal highs). Cyber bulling has accompanied greater access to technology and youth obesity statistics continue to rise.
It is in this context where we have young men who have high levels of testosterone coursing through their bodies, possibly fueled by alcohol and recreational drugs, who are biologically geared for behaving impulsively and operate egocentrically. We have young women who are also over indulging in recreational drugs and throwing themselves in situations where they also are not able to think rationally. There is a lot of peer pressure to be sexually active and despite many worthwhile education programmes and parental efforts to promote caring relationships and safe sex, stuff happens. When you consider the pressures and opportunities that young people are now exposed to, one would actually have to wonder why more stuff doesn't happen.
From what I can glean through what has been published on the Roast Busters, we have a group of young men glorifying in their sexual activities, and supposed prowess, and engaging in premeditated behaviour that involves taking advantage of younger girls. I think the behaviour of the Roast Busters cannot be condoned at any level but I think their behaviour has been allowed to develop without any checks and balances despite an awareness of its existence. These young men have made some really bad choices (which some have openly recognized) that have caused serious harm to a number of young girls, and some earlier intervention would have made an enormous difference. I don't believe that these are essentially bad young men but they have been allowed to continue their behaviour under the terrible misconception that it is acceptable.
I am also aware that our legal system is highly flawed in the way it manages sexual offenses amongst youth. There is the arbitrary line of legal sexual consent (16 years) that doesn't recognize that there can be a wide range of sexual and emotional maturity between the ages of 13 to 18. Biologically girls mature faster than boys so that a 14 year old girl can appear both physically and emotionally more mature than a 17 year old boy and, within the normal range of development, the opposite can be true.
If there is evidence of a sexual offense I have personally found that the police take this very seriously, but the law and the system are geared up for the possibility of rape and all that that involves. It is generally up to the girls to decide whether they wish to lay a complaint and that leads to an intensive interview and a traumatic medical examination. Girls are instructed that it is in their interests to go through both processes just in case, because even if they initially do not wish to lay a complaint, if they change their minds at a later date they will need the evidence to support a prosecution.
When alcohol and drugs are involved it is a hard call for young women to lay full blame on the male if an incident occurs where she feels sexual activity occurred against her will. There is also dysfunctional thinking going on with both boys and girls regarding what is considered reasonable in a sexual sense and it is interesting to note that young women are more sexually active than young men (10% more girls have experienced intercourse by 18 years) and many young women now initiate sexual activity.
At the moment there is no middle ground in terms of intervention when sexual activity goes wrong, it is either the full weight of the law or shut up and put up. I am aware of situations where a lower level of approach would be far more useful, where skilled people would sit down with those involved (when they are sober and rational) and talk through an incident and attempt to establish some safe parameters for future engagements. As a society we cannot ignore poor behaviour just because it doesn't reach the threshold for prosecution. We are also expecting a high level of responsibility from young people when they do not have the developmental maturity to operate consistently and yet we often punish them severely when they stumble.
It is unreasonable to expect the police to operate as parents and parents can't be police, we need to rethink how we can support our amazing young people through the difficult journey of becoming an adult in an increasingly challenging world. We can start by recognizing that what we are currently doing isn't working!
It appears that this post has offended and upset some people who felt that I lacked sensitivity around the issue and that I implied that the young men were not responsible for their behaviour and that the victims are also somehow responsible themselves. This concerns me as this couldn't be further from my intention. What I should have made clearer is that I was not talking just about rape but on the enormity of issues that surrounds teenage sexual behaviour. What we probably don't recognise is that there is a lot of sexual activity occurring with young people between friends and acquaintances and when a girl is assaulted (from unwelcomed attention through to rape) it is extremely difficult for them to lay a complaint when they will still have to move in the same social circles as the perpetrator. Even with the Roast Busters Group there were girls prepared to go on TV in defense of them. For any victim who stands up they will also have to confront their wider peer group. I have actually talked about this problem with young people who have experienced assaults and there seems to be widespread support for having a way of managing many situations outside of the police. We have to keep remembering that over 90% of sexual assaults probably go unreported for some of the reasons I have outlined.
It is important for me to say that I still think that rape should be regarded as a serious criminal offense but the current justice system is still not able to manage most cases in a manner that is sensitive to the victim and has the outcome that we would wish.
Here is a link to a post on Hand Mirror that explains well why educating boys to be properly functioning men should start before they can walk.