According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5, or 20%, of school girls report experiencing dating violence. Rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality is violent. … A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm” according to Emilie Buchwald’s book Transforming a Rape Culture. There are several traditions in high school that are problematic and contribute to rape culture.
High schools will often fail students who are victims of sexual assault. Schools are supposed to accommodate students who have filed complaints against fellow students to protect the victims from their attackers, but unfortunately, many schools don’t follow these laws. Schools teach students that rape is the victim’s fault and that it’s not a big deal, which is so far from the truth. Schools should be trying to protect students who have reported sexual assault instead of putting the responsibility on the victim to ensure their own well being.
Strict dress codes, which are more often that not geared especially towards female students, reinforce rape culture by teaching young women that it is their fault if they get raped because of the clothing that they wear. They also teach boys that it is not their fault for harassing or objectifying women because of what she is wearing. By implying that others will not be able to focus unless girls are dressed conservatively, school administrators are objectifying women. The way dress codes are enforced in high schools and blaming boys’ behavioral and academic issues on girls’ “distracting” clothing can be very harmful to young women. A major part of the problem is saying that young women are “asking for” sexual attention based on their choice of clothing. It also promotes the sexist misconception that men are not able to control their sexual urges. It’s so crucial to teach high schoolers that no means no, only yes means yes, and how a woman dresses or behaves is never enough to assume that they are consenting to having intercourse.
Although not as severe as in movies, high school is a time when people will earn labels, such as “nerd” or “slut.” While students may not openly discuss them, the labels and reputations are still there. Some girls will be called “sluts” for having the same sexual behavior as a boy who is called a “player.” This is because, starting at a young age, we are taught the stereotype that men “win” by sleeping with women, but women “lose” if they “allow” men to sleep with them. This misconception tends to blur the distinction between sex and rape. Young women are being defined by their sexuality rather than their personality because they are taught not to be sexual through abstinence-only sex education and slut-shaming posters. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states require abstinence-only sex ed courses.
America has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world which proves that abstinence-only sex ed hasn’t been effective in preventing students from having sex. Schools also miss opportunities to teach students about consensual sex by not teaching comprehensive sex education. The Netherlands, which has a considerably less puritanical standard sex education curriculum than the United States, has a very low teen pregnancy rate. A study that consisted of 12 to 25 year olds showed that a majority of respondents reported that their first sexual experience was “wanted and fun.” Another country that has set a great example of what sex ed classes should be like is Denmark. Sex ed classes in Denmark begin at 4 years old and students are taught about consent, contraception, gender identity, love, relationships, and sexual identity throughout their academic years at age appropriate levels.
One stereotype of high school is that students will gather at a person’s house, drink a lot of alcohol, and hook up in the rooms of the house when parents are out of town. While I have never actually experienced this, nor can I speak for all students, I can simply assume that this does occasionally happen. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that when high schoolers binge drink, they are more likely to have sex and less likely to use protection. According to data from the CDC, high school binge drinkers are two times more likely to become victims of sexual assault compared to non-drinkers. Many rapists are using alcohol to their advantage and some even go as far as using so-called “date-rape” drugs.
Prom night is a very big night for high schoolers. It is a highly anticipated event and students often feel pressured to hook up after the actual dance. Young men will often get questions from their friends about whether they’re going to “get some,” which leads to young women feeling pressured to give into what their partner wants. Many young adults have their first sexual experiences in high school and according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in three boys and 23% of girls aged 15 - 17 feel pressured to have sex. This pressure could lead to both parties entering a sexual relationship before they’re ready, and even before they consent. Girls who had intercourse before they were 17 were 45% less accepted by their peers, while boys were 90% more accepted. While peer pressure doesn’t make people rapists, a culture that rewards men for having sex but punishes women for the same thing does.
Toxic masculinity is fostered in many sports teams and the domination of women is often encouraged. The glorification of athletes leads to sexual assault charges against them to not be taken seriously. Schools make male athletes feel powerful and invincible, but don’t give nearly as much recognition to female athletes. Violent or sexist behavior coming from a star athlete will often be disregarded with the excuse “boys will be boys.”