On August 4, 2020, Daisy Coleman, an activist against sexual violence, subject of a documentary on sexual violence against female teens, and rape survivor, committed suicide on August 4, 2020. The media immediately began reporting statistics on sexual assault rates of females and contact numbers for suicide prevention organizations. We overlook a vital lesson in Daisy Coleman’s suicide: the importance of educating men and boys on sexual assault. Again, another sign of “proactive rather than reactive” in response to crime and focusing on the wrong people.
In the current news, education on date rape and sexual assault appear to focus on teaching young women how to protect themselves: “no” means no, the correlation between alcohol and drug consumption and sexual assault, and self-defense mechanisms. What also should be addressed is teaching our young men, in time-tested vernacular, “how to be a gentleman.” Including: “no” means no, the correlation between alcohol and drug consumption and sexual assault, peer pressure dynamics, and the definition of “a man.”
Approximately 1 in 5 American women have reported completed or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime; Approximately 1 in 6 women experienced sexual coercion - e.g., being “worn down” or “forced” to say “yes” to a sexual act (CDC). In 2018, the self-reported incidence of rape or sexual assault more than doubled (Morgan).
An older but revealing study from 2014 reports, “31.7 percent of college males ... in a study at the University of North Dakota said they would act on ‘intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse’ if they were confident they could get away with it.” However, “When asked whether they would act on ‘intentions to rape a woman’ with the same assurances they wouldn’t face the consequences, just 13.6 percent of participants agreed” (Morgan, cited in Culp-Ressler). The researchers concluded the respondents did not equate the word “rape” and “force(d) sexual intercourse.” And Dr. Sherry L. Hamby editor of the journal Psychology of Violence, says of incarcerated rapists, “No one thinks they are a bad guy,” including inmates who have abducted and kept women as sex slaves. There is a disconnection of the perpetrator from the victim and “victim-blaming/shaming.” And “experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem.”
In studies on sexual assault, researchers have discovered other commonalities in rapists include:
They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to nonconsensual sex.
The men begin early, high school, or first years in college, raping an acquaintance.
They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence.
Repeat offenders feel rejected, or they feel as if they are not in a favored group, such as the high school football players. As these males become more successful (e.g., a “college man”) the sexual assault is a revenge tactic (cited in Murphy).
Another dated but revealing study of high school boys shows 60% “found it acceptable in one of more situations for a boy to force sex on a girl.” One out of five students reported they had experienced forced sex; only half of them told someone about the assault (Davis).
Thus far, historically, prevention and awareness of sexual assault have been made a “girl’s problem” – teaching the female to protect herself, media attention focusing on the female, the victim-survivor creates the nonprofit organization to raise awareness – usually because of victimization. (Daisy Coleman co-founded SafeBAE, an organization working to raise awareness about sexual assault in middle and high schools.)
Daisy Coleman was 14 on January 8, 2012, when, after a night of drinking, she became unconscious, and Matthew Barnett, her brother’s friend, raped her. Barnett’s friend Jordan Zech recorded the rape on his cellphone. Barnett then dumped Daisy on the Coleman front steps in freezing temperatures, where her mother found her the next morning. The incident occurred in her hometown of Maryville, Missouri. Barnett, 17, charged with felony assault, argued the sex was consensual. Nodaway County’s Prosecuting Attorney stated there was insufficient evidence, and Barnett eventually received two years probation plus a $1,800 fine. (Many believed this light sentence was the result of Barnett being the grandson of Missouri Republican Representative Rex Barnett.) Daisy and her family were ostracized from their community: their house mysteriously burned down, Mrs. Coleman’s employer fired her, and Daisy relentlessly bullied and harassed. A documentary, “Audrie & Daisy” was made of the case, and included 15-year-old Audrie Pott’s story, which was similar. Maryville sheriff Darren White is interviewed in the film saying of Daisy’s case, “Girls have as much culpability” in rape cases.
If society does not start educating young men and boys on how to treat a woman – even the most basic “common respect” – then we are treating our victims with disrespect, a “second rape.” We are creating adult males who believe nonconsensual sex is not rape, and that girls are to blame. We overlook a vital lesson in Daisy Coleman's suicide.
Audrie committed suicide nine days after she was gang-raped, then bullied. Nine years after her rape, Daisy Coleman’s many demons caught up with her, and she placed a loaded pistol to her pretty head and squeezed the trigger. Each of them ended their “girl’s problem.”
Bradshaw, K.A.; Edwards, S.R.; & Hinz, V.B. (December 15, 2014). Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders. Violence & Gender. Vol. 1, No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2014.0022
Center for Disease Control & Prevention, cited in National Sexual Violence Resources Center (NSVRC) 2015 Data Brief,https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics
Culp-Ressler, T. (January 11, 2015). 1 In 3 College Men In Survey Say They Would Rape A Woman If They Could Get Away With It. ThinkProgress. https://archive.thinkprogress.org/1-in-3-college-men-in-survey-say-they-would-rape-a-woman-if-they-could-get-away-with-it-ffa7406b9778/
Davis, T.C.; Peck, G. Q.; Storment, J.M. (May 1993). Acquaintance rape and the high school student. Journal of Adolescent Health. Vol. 14, Issue 3. (pp. 2220-224).
Morgan, R.E. & Oudekerk, B.A. (September 2019). Criminal Victimization, 2018. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bulletin. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf
Murphy, H. (October 20, 2017). What Experts Know About Men Who Rape. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/health/men-rape-sexual-assault.html
Smith, N. M. (January 30, 2016). “Audrie & Daisy Review - teenage rape documentary is essential viewing.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jan/30/audrie-daisy-review-teenage-documentary-sundance