Stunning sexual ignorance
Sometimes signs of crisis only emerge in the details of events, accumulating like the thin layers of an onion before their full meaning is clear. And sometimes crises arrive full-blown, obvious from the moment they touch our awareness.
We're not sure how to define an event that occurred at Sonoma Valley High School last week, and we're not at all sure it rises to the level of a crisis. But if we were the parents of a teenage girl who last week was the victim of an alleged sexual assault by two teenage boys in the storeroom of a shop class on campus, we would almost certainly have called it a crisis.
And that raises some troubling questions.
It is not clear that enough details are available for a full and accurate interpretation of the event, first reported in these pages May 31. We know that the two accused boys confessed their guilt, and we do not question the nature of the response by school officials and the school resources officer once the crime was reported. They acted quickly, wisely and with appropriate authority.
What we struggle with is the context of the attack, a public school classroom in the bucolic Sonoma Valley where parents have a right to assume their kids are safe.
We don't know enough to criticize the school. Maybe there was lax oversight in the classroom, maybe there wasn't. Maybe in anything short of an actual police state, total security is an illusion. But for us there is a larger issue.
How, we wonder, could two teenage boys assume for a moment that they could get away with forcefully grabbing and groping a female student? What veil of unconsciousness fell over their eyes?
Here's one thought.
We are a culture saturated in sex. It is used with liberal abandon to sell everything from motor oil to beer, deodorant to Dodge cars. Primetime TV is so overloaded with sexual images and innuendo it is difficult to find a half hour of broadcast programming without at least one surprisingly explicit sexual scene.
MTV - where our teen and pre-teen sons and daughters spend hours of their lives every week - is flooded with so much stunningly explicit sexuality that our kids have become desensitized to it.
Go to any eighth-, ninth- or tenth-grade prom and the volume of adolescent cleavage will astonish you. Do they, you will ask yourself, fully understand what they are revealing?
Let's be frank. Sex is a wonderful thing and thank God we have been liberated from the repressive, hypocritical, Victorian and shame-infested culture of the 1950s. But in freeing ourselves from a sexual straightjacket, we have failed to take the next step, which is to intelligently interpret to our children the sexual messages and images assaulting their senses.
Two boys apparently believed they could forcefully grope a girl - in a public classroom - and get away with it. How did they achieve that level of sexual ignorance? That's a question school authorities should be asking themselves, and so should we, because they are our kids. And if we're not willing to teach them, who should? The schools?