What Conversation the Stanford Rapist Trial Should Have Started

There was more than a fair amount of outrage over the six month sentence given to the former Stanford swimmer who was found guilty of assaulting an unconscious woman. BuzzFeed carried the response from his victim, and the letter that Joe Biden wrote to her in response. Both should be considered required reading:

Victim statement

Joe Biden’s letter

Unfortunately, neither caused the conversation that really needed to happen in the wake of this trial.

While the rapist is definitely responsible for his actions, the failure of education in his past should have been addressed. This man was brought up in an affluent community, so there is no way to suggest that his lack of understanding about the basic rules of social and sexual interaction was due to poor upbringing. On the contrary, his father apparently taught him to not respect women, if his statements after the trial were any indication.

Sex researchers like Alfred Kinsey have regularly suggested that sexual sophistication should be expected in the upper and middle classes of society, but that obviously doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The social experiment commonly known as “abstinence-only education” for children is proving to be more and more dangerous, because it focuses on the most basic mechanics of sexual relations, with heavy reliance on instilling fear of the consequences of being sexually active. Couple that with the “zero tolerance” policies on bullying, and a nearly complete lack of education on responsibility for one’s own actions, and it is becoming a toxic cocktail that is leaving us with an entire generation of youths who lack empathy.

The conversation we’re missing at this point is one that involves teaching children about sex, self-esteem, self-respect, and most importantly, respect for others, from the beginning of their scholastic careers. Every time this topic is mentioned, the religious right claims that the state is trying to take control of something that parents should be managing. That would be a fine argument, if parents were actually educating their children. The fact is that the majority are not.

That isn’t surprising, because the vast majority were raised without much education about sex from their own parents. Most Americans have learned from one source or another that sex is shameful, or taboo – the more religious may have been taught they would go to hell for doing what is actually normal sexual activity. The only way to break this cycle of negative teaching on sex is to start teaching about it in a positive way. In order to have that simple action cause real change in society as a whole, we need to discuss the possibility of setting aside moral issues in our schools, and teach our children that sex isn’t dirty. That is not suggesting that anyone start encouraging children to engage in sexual activities. It is possible to teach children about activities that are reserved for adulthood in a positive way – if parents are wise, that is precisely what they do about drinking alcohol or using tobacco products, for example. It is possible to teach children about sex from an early age, and that is precisely what the developed nations in the world that are doing better than the US when it comes to teenage pregnancy, STD, and rape rates are concerned.

Starting sex education in elementary school is not a radical, unproven suggestion. It is working around the world. It is time for the US to start having a conversation about catching up with the countries that are getting it right. Perhaps it’s not too late for the Stanford rape case to act as a springboard for that.