It has been almost two weeks since twelve students from Venice High School have been arrested for suspicion of sex-related crimes. Authorities have only shared limited details, however according to the L.A. Times:
- 14 boys, ranging in age from 14-17 years old (several of whom were members of the football and basketball teams) were involved.
- 2 of the boys have not yet been found.
- There were two female victims in their mid-teens.
- The alleged sex crimes are said to have started in December of 2013 and to have taken place on campus during school hours.
- Some of the sex acts were consensual, some were not.
- The investigation is not only focused on behavior occurring on-campus but also on the use of photos and videos circulated on social media.
- The smart phone app Snapchat was used in producing sexually explicit material, which was then used to coerce one of the victims into sexual conduct.
- The incidents were first reported to authorities by students.
In response to the situation, the school has brought in crisis counselors, evaluated school security and emphasized the need for further “safe sex” education.
Having a teen involved in a situation like this on any level is a parental nightmare. And all parents should be aware that this could have happened on any number of campuses across the country. As rumors traduce young lives, and parents, school officials, and lawyers square off for some very expensive finger-pointing, the rest of us should take a moment and process this tragedy.
While we trust the scales of justice to sort out the details of these sordid acts, let’s stop and consider the cultural factors that, no doubt, contributed to this misconduct. These things hardly ever happen in a vacuum after all. For example, the most unconventional thing about these allegations is the virulent role technology seemed play in the assaults.
Think about it, we now live in a culture where teens have free and unrestricted access to pornographic websites featuring every fetishistic desire known to man. Before the advent of the internet, pornography was limited to a couple of Playboy magazines hidden in the basement closet of your best friend’s home. Then, access was severely constricted, and the content paled in comparison to the lurid images this generation now consumes. When you combine this overexposure with a still inchoate sexuality, you have poisoned the well of a teen’s normal development. The scope and sheer volume of aberrant sexual behavior available in today’s cyber-world distorts reality, and as a result teens are susceptible to accepting and assimilating obscenities as normal sexual behavior.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder and other online tools are seemingly robbing America’s youth of meaningful, loving relationships. Many teens don’t date; they just hook up. “Oral is, like, the new kissing,” says one girl quoted in a Huffington Post article. Boys pressure girls to send them nude photos. “They’re definitely more forward to us online than in person because they’re not saying it to our faces.” In the same article, a group of friends glibly remark: “Social media is destroying our lives.”
“So why don’t you go off it?” asks the Huffington Post writer.
“Because then we would have no life,” another girl responds.
So what’s a parent to do? Could my teen really get caught up in a situation like this? Sadly, there are no guarantees, but here are some practical suggestions parents can follow to significantly reduce the risk:
At Playa Christian Church in Los Angeles, California, parents of teen’s meet up once a month to pray for their teens. Prayer is an indefeasible spiritual resource, yet so many parents succumb to the tyranny of the urgent, failing to take advantage of this critical asset.
2. Resist the false security that your teenager is “safe” from sexual promiscuity or victimization.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 67 percent of all sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. Another study by the National Center for Victims of Crime (2000) shows that 33 percent of girls (1 out of 3) are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sixteen percent of boys (roughly 1 out of 6) are sexually abused before the age of 18.
3. Teach your teens about the dangers and enslavement of pornography.
Pornography may be the most alluring trap currently in existence for our teenagers. It’s most damaging consequence is the spiritual separation from God one subsequently encounters. Among adolescents, pornography produces shame and a diminished self-confidence. It has an addictive component and, as with any compulsion, it has the ability to impair day-to-day living. The nature of pornography is that it is both escalating (you develop an increasing appetite for it) and it is desensitizing (it takes more to arouse and thrill you).
Relationships are damaged by competing with online images – ostensibly the loss of sexual interest between couples; Pornography removes sex completely from the context of emotional intimacy, resulting in men being less emotionally attached and less able to deal with the challenges that come with real relationships; Afraid of rejection, uninterested in the complications of involvement, many teens become part of a broader spectrum of loneliness and despair.
Pornography is a major pathway for infidelity in marriage and regular viewing promotes greater sexual permissiveness. Males who view pornography regularly have a greater tolerance for abnormal sexuality including rape and sexual aggression.
4. Build healthy attitudes and habits towards the internet.
Talk to your teen and understand what motivates them. The better you understand your teen, the better you can identify their particular vulnerability – some teens use the internet to fill a void in life, while others may simply have poor impulse control. Talk to an expert in the field and discover what tools are available to help you limit the time spent on the computer and reduce the amount of inappropriate material entering your home – there are lots of helpful tools out there.
When establishing internet limits help teens understand that safety is more valuable than privacy. In addition, insist your teen live in the real world by having regular contact with family, friends, sports, hobbies, and church activities. Most of all, cultivate the time spent on the internet as a privilege rather than a need.
5. Talk about sex, set expectations, and make a positive difference in the choices they make.
Begin by making sure teens understand that God made us sexual beings, and anything God created is good. Emphasize that sexuality is more than sexual behavior. We relate to the world and others as sexual beings. Boys relate sexually in different ways than girls do. This is all part of God’s grand design. Sexual fulfillment is meant to be experienced in marriage, and only when it is experienced in that context, can it fulfill its designated purpose of deepening intimacy and love.
In addition to helping them understand and appreciate virginity, it is not enough to just tell them “Don’t do it.” In a culture that does not value abstinence or purity, they need meaningful reasons to abstain. A generation ago, expecting teens to be abstinent was thought to be waste of time, the common “safe sex” refrain was “Teens either cannot, or will not, abstain from sex; therefore they must learn to take ‘precautions’ that will decrease their risk of becoming pregnant.” Yet despite public cynicism, many churches, schools, and social organizations went forward to promote abstinence programs and they have now been shown to make a difference.
Throughout the nation, young people have resonated with the message of delaying sexual activity, and recent data indicates that the majority of high school students surveyed increasingly remained abstinent; That rise in abstinence has been accompanied by falling rates of teen pregnancies and abortions. So parents should take heart: parents’ involvement, monitoring, and guidance have been shown to outweigh the influence of popular culture and peer pressure. Over the last two decades, according to the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 53 percent of high school students have remained abstinent, an increase of 15 percent, and two in three are currently abstinent. The point is that the long-held premise that “kids are going to have sex and there is nothing we can do about it” is false.
6. Become a part of a community.
Join a network of values-minded parents for support, strategies, and building a system of encouragement and accountability for you and your teen. Raising children is often stressful and isolating; knowing that you can vent and share your feelings with other people who are facing the same issues can be very comforting and affirming. In addition, your children will feel better about themselves. Research has shown that children do best when they know that the important adults in their lives are all working together.