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Scaring straight goes slutty

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, August 24, 2008 16:23 EDT
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I’ve been meaning to write on this situation that Lindsay blogged about for awhile, and it’s good, I suppose, I put it off, because there’s been an illuminating amount of follow-up. To summarize: Windsor High School in Wyoming has, like a lot of high schools, a routinely administered “torture them for being teenagers” program of the “scared straight” variety. When I was in high school, the big scary things that we teenagers were assumed to be doing were at least tangentially related to the horrible punishments that were trotted out—the naughty was drugs and the consequences were long prison sentences. Those were more innocent times, I suppose, since at least drug paranoia was equal-opportunity and, objectively speaking, based in the reasonable belief that kids shouldn’t do drugs. That said, the scared straight programs I bore witness to were ineffectually maudlin and, in the classic tradition, seemed to be rooted in fear and loathing of teenagers for being teenagers, so the sum total effect was that if you didn’t want to do drugs before the program, you sure did afterward.

But I got off relatively easy, because nowadays, the Big Bads are technology and female sexuality, both of which are things I tend to put much more in the positive column, which is why I’m not an officer making money on the side berating teenage girls for having genitals and using computers.

Students and parents at Windsor High School are outraged after a Wyoming police officer doing an Internet safety presentation at the school scrutinized individual students’ MySpace pages, calling the students “slutty” and saying photos on their sites invited sexual predators.

The officer, John F. Gay III of the Cheyenne Police Department, picked out six or seven Windsor High School students’ MySpace page and began to criticize photos, comments and other content until one student left the room crying

“He told the entire student body that he had shared her info with a sexual predator in prison,” said Ty Nordic, whose daughter Shaylah Nordic’s MySpace page was put on display.

Nordic said Gay then told the student body that the predator said he would masturbate to her picture.

He continued to single out this girl for abuse, all under the guise of showing what someone else—a real bad guy, supposedly—could do to her. Nifty trick, there. I wonder if he ever thought if he could sexually assault a girl on stage to demonstrate what the “real” bad guys could do, or if he knew enough to draw the line at fantasizing out loud about it in front of his targets and their friends.

What’s interesting to me is what happened after parents complained. Initially, authorities defended the asshole. Then the school officials carefully admitted that it might be unwise to spend taxpayer money to hire men to sexually harass their female students, especially when cat callers will do it for free.

The lesson learned here is that it’s hard to know when you’re going too far when you started out on the wrong path. Calling teenage girls “slutty”, mocking their MySpace pages, and generally sexually harassing them by walking them through fantasies about stalking and rape in front of crowds is inevitable when you start with the premise that teenage girl sexuality is such a social problem that it requires “scaring straight” to begin with. I’m not suggesting that it’s wise for teenage girls to pose for pictures in their underwear and put that online, of course. But if you start with the premise that they have a right to their sexuality, then it will be a lot easier to talk to them. Because then you can see what they’re trying to do—which is largely about expressing and exploring sexuality with the sense of control that the internet can give you—and perhaps give them guidance on how to reach their goals more effectively and with more safety.

In addition, if you start with the premise that sexual assault is inevitable, and that therefore the only thing women can do is play a game of “not me” by hiding in their homes and refusing to interact with men, then you fall into this trap. A better idea would be to open up the question of whether or not men can control themselves and not rape (yes), and move on from there.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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