By Dan Coulter
* Please see the update at the end of this article.
Warning: This article contains material that may be disturbing.
A lot of people were shocked recently by the revelations around a gang rape of a girl student named Jackie on the campus of the University of Virginia. In a Rolling Stone article, Jackie described being assaulted by seven men for three hours in a fraternity house.
An unexpectedly disturbing aspect of the assault was the attitude of the friends who she phoned for help when she escaped. They urged her not to report the crime or to go a hospital because it would destroy her reputation and damage their own social status. One friend said, “She's gonna be the girl who cried 'rape,' and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again." Later, when Jackie determined she had to report the crime, members of the UVA community she confided in tried to convince her not to, "One of my roommates said, 'Do you want to be responsible for something that's gonna paint UVA in a bad light?' ”
They seemed oblivious to the fact that ignoring the crime would only make it more likely to be repeated in the future.
What's this case got to do with Asperger Syndrome? Nothing directly.
But when I heard the story, I thought of how people with Asperger Syndrome are often vulnerable to being influenced by others. It's a concern to think of female students with Asperger Syndrome on high school and college campuses being influenced by others who don't see rape as a serious crime that needs to be seen as a threat, reported, and stopped. It's also a concern to think of suggestible student male students with Asperger Syndrome listening to other males portraying forcing a woman into sex as a male entitlement or a sport.
And at least one of the people involved in Jackie's nightmare was driven by peer pressure. In the description of the assault, Jackie recognized one of her assailants from her anthropology class. She described him as looking scared and ready to throw up. When he admitted he couldn't perform, the other men taking part egged him on, "Don't you want to be a brother?" "We all had to do it, so you do, too." Someone handed him a beer bottle that he pushed into the traumatized girl.
If you're like me, you can't help but think of harsh punishments that should be visited on the men involved. But we should also think about how we can help prevent such crimes in the future. Providing children with Asperger Syndrome with appropriate sex education now can help them recognize and avoid dangerous situations, and respond appropriately if they're inadvertently exposed to them.
Young people with Asperger Syndrome, more than their typically developing peers, need clear instructions about what's appropriate and how to react in specific circumstances. They need practical examples and demonstrations of how to ask for a date and how to act on a date. They need to know about where it's safe to go with a date as you learn to trust each other. They need help understanding the implications of social touching, from hand-holding and kissing through having intercourse. They need help understanding that everyone deserves respect and that “No” means “No.” “Maybe” means “No,” not now, perhaps later. Only “Yes” means “Yes.” They need instruction on the different ways someone can indicate “Yes” without saying the word – and how to ask, “Is that a 'Yes?'” just to be sure. They need to be reassured that people with Asperger Syndrome may need a lot more time than typical peers -- even years -- to reach the point where they can make mature decisions about whether to have sex. And they need to know that waiting is okay. They need understanding mentors who will answer their questions with sensitivity and honesty.
Most children in today's culture are confronted with sexual images and ideas at ages younger than their parents were. It's never too early to start sharing age-appropriate information about what we've called “the facts of life.” You can share more information in stages as they're ready. There are plenty of materials available to help you determine what to share with your child (and when) to meet his or her needs at different stages of development.
Picture your child being confronted by a new and confusing situation and being taken advantage of by a peer or group of peers. Now picture your child knowing what to do and confidently responding exactly as you'd wish.
Because you showed them how.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of “The Puberty Video for Boys with Asperger Syndrome” and “Managing Puberty, Social Challenges, and (Almost) Everything: A Video Guide for Girls.” You can find more information and articles on his website: coultervideo.com.
Copyright Dan Coulter 2014 Used By Permission All Rights Reserved
*After the Rolling Stone story referenced in this article caused widespread coverage in other media, the publication issued an apology -- saying that doubt had been cast on key elements reported in the story. Rolling Stone's editor said and that the publication had made a mistake in relying solely on the word of the accuser and not attempting to interview the men she accused. A number of organizations and publications are still trying to determine the validity of the story. Whatever these investigations determine, there is no doubt that rape is a serious problem on and off college campuses, and that parents are well advised to take actions that will help keep their children and others safe.