This past year has seen an incredible transformation in our awareness and understanding of the extent of sexual harassment and assault in our society. The #metoo campaign and the brave women throughout the country who have come out and told us their stories have truly made a difference.
For years, I, and many other pediatricians like me, have counseled teenage girls on how to stay safe as they prepare to enter college and universities. So many times, I have mentioned the shocking statistics on rape and sexual assault in college. I have cautioned these young women on how to stay safe, to stay close to their girlfriends, to not accept drinks from other people, and if drinking, not to drink so much that they don’t know what is going on around them … and so on and so forth with many dos and don’ts.
But here is something I only recently noticed: In the last 18 years of practice, my counsel to the boys was limited to how to stay safe, protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections, and how to avoid pregnancy. It did not cross my mind to counsel the teenage boys on their respective dos and don’ts, especially when it comes to their behavior with women. For example, stern advice on how to respect women, that only yes means yes, and frankly how to make sure they don’t become sexual harassers or worse.
I have questioned myself since then, wondering if I was alone with this oversight. I asked several other pediatricians as well to see if they had spoken about sexual harassment and assault in this context with their teenage male patients. The vast majority had the same experience as I did. They had all counseled the girls on how to protect themselves from becoming victims, but somehow not the boys (or girls for that matter) on how to help them not become the aggressors.