A new study published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals something alarming: The first sexual experience for 1 in 16 U.S. women was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens.
The experiences amount to rape, the authors say, although they relied on a national survey that didn’t use the word in asking women about forced sex, the Associated Press reported.
Almost 7 percent of women surveyed said their first sexual intercourse experience was involuntary; it happened at age 15 on average and the man was often several years older. Almost half of those women who said intercourse was involuntary said they were held down, and slightly more than half of them said they were verbally pressured to have sex against their will.
It's heartbreaking to know that 3 million women in this country were coerced into their first sexual encounter — and that many of them may still be dealing with subsequent psychological or physical health problems as a result.
This is unacceptable. The average man in the reported sexual encounters is 27 years old, according to NPR, and he should be called out for what he is: a predator. There is such a power differential between a 27-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl that the "relationship" — and, yes, the quote marks are intentional — cannot be justified.
In most states, including Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, a 15-year-old cannot legally consent to sex with a 27-year-old, making the entire encounter rape. These men are taking advantage of younger girls, and they should face the consequences of their actions under the law.
We also should demand comprehensive, adequate sex education programs in our schools that are centered on consent — the single most important basis for healthy relationships.
Sexual consent is active and ongoing, meaning that all parties involved have the right at any time to change their mind. It's free and participatory, meaning that all parties understand they have the ability to opt in to or out of the encounter, and that they feel empowered to do so.
It is an environment in which all parties are heard and respected, in which they are fully informed of the decisions they are making. It is not an environment in which one person is legally unable to give consent because of age or is drunk, passed out, asleep, pressured or manipulated.
True consent that is observed by all parties in a relationship means that if one person says, "No," then the other person stops. It means that if one person says, "I don't know if I'm ready," then the other person stops. It means that if one person says, "Whatever," then the other person stops. It means that if one person stays silent, then the other person stops.
Anything but an enthusiastic "yes" means that the other person must stop.
The responsibility for fixing this problem should not be on the victims. Our teenagers and young adults — and, statistically speaking, men in particular — must be taught to respect one another's boundaries and bodies. We can and must do better.