An 8-year-old girl camper began swimming near the edge of the pool by me. She was a tiny girl with a bubbly personality, and she was very attached to me. Upon seeing us talking, the boy swam over and started chasing her around the water. It was clear from the way she was trying to get away from him and her screeching that she wanted to be left alone — her body language and tense demeanor should have showed that she was uncomfortable — but if that wasn’t enough of a clue, the “stop” she yelled in protest should have been enough for him to go away.
That’s when it really hit me how serious the situation was. I could immediately picture it escalating. I didn’t see an 8-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy anymore; I saw the two of them as fully grown and matured adults. The girl was still small and skinny, and the boy was large enough to overpower her with little effort. I could see her running away from him, trying to push off his advances in a more sexual situation, but him refusing to believe that she really wanted him to stop. I saw him ignoring her physical protests right along with the verbal ones, convinced she wanted him there. It horrified me.
I reprimanded him immediately, insisting that when someone asks you to stop, it’s important to listen. Almost seconds later, a male counselor standing by the same section of the pool told him not to listen to me and to continue his pursuit of this little girl, despite her obvious protests. Here were two boys, roughly 10 years apart in age, but with the same views on women: that consent doesn’t matter. It’s not a generational thing: this mindset has clearly been ingrained into the public psyche from an early age. How often are we told not to take no for an answer? How often do we see children pestering their parents about getting a new toy until they eventually give in? How often do we hear about a woman’s whims coming with her menstrual cycle? How often do we see on television shows and in movies a woman “changing her mind” about a man who is persistent enough or who just proves himself worthy? The idea that a woman will change her mind is so ingrained that we can’t always recognize it at first.