BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Ashanti, 15, had never heard of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, when HuffPost asked her about President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. But after she learned how he allegedly pinned down a teen girl and groped her in high school, she recalled similar situations with her classmates at a high school in Brooklyn.
“Some of these boys don’t know how to keep their hands to themselves,” she said, sitting with three friends on a bench in Fort Greene park. “We get a lot of cases of sexual assault and stuff like that.” She described how guys touch girls without asking or peer pressure them into having sex at parties even when they are too drunk to fully consent.
Ashanti said social media was also a problem. She described how teen boys will encourage girls to send them sexy pictures and then post them to Facebook or Instagram without their permission.
“Excuse my language,” she said, but “this generation is fucked up.”
On a Wednesday afternoon in Brooklyn, while most schools in New York City were closed for the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, HuffPost talked to many male and female teenagers about their opinion of Kavanaugh, and their experiences with sexual consent and rape culture.
Most teens HuffPost talked to had not heard of the Supreme Court nominee, but they could relate to what he was accused of doing. Rampant rape culture in schools is very much alive and well, they said, in part because teachers never discuss consent in the classroom. What’s even more surprising is that despite coming of age in the Me Too era, a time when teens are more self-aware than ever before, many kids said misogyny and harassment are ubiquitous in their school lives.
After School Rape Jokes
Four teenage girls crowded around the steps of a brownstone and talked about rape jokes.
“‘No means yes, and yes means anal,’” said 13-year-old Nia, a student at a liberal arts K-8 school in Brooklyn.
“Or they’ll be like, ‘If you wear that you’re probably going to get raped today,’” added 14-year-old Oona, who wore a backward white baseball cap and sipped periodically from a Coke can.
Oona and her friends, whose last names HuffPost withheld to protect their privacy, stopped at a hole-in-the-wall called Mario’s Pizzeria to eat before heading to a nearby park.
Though the girls say their school is more progressive and open-minded than others, they still hear misogynistic comments.
“It’s the culture,” says Oona. “[Boys] have to do it to be cool and to be part of the crew.” They believe their friends are joking, and they don’t feel physically threatened ― after all, in eighth grade, most of the girls are taller than the boys, she said.
But when the girls thought about the jokes a little longer – and how jokes can escalate into the kind of assault allegations currently facing Kavanaugh – they become more somber.
“It is upsetting,” said Nia’s classmate, 13-year old Sadie, dressed in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and army pants. While she believes some boys are just joking around, she worries about other boys. “We’re a relatively small school, but I don’t know where everyone’s mind is,” she said.
The Boys Worry, Too
Sean, a 15-year-old who attends the Catholic high school Bishop Loughlin Memorial, said his male peers often become more aggressive if a girl rejects their advances. “Hearing ‘No’ makes them want it more,” he said, sitting in Fort Greene park and watching a high school football practice.
Wearing his school’s uniform navy blue pants and a black tank top, Sean said he worries that rape culture is becoming “worse and worse” because teens are raised with “less boundaries and less manners.”
His classmate, 15-year-old Jah, said he believes his friends, who are fluent in “hook-up culture,” are more promiscuous than any generation before. That means conversations about consent don’t happen. Instead, when hooking up one person just assumes, “you may be down or okay with it, when that’s not the case.”
Carlos, a 13-year-old who attends a charter school in Brooklyn, said he sometimes sees his male classmates touching or play fighting with girls in a way that “crosses a line.” He said the department of education should require teachers to talk about consent.
“You got to be taught how to control yourself,” he said, standing on a street corner in Fort Greene. “Kids are going through puberty, and they are getting horny and stuff. So I think they should be taught and be more mindful of what they’re doing.”
Sex Ed Gets A Failing Grade
Though some teens told HuffPost their male classmates would never act like Kavanaugh allegedly did, they all agreed that sexual education curriculums fail to talk about consent. Most said the issue has never even come up. They described how sex ed programs mostly covered anatomy and disease, rather than desperately-needed conversations about power dynamics, gender roles and alcohol.
Sadie, the eighth-grader from a liberal arts school in Brooklyn, said kids should learn about consent at a young age, so that by the time teens start having sexual experiences, they know how to ask each other questions about boundaries.
“There is this myth of sex, where you don’t ask questions, and it’s just something that happens,” she said. “It’s more complicated than that. You have to be on the same page as the other person at all times.”
She and her friends said they worried that though they have a sophisticated grasp of consent, their male peers do not.
“They don’t think about it,” said Nia. “At this age between boys and girls, there’s a huge maturity gap.”
Jah said he would like to talk more about consent in school, but that the Catholic sex ed program teaches him to “practice abstinence, which may not be as realistic.”
Jah said he thinks people have a responsibility to speak up when they feel uncomfortable in sexual situations, rather than after-the-fact. “A lot of girls, they kind of feel bad and don’t say how they feel,” he said. “They could have said ‘I’m not okay with this,’ and the whole situation could have been avoided. Honesty is important.”
This story has been updated to remove an identifying detail about one of its sources.
Are you a teen with a story to share about rape culture in high school? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org