Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Nature of Sexism

I saw an article recently that gave me pause: 3 in 4 boys on B.C. street exploited by women. I've never been fully comfortable with feminism, especially as a female with a circle of friends that's 90% male. I don't dislike men, nor do I consider it in their nature to abuse any more than I consider it the nature of women to receive abuse (as some parents apparently believe). But this article moved me, for the second time in recent memory, to comment on sexism.

Please click the link and read the original article. The findings are interesting, though I have many quibbles with the method of sampling and data collection, as well as the method of reporting the findings. The Vancouver Sun seems to have written most of their article through copy-and-pasting from this press release. Next, if you like, read the 64 page PDF reporting the study's results. Incidentally, the research did not involve an original survey: Data sets from the McCreary Centre Society were used.

I noticed two things about the Vancouver Sun article:

1. The first statistic related to the abuse of females was buried 10 paragraphs down.

2. The headline is inaccurate. The headline reports that 3 in 4 B.C. boys on the street were sexually exploited by women. The actual statistics differ somewhat:

From the PDF:

"Around 1 in 3 street-involved youth indicated they were sexually exploited. Among the
younger street-involved youth in both surveys, a higher percentage of males than females
were sexually exploited (33% males vs. 24% females in 2000, 34% males vs. 27% females
in 2006). In contrast, among the older street-involved youth in 2001 in Vancouver, a higher
percentage of females identified as exploited (53% vs. 32% males)."

Using the most recent numbers, 36.5% of street-involved youth were exploited, making it impossible for 75% of all street-involved males to have been exploited, even if only males had been exploited. Let's find an accurate headline. From the Sun:

"Some youth in each gender were exploited by women with more than three out of four (79 per cent) sexually exploited males reporting exchanging sex for money or goods with a female."

So, a total of 33% of males surveyed were exploited. Of these, 79% were exploited by females. In other words, 26.07% of male street-involved youth surveyed were exploited by females.

Accurate Headline:

1 in 4 B.C. boys on street sexually exploited by women
However, this headline still sounds more like a press release than accurate reporting of the results of an important study. In addition, it's still sexist. Does the abuse suffered by girls have less import because, according to the report, it's more expected? I mean, really. Because we expect girls to be abused, let's report only on the abuse suffered by boys?
It's not impossible to report such results in a gender-neutral way. In fact, I'll demonstrate. The following is my version of the Sun article:
More than 1 in 3 B.C. street youth sexually exploited
Study says most abuse comes from opposite sex
VANCOUVER - Canada's largest study into the sexual exploitation of street-involved youth, including runaways, couch-surfing youths, and youths involved in street-based activities such as selling and purchasing drugs, has found that 36.5% of street-involved youth in British Columbia have been sexually exploited, with 86.5% of exploitation overall perpetrated by members of the opposite sex.

Boys and girls were equally likely to suffer from sexual exploitation, with 40% of males and 33% of females overall reporting that they had traded sexual activities for money, drugs, gifts, food, services, shelter, transportation or anything similar. Among younger street-involved youth, more males than females were exploited. Among older street-involved youth, females were more likely to have been exploited.

Elizabeth Saewyc, associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia, served as principal investigator for the study conducted by Vancouver's McCreary Centre Society.

The results were drawn from interviews with 1,845 youth - some as young as 12 - in surveys taken across the province between 2000 and 2006.

Sexual exploitation is defined as youth under 19 trading sexual activities for money, drugs, gifts, food, services, shelter, transportation or anything similar. This can include work in brothels, escort services, pornography and Internet sex but it also includes what's described as "survival sex," where a child provides sex in exchange for a place to sleep, a meal or a ride.

The study found that around one in every three children living on the street have been sexually abused, although many did not appear to feel that they had been exploited, said Saewyc. Some of the youth surveyed considered the persons exploition them to be friends or romantic partners.

"It's a shocking number. The law is clear: any adult who has sex with children for any form of consideration is exploiting them and it's illegal," Saewyc said.

The study found 94% of exploited females reported they had been sexually exploited by men. Of exploited males, 79% were exploited by women. Of the report's findings that 79% of exploited males were exploited by women, Saewyc said, "I must admit it wasn't something we were expecting."

The study says the social systems in place to deter and prevent sexual predation were only designed to help females and the criminal justice system wasn't concerned with what was happening to young males.

Saewyc said the findings were indicative of prevailing myths about sexual abuse, including the perception that most victims are girls and most abusers are men.

"Part of the challenge is that young males are not seen as being exploited because they are not coming to the attention of the police and the police aren't out there picking up the perpetrators. The system is set up to handle the sexual exploitation of young women, not young men," she said.

Community research associate Jayson Anderson said most of the programs to deal with sexual exploitation were designed by women for women. "There's really nothing out there for males. So we need programs for young boys," he said.

The study showed that the following youth were most likely to suffer from sexual predation:

- those who were lesbian, gay or bisexual
- Aboriginals
- those with physical or mental health issues
- those who had been abused by family members
- youth that had been in government care.
It's possible to report the findings of a study that involved gender-- even surprising findings about gender-- without sexism. It's possible to report the abuse of boys without disclaiming the suffering of girls.

It's possible to call for changes to the criminal justice system without forgetting that the current system is in place for a reason. It's possible to help boys without forgetting girls, and to help girls without leaving boys out in the cold.

Unfortunately, the nature of sexism is to expect that to extend opportunity to one gender, one must disenfranchise the other. It's unfortunate that in order to call attention to a study about sexual exploitation, authors must emphasize the results relating to boys and bury the results relating to girls. It's unfortunate that journalists accept the sexism in press releases and publish them nearly verbatim. But most unfortunate of all is that, if programs serving abused females are attacked as sexist, it's not sexists who'll suffer; it's abused girls.

The experience and expertise of professionals who treat female victims of sexual abuse must not be thrown away as sexist merely because boys and girls respond in unique ways to receiving abuse. The knowledge present in programs that focus on the treatment of females must not be denied because those programs have failed to adequately serve abused boys. It's that experience and knowledge that should advise a developing system of treatment for male victims of sexual abuse. Caring for sexually abused boys is a new and evolving science, and young professionals interested in this occupation will need the mentorship and oversight of persons experienced in the treatment of survivors of sexual abuse.

Make new programs, but keep the old. Don't reduce resources available to female survivors in order to increase resources available to male survivors of abuse.

Equality isn't everyone getting the same thing. It's everyone getting what they need.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I am glad you dissected the article from the report. There is a web site of the hundreds of aboriginal woman who have been murdered or missing from Vancouver. I mean, Vancouver is where a guy hunted primarily aboriginal street women, raped and murdered them for 10 YEARS before the police...started investigating. Trail still ongoing.

I was going to comment yesterday from my mail I got a thing from SPARC which I Think is about bringing equality to BC, and it talked about the upper Sitka were 2% of the population attempt suicide EACH YEAR. Okay, that kinda...well, wrong.

I recently watched Trade, which is about the selling of children on internet auctions, based on CIA reports, 1 million people are "traded" across the borders, most into the US, many are children. The CIA director said, "There is no way that many people could be passing borders IF law enforcement was looking for them." -

so yeah, forget the war on drugs, what about a war on people who exploit people? Sexually. I bet they are A LOT easier to find too! Look, I am actually pro sex worker becuase I live in a city where sex workers are licenced, they don't live on the street, and it has been that way for over 100 years (a little bit most people don't know about Victoria), but street kids where one sells themselves so the others can eat, 75% of female sex workers were abused by a father figure (father, step-father). Sorry, this is just one of my hot buttons. I know that there is a culture that says that no "Real male" will be abused, exploited, and so when it is revealed they are, does nothing. But as you point out, what is worse is where everyone is SO USED to females being exploited, raped, domestic violence that as you point out, why even carry the stat high in the story, it isn't NEWS anymore, everyone knows!

Err...sorry, that got a little rantish.

Moebius said...

This reminds me of the quote by Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British PM:

"There are three kinds of lies...
lies, damned lies and statistics."

BRex said...

You complained about the tirades about feminism, but i for one hate the idea of peoples rights being earned by groups looking out only for themselves and i know many men and women who dislike feminism for this very reason. this post is a perfect example, in it you state "Make new programs, but keep the old. Don't reduce resources available to female survivors in order to increase resources available to male survivors of abuse." in fact they did half of this. They KEPT all services available for females and then they added programs specifically for females. The sexism ISN'T that programs serving abused females are sexist but rather the complete and total lack of services for males that are being called sexist.
The reason for this article needing a pro-male support is for this reason exactly "Equality isn't everyone getting the same thing. It's everyone getting what they need" the current status quo, even now over 3 years after the study, is that ONLY women need support Its to ignore the 12 year old boy who has to sell sex in order to survive because there are girls to deal with first. Then there's you.
There are new reports, protests, informational campaigns and a billion dollar safety network that covers most of the first world for women, and you take offence to an article trying to show the inequity between the two that fails to mention female victims until paragraph 10. Here you are, after leaning that close to 40% of sexually exploited children can't get aid or support because of nothing short of bigotry and you are concerned that the remaining 60% who can are not being adequately addressed in this one article.