When is an assault not an assault?
According to the account given by this mother, the answer to that question is when it’s a 15 year old boy twanging the bra strap of a 15 year old girl.
I've read this story through a few times and while I accept a certain degree of poetic license to the way the conversation unfolded, I'm have no doubt that the core message is true.
Let’s face it, this is not an outrageous situation; the sad truth is that similar conversations are happening the world over and have been for decades.
Boys pull pigtails; they look up girl’s skirts; they snap their bras; why? Because “boys will be boys”.
We use that same phrase to excuse some pretty crappy behaviour.
When I read this latest article, you know what saddened me the most? It was the surprise that the school and parents apparently feel when the boy’s behaviour is challenged.
"The boy’s mum is still crying and his dad looks both angry and embarrassed. The teacher won’t make eye contact with me."
Why was the situation a shock to any of these people? Had they never met the boy before? Were they completely ignorant of his upbringing and values?
Are we really in 2015 and STILL believing that consent is something that we magically learn once we hit the age of majority? Are there parents and teachers walking this earth in the genuine belief that young people wake one day, yawn, stretch, have a quick scratch and then rise with a new found wisdom that “no means no”?
Bodily integrity is something that we deal with on a near daily basis because there is always a child who is loving too much, playing too hard, or just plain ornery.
It’s a repetitive discussion: Being hit does not give you permission to hit back; loving someone doesn't give you the right to hug them; people have the right to change their mind.
That last one is the one that causes us all the most headaches.
I can see the children struggle with the idea even as I explain it to them: Usually it is a game of chase that has ended in tears because Esme has become bored but Alfie is determined to keep chasing her anyway. I can see his brow furrow with confusion; he asked if she wanted to play chase, she said yes, what’s the problem?
The problem is she changed her mind.
That concept of ongoing consent might be a strange one for a child but I sometimes think it is the most important concept I will introduce to them: I don’t want to raise children who feel trapped by the decision they have made if that decision no longer fits.
And I don’t want to raise children who look at consent as some sort of box ticking exercise when what we are really looking at is whether someone has the empathy and connection to their fellow man to give the most basic of fucks about how their actions make them feel.
Maybe this story is best viewed as a parable that helps remind us that consent is not static, but fluid. I find myself looking past the name of the student to the lesson of the story and the potential is has for us to speak openly with the next generation about respect and empathy.