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Teaching Teenage Girls to Say No

The man who will attempt to molest a teenager needs an environment in which that's possible. He needs to get her to a place where there is nobody nearby who will hear her if she resists loudly or calls for help. His other option is to get her in a frame of mind where she doesn't resist loudly or call for help. Accordingly, there are times and places where wariness is called for, i.e., times of vulnerability. There are times and places where wariness is wasted, i.e., times when teenage girls are not vulnerable. Dangerous men are only dangerous if they can get you somewhere. They are not dangerous on the dance floor, in the restaurant, in the crowded mall. That may be where they meet you, but it's not where they'd try to hurt you.

Do such men actually plot their opportunities? Often, they do, but there is also a type of sexual offender who is on autopilot, operating out of a second nature, an intuitive skill at knowing how to gain control. The good news is that just as he knows when a given environment serves his plans, so can his target intuitively and automatically observe, ''I am at a disadvantage here.''

Since much of what I've said about the nature of men is anything but PC - as in politically correct - I'll borrow the acronym from that tired phrase to characterize the contexts in which young women (and women in general) can recognize their disadvantage: PC will now stand for Privacy and Control.

If a man who intends sexual assault or rape has Privacy and Control, he can victimize someone. If he does not have PC, he is not dangerous, period. Accordingly, just the presence of these two features in a situation can trigger a young woman's heightened awareness and readiness. The presence of Privacy does not mean a man is sinister, but it does mean a girl is vulnerable. At that point, she'll benefit from carefully evaluating how the man got privacy: Was it by circumstance or by his design?

Privacy is defined here as isolation or concealment. A private place is one in which there is little or no chance that a third party will suddenly show up, a place that is out of range of the hearing of people who could assist the young woman. Cars, hotel rooms, apartments, houses, closed businesses, wilderness areas, the auditorium after hours, back corridors at work, a remote parking area, a stall at the horse stable where a girl is learning to ride - these all can afford Privacy.

The word Control defines a relationship between two people, in this case between a victimizer and his target. Control exists when one person is persuaded or compelled to be directed by the other.

Control can exist when a young woman feels persuaded to do what a man wants because she fears being injured if she resists, or because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings, or because she doesn't want him to hurt her reputation, or because she wants to avoid rejection.

Don't think of persuasion as something someone does to us; persuasion is an internal process, not an external one. ''We persuade ourselves.'' A predator merely manipulates how things seem to us. Whatever the method, persuasion requires the participation of the target, and human beings are the creatures who most cooperate with their predators. By contrast, the lion has a more difficult predatory challenge than does the man who would rape a teenager. The lion, after all, must walk around in a lion suit; he is burdened by the obviousness of the very assets that give him power (claws, teeth, muscle). Hunting would be easy if the lion could look like a timid kitten when it served him. Man can.

Some men with sinister intent seek control through physical power. Because the target's resistance might be noisy, the power-predator requires more privacy. He cannot retreat easily because there comes a point where there is no ambiguity about his intent. He commits to likely consequences in ways that most persuasion-predators do not. The power-predator needs more privacy, more space, more time, more recklessness, and more luck in order to get what he wants. Thus, the power-predator is more rare than the persuasion-predator, but also more likely to do serious injury.

The persuasion-predator gets a target to cooperate and is thus granted much more flexibility when it comes to privacy. This man can use a room in the girl's home, even if family members are somewhere in the house. For him, Privacy is adequately afforded by a room at work that people don't frequent, even if the business is open. For him, a few empty seats in a theater can offer enough concealment to sexually abuse a teenager. Accordingly, the teenage girl who can be easily persuaded appeals to a far wider group of predators and is more likely to be sexually assaulted than a teenage girl who cannot be easily persuaded.

Note that I've been using the word target rather than the word victim. That's because being a target need not automatically make one a victim. In fact, it's nearly impossible for a teenage girl to avoid being a target at some point, but it is very possible to avoid becoming a victim. The best way to do that is by recognizing PC at the earliest possible moment, and if things feel uncomfortable (even if it is just the vulnerability itself that feels uncomfortable), taking steps to change the situation.

Of course, teenage girls will often be in private environments with men who have no sinister intent whatsoever. The driving instructor who takes your teenage daughter all over town is granted some PC opportunities, but if he is a good man, no problem. Still, it's appropriate for a teenage girl to recognize the P in PC if several turns take them to some remote area. Ideally, if this occurs, she'd be more alert for the introduction of Control.

Right when a man begins to introduce the P or the C is the defining moment when one can determine - virtually choose - whether to be a target or a victim. A girl can say as the driving instructor's directions take them out of populated areas: ''I'd be more comfortable staying in the city,'' or ''Please stay in familiar areas.'' If the man had sinister intent, this girl has just asserted in the clearest language that she will not be easily persuaded, thus his options for gaining control are limited to force or fear, and that requirement will exclude the overwhelming majority of predators.

PC is easy to memorize and easy to recall because these concepts are already imbedded into the consciousness of human beings, including your teenage daughter. When someone acts in a way that alarms her, she instantly and automatically evaluates PC. She intuitively weighs whether anyone might hear a call for help or whether someone might come along, and she measures what degree of control the predator might have over her.

The key - the trick if you will - is to recognize PC before someone alarms her, and even in the absence of obvious sinister intent on the man's part. The impala who finds itself alone with the lion doesn't wait to see how the carnivore will behave. The impala evaluates its options and resources all the while.

Does this mean a teenage girl must be in a constant state of alertness whenever she is in the presence of men? Absolutely not. This is about being alone with a man in a situation in which she is vulnerable. And then, a recognition of PC might be no more than a passing thought that opens the girl to her intuition about this man. If she feels at ease with her boss at the restaurant even though there are no customers around, fine. But being cognizant of PC means she'll sooner recognize the slightest inappropriate comment or unusual behavior, like locking the front door before closing time.

Teenage girls: Memorize PC - Privacy and Control - and when someone has these advantages, be open to signals of that person's intent. That's all, not a fear of every man, just an acceptance of reality.


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