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Schubart: Appropriate Behavior

Any male not now asking himself about his own behavior towards woman and children is extending the risk to both into future generations. Sexual abuse rolls forward from generation to generation until someone – both victim and perpetrator – decides to get honest with themselves and others. Victims are now coming forth in droves.

Mutual sexual attraction is one of our greatest gifts, a healthy and natural phenomenon occurring even before puberty. But we live in cultures, not the wild and so attraction must be tempered so it’s not just the powerful who control relationships. Sexual predation, especially on children or the powerless, is one of our most destructive and enduring behaviors. We must do more than just procreate, we must raise resilient and sexually responsible progeny.

But the boundary between natural sexual attraction and initiative, and outright abuse is fraught with confusion and complexity.
Age is one boundary. And I’m sorry, but there are no defensible Romeo and Juliet love affairs between men in their sixties and women in their twenties. Nor do they occur between boys in their twenties and girls in their tweens. Nature compounds the difficulty by generally maturing females sexually and emotionally faster than most boys, but age still matters.

Another is permission. A sexual relationship must be sober and consensual. “No” does indeed mean “no.” Alcohol or drug-induced rape is never “consensual.”

Predatory sex within a power hierarchy is a third border now filling news cycles. Whether focused on the casting couch, the office assistant, the student, or the prisoner, power clouds the very nature of consensual sex irredeemably. A sexual target of either gender who is in need rarely responds of their own free will to a sexual invitation. Their choice is clouded by their need – as it may relate to opportunity, freedom, or even survival.

The human science of proxemics is about the art of knowing intrinsically the amount of space people need between themselves and others. A person with this skill can encounter someone and know intuitively whether they will welcome a civil greeting from a discreet distance, a handshake, an air-kiss, a hug, or a flirtation.

We must govern our own sexual behavior and intervene when we see victimization. And we must teach our young by example and through frank education. Otherwise we will only perpetuate the pervasive destruction that sexual abuse brings to victim and perpetrator alike.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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