‘ My younger sis­ter puts her­self in dan­ger’

The Irish Times Magazine - - ADVICE -

Dear Roe,

My younger sis­ter is 27 and has tem­po­rar­ily moved in with me to save some money. She’s never had a proper re­la­tion­ship, but goes on a lot of dates with men from dat­ing sites. None of them seem to stick for very long and she’s had a cou­ple of one- night stands ( not in our house, thank­fully).

I think it’s ridicu­lously risky be­hav­iour, but she won’t lis­ten to me, and gets an­gry when I bring it up. I think ig­nor­ing that hav­ing sex with ran­dom men is dan­ger­ous is naive and wil­fully stupid. How can I make her see that she needs to be care­ful? This isn’t about your sis­ter’s safety. If it was, you wouldn’t feel the need to men­tion that she’s never had a proper re­la­tion­ship, nor would you be so re­lieved she isn’t bring­ing her dates home. Surely, if you were so con­cerned, you’d pre­fer that than hav­ing her go off to a stranger’s house?

What’s hap­pen­ing here is that you’re liv­ing with your lit­tle sis­ter and re­al­is­ing that not only is she an adult, she’s an adult who en­joys sex. And you’re judg­ing her for that.

“Risky be­hav­iour” is a term of­ten used to po­lice sex­u­al­ity. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that it’s most com­monly ap­plied to teenagers, to gay men, to kinksters, and to sex­u­ally con­fi­dent women. It is lit­er­ally never ap­plied to straight men. Be­cause “risky sex” is a pe­jo­ra­tive; a con­de­scend­ing, faux- con­cerned way of ac­cus­ing some­one that their sex is “bad” or “un­healthy”; and that if some­thing goes wrong, it’s their fault. Their fault for en­joy­ing sex, for not hav­ing more self- con­trol, for not fol­low­ing the rules.

As if fol­low­ing the rules has ever kept women safe from dan­ger­ous men.

At age nine, I was groped by an adult; a few min­utes ear­lier he had been cheer­fully chat­ting with my mother.

At 13, a boy at the Gaeltacht who forced his hands down my jeans, and slapped me across the face when I pushed him away. At 17, I was sex­u­ally as­saulted by a man from one of my col­lege classes. We had mu­tual friends, he even knew my brother. He was a “nice young man”.

None of these vi­o­la­tions hap­pened be­cause I was look­ing for dates, or sex. They hap­pened be­cause I was a woman – a girl, re­ally – ex­ist­ing in a world where preda­tors also live.

My ex­pe­ri­ences re­flect the re­al­ity of vi­o­lence against women, as 85- 90 per cent of sex­ual of­fences are com­mit­ted by peo­ple the vic­tims know or are in re­la­tion­ships with.

The last com­pre­hen­sive study on the sub­ject, the 2002 Sex­ual Abuse and Vi­o­lence in Ire­land re­port, found that while 42 per cent of women had ex­pe­ri­enced some form of sex­ual abuse, only 10 per cent of sex­ual of­fences were re­ported. This proves that hav­ing ca­sual sex is not the ma­jor risk fac­tor in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence; be­ing a woman is. It also proves that vic­tims of­ten don’t tell any­one.

I didn’t, not for years. I had ab­sorbed the misog­y­nis­tic mes­sages that only bad girls at­tracted this kind of at­ten­tion, that I must have wanted it, that I de­served it. The shame that sur­rounds women and sex didn’t pro­tect me; it pro­tected my as­saulters. Sham­ing your sis­ter’s nor­mal ex­plo­ration of sex and dat­ing won’t help her feel safe. Sup­port­ing her, lis­ten­ing to her, let­ting her know she can ask you for help if she needs it, will. Don’t tell her not to date, or meet men, or have sex with them. In­stead, tell her that you hope she en­joys her­self and that if she’s ever in a sit­u­a­tion where she feels un­safe or un­com­fort­able, she can call you. Tell her that if any­one ever does hurt her, she can tell you, and that you’ll be there for her be­cause you know that the only per­son to blame for sex­ual vi­o­lence is the per­son who com­mits it.

Your sis­ter has a world full of peo­ple who will judge her for hav­ing sex, who will blame her if she does get hurt. Don’t be an­other judge. Be what only you can be. Be a big sis­ter. Roe McDermott is a writer and Ful­bright scholar with an MA in sex­u­al­ity stud­ies from San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity. She’s cur­rently un­der­tak­ing a PhD in gen­dered and sex­ual cit­i­zen­ship at the Open Univer­sity and Ox­ford. If you have a prob­lem or query you would like her to an­swer, you can sub­mit it anony­mously at irish­times. com/ dear­roe

norma‘ l‘ Sham­ing your sis­ter’s ex­plo­ration of sex and dat­ing won’t help her feel safe. Sup­port­ing her, lis­ten­ing to her, let­ting her know she can ask you for help if she needs it, will

You’re liv­ing with your lit­tle sis­ter and re­al­is­ing that not only is she an adult, she’s an adult who en­joys sex

ASK ROE ROE McDERMOTT

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