What’s the “Scoop” About Groping?

What’s the “scoop” on sexual groping? There is no scoop. Getting felt up or fondled is old news. Ask any girl.

Yet, on March 1, Los Angeles TV station KTLA 5 ran a news story titled “Scooping: Sexual Assault or Schoolboy Prank?” The report:

An 11-year-old Castaic middle school student says she has become part of an alarming new trend called ‘scooping,’ which involves inappropriate touching by fellow students.

As if sexual groping were a new discovery! And as if sexual assault could be misunderstood as a simple prank–a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn boys-will-be-boys shenanigan!

Sexual assault is never just a prank, and by suggestively framing the issue like this the media becomes part of the problem. We need to call out groping for what it is, and not hide behind coy language or veiled references about a hand-plant to the breast. And the media should be highlighting the politics of power instead of titillating viewers by focusing on girls’ bodies in sexualized ways.

Castaic school administrators, to their credit, said that they take seriously any unwanted sexual groping. And to KTLA reporter Lu Parker’s credit, she defined “scooping” in sex-specific terms as being when a boy student grabs a girl’s breasts or touches her genitals.

My own recollection of junior high school is filled with memories of running the gauntlet: trying to move through stairways lined with boys groping my breasts and butt as I passed by. Eighth-grade band was traumatically interrupted on a regular basis by the boy who grabbed mine and my best-friend’s boobs as we sat in the flute section. I also had to field inappropriate comments by male administrators and school counselors.

Such everyday assaults teach girls to internalize fear and shame about their bodies, and threaten to inhibit girls’ free movement through the world. “Scooping” tells boys that they can have sexual access to girls’ bodies at will. Girls become women, but the issues of shame and fear, freedom and safety don’t disappear.

I’m glad such issues are getting play on television, but we need deeper analyses, realistic solutions and answers that go beyond moral outrage. We need news coverage that doesn’t reinforce the problem by sexualizing girls’ bodies. And we need to call out the problem for what it is. Groping sends an early message to boys that they have unrestricted sexual access to female bodies, and that those bodies exist merely to be used by others–instead of for women’s own pleasure and with  women’s autonomous consent.

We know what the problems are, so what are the answers? Some of them may be gleaned at  the National Sexual Assault Conference in Los Angeles, September 1-3, 2010, hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA). Or at the  2010 National Conference on Sexual Assault in Our Schools hosted by Safe Society Zone in Atlanta, October 22 to 24. Both will focus on strategies for preventing sexual harassment, which is the only real solution.

So thanks, KTLA! You put this issue on the mainstream radar. Public news reports help break the lingering silence–a silence that is part of the problem.

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Shira Tarrant is an unconventional feminist redefining gender rights. She is the author of Men and Feminism (Seal Press), When Sex Became Gender (Routledge), and editor of the provocative anthology Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power (Routledge). Her newest book, Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style (SUNY Press, with Marjorie Jolles), will be published in 2012. Shira Tarrant's writing appears in Bitch Magazine, BUST, Ms. Magazine, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Huffington Post, and in various anthologies, blogs, and encyclopedias. Shira Tarrant is a popular speaker at college campuses and public venues across the country and she is quoted widely in print, radio, television, and online media. Shira Tarrant received her doctorate in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is an associate professor in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach. Read more at http://shiratarrant.com.