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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Power and Policies and Ages

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to call this post. Or even to post.

Over this weekend, I read a bunch of posts about Sexual Abuse Allegations and the YouTube Community. YA Flash has a summary of events, if you want to read more. Also, these two articles from the YouTube Gazette, one on power relations and one on protection for young fans.

In summary, the allegations are about a YouTuber and his ex-girlfriend, as the YouTube article on power relations explains the allegations, and includes this: “[the relationship] started when she was just 15 and progressed to physical abuse shortly after she turned 16, under the legal age of consent in Missouri. The two met at Vidcon 2010 when she was 14 and he was 21.

age 300x168 Power and Policies and Ages

I wasn’t sure how to write about this, because I know nothing about YouTube culture or Vidcon.

But I know what I kept coming back to: she was 14. He was 21.

And then I read Carrie Mesrobian’s honest post, and brave, because she’s not afraid to speak up about the troubling things here: This is Very Upsetting. Carrie mentions a particular post that many are saying is a great conversation starter about consent that actually left me cold — and wondering what I missed, in that so many said it was great — but then I read her saying the same things bothered her.

Sex, consent, ages. As Carrie says, “When you tell me that ‘the girl was 15 and the guy was 22′ then I know all I need to know. He has acted wrongly. It doesn’t matter what she says or did or does. A 22-year-old guy who understands boundaries does not engage 15-year-old girls in anything sexual. Unfortunately, I think this world is probably full of 22-year-old guys who don’t understand boundaries or why this is wrong.”

I could write about so many parts of this: power dynamics, sexuality, emotional growth. Instead, I urge you to follow the links to read the stories of the teenage girls, in their own words, as they grew up and realized the manipulation and abuse that was happening.

Part of what’s sad is that at sixteen they didn’t know. Because sixteen.

Let me say one thing, clearly: the person at fault is that adult.

But.

It takes a village, people.

They met at an event when she was 14 and he was 21. 14 can be high school, but it can also be eighth grade. 21 can be college graduate. 21 is drinking legally. 14 isn’t old enough to drive. No matter how smart, clever, or intelligent she was at 14, she was a teenage girl. Not a woman on equal footing, even without the fan/creator dynamics.

The second YouTube Gazette article points to policies, and lack of policies, and fan type conventions that invite and encourage teen participation and attendance. I confess, I looked up VidCon‘s website and didn’t easily find any Code of Conduct or Harassment Policy; I found the language the Gazette found, saying “If you are under 18 and your parents are okay with you going, then so are we.” I found an article about sexual harassment, talking positively about how attendees handled one incident, but I couldn’t find a policy at the website. (If you find it, let me know.)

Point a finger, you have fingers pointing back at yourself, right?

This isn’t about VidCon.

It’s about libraries.

Confession: I think teen programs should be teen only. And when I’ve said this, I get varying reactions. I get the nods of “of course” agreements.

But I also get a different reaction. I get the “but this 21 year old really loves x, and the adult programming department doesn’t do it, and I can’t believe you’re discriminating against these kids who would love this program.” (That is a fairly accurate quote, of me being told I’m prejudiced for not having that college kid in a program with giggling eighth graders.) (Also, I love when a 21 year old is called a “kid” yet a 14 year old is called a “young woman.” What does that tell you about society?)

And when I say I don’t think it’s right to have a place where a 14 year old and 21 year old will be together — I get the look. The look that says there is something wrong with ME for thinking that, or thinking that it is any way a problem.

Don’t I trust the teens to be around adults? Don’t I trust the adults?

I’m all for trust.

But it takes a village. And that fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen year old? They don’t know. We, the adults, do. They, their parents, they trust — they trust US, the adults running the program.

And we owe it to them, parents and teens, to keep those programming places safe for them. Not every predator is an old man in a trench coat; it may be the cool young guy in a T shirt.

And we owe it to them to step forward: to not think, oh, how cool that these two have something in common to talk about — but to step forward. Because while they have something in common, they have more things not in common. Because she is 14. And he is 21. And you’re an adult who can help them both.

So, I wonder:

What policies do you have at your libraries about programs?

How have you handled this type of thing in the past?

Edited to add: This video by The Geeky Blonde, YouTube Abuse Recovery, is a must-watch, about the allegations and what is and is not being done. Or had been done.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Robin says:

    Wow! It would never occur to me to check that a public library ‘teen program’ was restricted to those still in high school – maybe the summer between high school and college. Yes, I think it should be restricted. Ideally, the library would also have ‘college age’ programming, although I guess that’s asking a lot. If I had a patron who was in college who wanted to participate I’d probably require them to be a volunteer.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I think that libraries have started paying more attention to that “post-high school, pre-parenthood” group and, hopefully, will start doing more for them.

  2. Catherine says:

    I’m with you. I hold the hard line on the ages teen programs are publicized to cover. If we have the resources and time to offer a similar program for adults, we will, given that there’s interest. I will blend teen and adult audiences if there is no collaboration involved, such as a performance or lecture. But I publicize in advance that cross-section of ages is welcome. The staff in charge of overseeing the program will watch to ensure nothing icky goes on.

  3. Miss Print says:

    This (as any article about consent and abuse does) brings to mind xoJane’s article about the myth of the teenage temptress: http://www.xojane.com/issues/stacey-rambold-cherice-morales

  4. Usually when we have older people asking about children’s programs, it’s seniors who want “in” on a craft. :-) But when it comes to, for instance, our Internet computers, we draw a hard line at 18, and teen programs run through high school (if it’s summer, then it’s “entering grades x through 12″) and no further.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      ha, yes, a different type of senior! when I did passive craft programming (basically, the instructions and materials out for kids to take home, do in the library, etc., on their own timeframe) I usually had a few seniors asking if they could take some crafts home.

  5. Kris says:

    Oh, your solution makes so much sense and yet it breaks me in places, too. First of all, I’m assuming that you’re not saying that adults should not be organizing events for teens, correct? Just that event attendees should either be “adult” or “teen.” I think having “20/30″ events for adults is a terrific idea, and there is a need to fill there. Seeing to it that teens have their own programs without 20-somethings there confusing matters (and there is a lot of confusion — these days it’s not uncommon to find 20-25-year-olds who don’t consider themselves adults) is an important step in providing a service to teens.

    But…

    As a 46-year-old woman who attended LeakyCon with my 40-year-old husband last summer, and had a terrific time celebrating fandom and geekdom and the struggles that come along with them, who got to hear from teenagers first hand about the struggles they face and the community they find to help them face it all, I have to point out that something valuable will be lost if either the over-20s or the under-21s (or under-18s) have to be excluded from such gatherings. I do think that the safety of the teens should be primary, and if the only or best way that their safety can be assured is to exclude adults not accompanying teens, then so be it, but please not without acknowledging that valuable opportunities for interaction and understanding will be lost.

    And that really is speaking particularly to events such as LeakyCon and, I assume, VidCon. As for community cultural programming, (whether library, church, park district, or other), developing programs for people in their 20s and 30s will likely more than make up for what may be lost by limiting teen programs to just teens.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      It can get complicated! In reading the initial allegations of what happened, it sounded like the 20 something did, indeed, think of himself as a “kid” (the word he used on his own twitter account) so, unfortunately, I do think the mix of an adult who doesn’t want to see himself as an adult yet has that power, and a teen who believes themselves older yet is still an underage teen, is a problem.

      Within the context of something like LeakyCon (a few of the allegations involved those in the wrock fandom of HP), it can be tough, but it does come down to this — if you’re mixing minors with adults, what supervision is there? What are parents being informed about? What are the policies? As someone mentioned above, what types of events are going on? A lecture hall versus an exhibit hall versus a party — it can vary wildly.

      Finding one’s tribe within fandom can be a powerful, positive thing. Having it betrayed is devastating.

  6. That’s actually one reason why I stopped offering Anime Club. It was the only “teen” program here when I started, but several attendees were over 18. When I instituted age limits, they just lied about their age. Our institutional definition of teen is 12-18 or 6th-12th grade. Heck, I’m not super comfortable with 18 year olds hanging out with 12 year olds, but since I rarely get teens in 11th & 12th grade, it’s rarely an issue.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      For the most part, at the libraries I worked at, it seemed that the high schoolers and the middle schoolers were interested in different things, but yes, I agree with you that the 18 hanging out with 12 year old can also be an issue.

  7. You’ve raised some interesting issues but I’d like to point out that the overwhelming majority of sexual offenses against minors are committed by other minors, and that almost 100% of sexual offenders offend for the first time while they are a minor (usually but not exclusively against other minors). Taking those facts into account, preventing adults and teens from mixing might be protecting teens from being taken advantage of or abused by adults but it is not protecting them from being taken advantage of or abused by each other. In fact, statistics suggest that a program mixing 12 yr olds with 18 yr olds is a far more dangerous environment for the 12 year old than one in which responsible adults are present, because adults are more mature than 18 yr olds.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      And that is a whole other issue. Since I was reading about the 14/21 year old, and also was thinking of all the pregnancy statistics for teen mothers that shows the fathers are typically about 5 years older than them, I was focused on one particular area.

      I know some TAG/TABs have different middle and high school groups — tho usually that is because 17 year olds don’t want to be hanging out with 12 year olds.

      Now you have me wondering how many libraries offer staff training or resources for the type of abuse you’re talking about. And, of course, the books out there that are about it.

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