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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.”
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.
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?
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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 email@example.com.
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