A man who counsels teens on how to remain sexually abstinent has been arrested and charged with sexual assault (from further descriptions, seemingly rape) of one of his “students”:
The girl told officers that Hoheb sexually assaulted her in his car in the parking lot of a Trumbull gym where he had stopped while driving her home in March.
In an interview with police detectives, Hoheb allegedly said he had been counseling teenage girls, including the victim, on how to say “no” to sexual advances from adults.
“I wanted the girls to understand that no matter who it may be; the pastor, another adviser or myself, they should not be afraid to use the word no,” police said Hoheb told them.
Hoheb also allegedly told police the girl had expressed interest in him, but he was determined to “nip it in the bud.” Although Hoheb initially denied having sexual contact with the girl, police said he later admitted having sexual relations with her in his car.
I learned of this story through Thomas, who argues that the rape in this case is consistent with the teachings of the abstinence counselor, as both abstinence-only teachings and sexual assault work off of a model where sex is seen as a commodity and female bodies are treated as sexual property. I don’t disagree with him.
I want to take it a step further though and more closely discuss the counselor’s rather transparent excuse that he was attempting to teach the girl how to say “no.” Yes, it’s an excuse, quite clearly, for how he was not really responsible for his actions because he was role playing, and she just misunderstood. It is, in many ways, a variation on an old standard.
But in other ways, I think, it points to another aspect of rape culture that goes beyond just the apologism of “rape is often a misunderstanding.” It points to the aspect where it is seen as the responsibility of women to say “no.”
Yet again we find the problem with the “no means no” model. Indeed, no does mean no, but far too often people interpret this as meaning that a lack of a no means yes. The onus is not on both parties to ensure that the other partner, whatever their gender, is freely and willingly consenting. It’s on a woman, in any male-female interaction, to say “no” or deal with whatever violence the man might choose to enact.
Of course, it is extremely important to teach everyone that they have a right to say no, and to give them the tools they need to say so with confidence. I’ve written on this importance before, numerous times. But that’s not the lesson taught in abstinence-only education. Abstinence-only does not teach about sexual rights, consent and autonomy. It teaches not of a right to say no or to say yes. It teaches of a supposed responsibility for women to say no, and to do a damn good job of it. It treats men as inherent predators, women as inherent prey, and women’s bodies as existing in a permanent state of sexual accessibility to men.
This dynamic is even more disturbing when Hoheb freely argues that he was teaching girls how to say “no” to adults. As though a man who goes after a girl would be expected to even listen to a “no.” As though, despite the fact that a girl cannot consent to sex with an adult, it still doesn’t diminish that responsibility on her behalf to actively deny the supposedly reasonably assumed right to sexual access. As though if she does not say no, whatever the adult does is her own fault.
Yes, this man is giving an excuse for his actions. On some level, however, like many rapists, he might actually believe it. He was “teaching her to say no.” And if she didn’t say “no” despite her understandable fear and the power differential, if she didn’t say it forcefully enough, or loudly enough, or with enough confidence, under this model he teaches, he would see himself as having a right to rape her.
Because her body is a temple of purity to defend, not an entity connected to a person with inherent rights. Because “no” is the only word a woman can utter that matters, that gives her any value worth respecting.