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Exploring Rape Culture: 5th Graders Playing 'Rape Tag'

rape tag, fifth graders, sexual assault kids, explaining sex to kids, rape culture

Tag: it used to be so innocent.

Jezebel ran a story from MSNBC this morning about fifth graders in Minnesota playing “rape tag” – a game “similar to freeze tag except that a person had to be humped to be unfrozen,” says a letter from the principal of Washington Elementary School in New Ulm. While it doesn’t surprise me that fifth graders know what “humping” is, or that they’d enjoy playing a game with air-boning at its heart, it does sort of shock me that these students would feel comfortable playing such a game on school grounds with teachers present. But what I find almost unbelievable is that these students would call the game “rape tag.” Rape. Rape.

Anna North at Jezebel says, “Kids are known for pushing the offensiveness envelope, and I’m sure the ones at Washington thought they were being hilarious. Let’s hope they’ve learned that rape isn’t funny.” Maybe I’m being naive, but I can’t imagine a fifth grader, at only 10 or 11 years old, having any understanding of the term rape, let alone understanding it enough to use it in a purposeful way to be humorous or edgy. I don’t think I *really* knew what rape was til I was in high school, but I guess I can remember hearing the word float around before then. I think, in the case of these Washington Elementary kids, they were using a word they knew had something to do with sex without understanding the full implications of the term.

This story does make me wonder exactly when children become indoctrinated into our rape culture, though. Despite the fact that sexual assault is taken much more seriously than in decades past, many young men still see rape as a joke. Think of all the stories we’ve heard recently about college boys laughing at and even encouraging the rape of their female peers.

I was watching a bit of stand-up on the subject last night, and in her 6-minute-or-so monologue, Chicago comedian Ever Mainard reminded me that women do always walk around with the fact that we are vulnerable to sexual attack at any time in the back of our minds. She says, “As a woman, we’re taught, like, NEVER WALK ALONE AT NIGHT! IF YOU WALK ALONE AT NIGHT YOU’RE GONNA DIE! YOU WILL GET RAPED IF YOU’RE WALKING ALONE AT NIGHT!” It’s funny cuz it’s true.

Mainard makes a lot of excellent (and hilarious) points in this clip, and though I’m not much older than Mainard, her phone call to her mother at the end made me think of my own daughter. My daughter is only 6, but I could totally envision her having the same moment with me in 20 years. Which I guess tells you how probable it seems that the proliferation of rape culture will end anytime soon.

Sadly, I’ve already had to talk to my 6-year-old about sexual assault, because of the string of incidents of groping, attempted rape and rape that happened in our neighborhood last Spring and Summer. I don’t think she really understood the nature of the crimes, and I think that’s sort of a good thing. After all, isn’t it an early loss of innocence that leads to fifth graders playing games like “rape tag?” In trying to explain sensitive issues like molestation and sexual assault to our kids, it seems like there’s no way to win. We want to make them feel like they can protect themselves without making them paranoid, and the line between the two is so fine.

Photo via Flickr

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