The Boy Next Door: Thriller or Victim Blaming?

Have you guys tired of my posts on alleged attacks against the family. While I have a handful left, I’m going to take a bit of a break to focus on some other topics that have been on my mind lately. The Boy Next Door has gotten a lot of publicity lately, given its release date was this past Friday. This movie focuses on a sexual experience an adult woman has with a 17-year-old boy, whose age she presumably did not know until she sees him show up in her class. This boy has recently moved next door, hence the name of the movie. Am I alone in feeling something a bit off about this? Nothing I have seen so far speaks of controversy or drama surrounding the movie, but I have a major problem. From what I’ve seen so far, this movie victim blames the 17-year-old boy for his seducing ways, playing the woman as the actual victim. Um, WHAT!?

Chapter TK - Is the thriller, The Boy Next Door, problematic for its victim blaming?Not that long ago, I read a Buzzfeed article about a 44-year-old man who had sex with a 16-year-old student. In the end, he got a pathetic 18 months in jail. As reasoning for this lenient sentence, the judge argued that the 16-year-old girl groomed and seduced the man during a time of emotional turmoil in his life. The article included social media reactions of people complaining about victim blaming. As right they should. Plenty of 16-year-olds get crushes on teachers. Some may make advances, at which point the responsible adult should report her to the principal – not sleep with her!

I fail to see how The Boy Next Door is that much different. The child in question is only a year older than this real life girl. What if we switched the genders. If this movie was about a 17-year-old girl who seduced her teacher into a sexual relationship, people would be beside themselves with fury. For that reason alone, I have a huge problem with this movie. So, it’s wrong for an adult male to sleep with a female student, but if an adult female sleeps with a male student, that student is to blame? Please. That is the complete opposite of gender equality.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some kind of grey area here. When I was in high school, I had a friend who slept with her fair share of men. She told me about an excursion she had one weekend with an older man (he was in his 20s). Only after they slept together did he realize she wasn’t of age. I’m sure that man was well terrified. While she didn’t mind and didn’t press charges, the ball was in her court. I don’t think ignorance usually flies as an excuse for wrong-doing in a court of law. Still, one could make the argument that, if a person honestly thought the partner they were having sex with was at least 18, that no wrong occurred.

The law is that way for a reason, though. The other option would be to give child molesters the upper-hand by letting them make the argument they didn’t know a child was under 18.  What happens when a man tries to sleep with a 12-year-old and claims she looked like she was 18? I don’t know that there is a balance. Either we automatically assume the adult did wrong, regardless of ignorance, or assume the child was effectively at fault for looking too much like an adult.

As a feminist and supporter of gender equality, everything I hear about The Boy Next Door bothers me. While i haven’t seen the movie, it seems to be more about victim blaming than anything else. Is it wrong of the boy to stalk his teacher and black mail her with pictures of their lovemaking? Yes. However, that does not, in any way, excuse the teacher for sleeping with an under age boy.

Why do women who do this always seem to get off a little easier than men who do the same (and when do get off easy, there’s more outrage)? This just seems so backwards, more so because no one seems to be talking about this. Why is no one talking about the victim blaming nature of The Boy Next Door? Why aren’t people outraged? Am I missing something here?

Have you seen The Boy Next Door? Did the movie blame the victim as much as the previews? How do you think people would have reacted if the movie was about a 17-year-old girl and her male teacher?

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15 thoughts on “The Boy Next Door: Thriller or Victim Blaming?”

  1. I agree with you, I find this stuff appalling. It totally ignores who holds the power in a relationship and if you’re older and a teacher, it’s you. With power comes responsibility, so you are responsible for not exploiting people younger than you or dumber or emotionally troubled, That should be true for both men and women, but due to sexual politics and gender, we seem to have trouble with that one.

    1. It really bugs me. I think we do the whole issue of rape, abuse and domestic violence a disservice by assuming the male is always at fault and the female is the victim. Any one, regardless of gender, can rape, assault or abuse anyone else of any other gender. Even if most events are men against women, that doesn’t mean the men attacked by women, or men attacked by men or women attacked by women deserve any less justice.

  2. I haven’t even seen a trailer for that movie so cannot comment on how it is presented. However, I believe the law is and should be strict and clear when it comes to the age of consent. Even if the younger person is a willing participant, they have been deemed to be of an age whereby they cannot make an informed decision in that regard and therefore cannot give consent. One could argue about what that age should be until the cows come home because maturity levels vary within age cohorts so much but a line has been drawn and needs to be abided by. Regardless of who seduced who, regardless of whether the younger person looked older, whether the age was ever verified, the onus is on the older person to be responsible and act within the parameters of the law. Ignorance is no defense. When that relationship also includes a position of authority, as with a teacher, then it is even more so the case because of the power dynamic further clouding the ability to give consent as an equal partner. There may be grey areas in experience (cannot think of any right now) but the law is black and white. I’ve worked in education and in child protection – there’s no scope for interpretation. What perhaps, maybe, possibly might be worth investigating is a two tier sex offender register whereby people convicted of statutory rape (and I’m thinking of teenagers just a year apart rather than any teacher-student dynamic) might be listed separately from people who have abused a position of power and separately from paedophiles. While my opinion is that paedophiles cannot be rehabilitated safely back into society, I don’t think that holds true of all people convicted of statutory rape. I would have to research it all more to have a fixed opinion on that possibility, of course. However, I do have a fixed opinion on the age of consent. It exists for a very good reason. And whatever the genders involved I have exactly the same view.

    1. I completely agree. The law is the law. Ignorance is not a defense. He wanted it is no more a defense than saying she wanted it.

      That said, when it comes to sex offenders, I do think there should be a spectrum. Two teenagers a year apart should not be given the same label as a person who raped a 10 year old. Likewise, they should not have the same status as an 18 year old high school student who thought it would be funny to go streaking. It really bugs me that they can all be labeled as sex offenders for their whole lives when the crimes are so very different

  3. I haven’t seen this yet but I think that is something people should think about. What if the roles were reversed? What would be the reaction if the teacher was male and the student was female? I’m not even sure I want to see this movie…

    1. It didn’t look that good to me and I haven’t seen it. But still, I just can’t get passed how they make the boy look like such a jerk and the teacher to be the victim. It’s sickening.

      1. Yeah, it really feels like they are glorifying that roll of the victim. AND because she’s the teacher and now she’s being victimized there’s that open and yet underlining assumption that she “asked for it” because she slept with her student. Which is wrong, but still!

  4. I have not seen the film yet, but it reminds me of a German book with the title ‘Der Vorleser’. The plot (which has never made any sense to me till today and continues to do so) is roughly that a fifteen-year-old boy meets an adult woman who cannot read, so he reads to her, then they have sex with each other. One of the worst books I have ever read, by the way.
    At any rate, I should like to discern two aspects from each other:

    (1) hierarchical relationship
    (2) personal relationship

    Although both kinds of relationship fall under the category of social relationship, they differ from each other. (1) is determined by each person’s position of power compared to each other. (2) may (but need not) be (partially) determined by (1).
    For instance, if A is my employer (hierarchical relationship), nothing about our personal relationship follows necessarily (i.e. logically) from it. Roughly, we may be on friendly, neutral, or hostile terms (for all kinds of reason).

    What, in my view, ought to never mix is a position of power which at least partially determine’s the inferior’s future and the special kind of personal relationship, sex. Sex itself can be used (i.e. abused) as a tool of power, where it becomes the means to another end, most prominently in rape. Rape is not about sex or sexual attraction but about establishing, extending, or simply maintaining a position of power over someone else. Sex is the means, not the end, in this case.

    Now, while the age of consent, to whatever age it may be set in different countries, may be somewhat (albeit not completely) controversial, the special personal relationship of sex must not be allowed where it can and most probably will conflict with the hierarchical relationship. And this clearly is the case with regard to teachers and pupils.
    Thus, a pupil and their teachers ought not to have sex with each other for as long as they stand in this particular relationship to each other.
    At the same time, I do not see why someone at the age of seventeen should not be free to have consentient sex with someone older, so long as this special personal relationship does not conflict with their hierarchical relationship.
    At what age a human matures has been controversial throughout human history. The major problem here consists in the fact that biological (i.e. physiological) maturity and mental maturity do not occur at the same time. Even though children at the age of twelve may be physiologically capable of having sexual intercourse, they certainly are not ready as regards their mental capacities.

    As concerns victim blaming, it is one of the most convenient excuses. Before you have sexual intercourse with someone, you ought to ask them for their age, especially if you are uncertain about it. Also, anyone may change their minds, so if you begin sexual activities someone intended to lead up to sexual intercourse and they change their mind in mid-action, you must stop. In these cases, ‘No’ means ‘No’, end of story.

    I do realize that my view renders the case in point a bit difficult. But I think that the woman should have asked the boy/young man for his age, so that in virtue of his reply to this and follow-up questions (if honest), she could have deduced that he might be a possible pupil of hers.

    His blackmailing her with their sexual encounter is wrong as well, of course, but that is something which could have been prevented by asking the aforementioned questions in advance.

    1. I can agree with everything here. The average age an American loses their virginity is 17, after all. I like the laws that some states have where its wrong to have sex with someone under the age of 18 unless you are within 2 or three years of their age. For example, a friend of mine started dating her boyfriend when she was 15. I believe he was 2 years older, 17. They eventually had sex. At some point, they looked up the laws of the state to make sure what they were doing was legal. It was, even when he turned 18, because they were within 3 years of each other.

      I say I like that because a 16 year old may have sex and I’m not convinced we can stop them even if we wanted to. If they have sex with another teenager, I don’t see the problem. BUT if that 16 year old has sex with a 36 year old, I think there’s a problem.

      The long story short is that the line has to be drawn somewhere. Just as there are people under the age of 18 who are more than ready for sex, there are also people above the age of 18 who are not. That doesn’t mean we throw laws out the window. It just means we have to draw a line.

  5. (WordPress login is having problems, so I’m sorry if this double-posts.)

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve been contemplating this phenomenon, lately.

    After seeing a lot of posts about the show, “Pretty Little Liars” on the web, I decided to sit down and watch some of it. One of the main characters, Aria, is depicted as a ~17-year-old girl having an ongoing love affair with her English teacher, for at least a season and a half (not sure what happens after that). It doesn’t show them sleeping together (probably because of what the TV ratings board would say), but as a show that’s clearly marketed toward teens, it raised a lot of red flags, for me.

    First, what is he thinking?! In real life, a person who does this will either realize that they’re risking a jail term, a record as a sex offender, and an ended career. So, a man in that position would have to be remarkably, unrealistically unwise, or have a serious penchant for romancing kids–which we all have a problem with. Yet, in TV, this is being portrayed as some flavor of “normal”, and treated as a valid form of romance.

    I think that the reason why this doesn’t get immediate, widespread outrage is that a lot of young women (teens) have had crushes on their teachers, and that this is a way to live that fantasy, by proxy. It feels better to have the romance (or the idea of the romance) and not worry about how the crush’s life could be ruined because of it. It feels better to not worry about how it will affect the young person’s love/sex life. In short, it’s a way for people who always wanted to do that to pretend that they did.

    …But like you, I know people who ACTUALLY did such things. One friend of mine lost his virginity around age 16 to a 21-year-old. He joked that he’d technically been statutorily raped, but seemed to personally view it as something of a conquest. This reminded me of the movie, “The Graduate”, which I was never fond of, for various reasons: a young guy “conquering” an older (married) woman was seen as, somehow, heroic, while for her, it was seen (perhaps rightly) as being beneath her. On the flip side, though, girls I knew who did such things in high school were often looked down upon as “sluts” or similar, because they had allowed themselves to BE CONQUERED.

    Perhaps more disturbingly, I’ve never personally seen an older woman go to jail for bedding an underage boy, but I’ve seen a few older men go to jail for bedding underage girls. Similarly, any accusation of wrongdoing between a male and a female will almost assume the guilt of the male, with the police and in court. It makes me sick (especially as a man). Sometimes, I wonder if this is at least partly a vestage of the Victorian ideals about women being inherently “more pure” than men. Still, it’s clear that our justice system isn’t blind to gender.

  6. I’m probably going to sound like a conservative prude here, but this is my opinion: the dilemma you described (assuming someone is of age when they aren’t) is a big reason it’s important to actually get to know people people before sleeping with them. Just my two cents.

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