The thing about sexual assault is that it is about more than just sex.
The thing about Sexual Assault Awareness Month is that we seem to need at least an annual reminder about sexual assault.
While some may think that designated months like these are meaningless, I think they can be meaningful if we make them so. Awareness means to bring into consciousness. To bring into the forefront of our mind something that needs our attention. One might say, “but we all know that sexual assault happens, what is there to be aware about?”
To me, it is that exact sentiment that demonstrates a need to be more conscious, and less accepting, of the fact that rape, sexual harassment, incest, molestation, and sexual enslavement/sex trafficking happen SO regularly.
How have we become a culture that just “knows” that sexual assault happens and just leave it up to others to deal with it, hope that we aren’t victims of it, and even defend people who are perpetrators of it?
Now, Henry Rollins recently wrote a blog post on the Steubenville Rape Case that I thought was beautiful and thought provoking where he addresses the issue of holding perpetrators accountable. You can read that post here.
He writes: “Many people are angry that more time was not given to the offenders. This seems to be the prevailing sentiment. I understand the anger but don’t know if adding a decade onto their sentences would be of any benefit.
To me, the problem that needs to be addressed is where in the information chain were the two offenders made to understand that what they did was not wrong on every possible level? You can execute them both tomorrow but still, there is a problem that needs to be dealt with.”
This is why Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important. The “information chain” that Henry Rollins refers to is the information we communicate as a culture, about what is acceptable in terms of violence against another human being.
If an adult rapes a child, like my father did when I was three years old, what was I learn about what sex was for? What was my brother to learn? Then, as I got older and heard about rape cases in the news and how people talked about the victim as “deserving it” – what would I learn then? What information would I take in?
Unfortunately, these aren’t hypothetical questions. I can tell you exactly what I learned. I learned that I didn’t own my body. That it was okay for someone to exploit me. In fact, I even believed that I deserved and wanted to be sexually violated.
I didn’t think that anyone else deserved or wanted to be raped. Just me.
So imagine that….we have a world where some people think it’s okay to rape and some believe they are rape-worthy. What the #*$&?!?!?
Let’s talk about some even harder stuff to consider…let’s talk about male victims of sexual assault. Despite the fact that Sexual Assault Awareness Month often focuses on male assault on females, let’s be real – how did those male perpetrators become perpetrators? What about female assault on males?
Dr. Bruce Perry, Founder of Child Trauma Academy has written some amazing stuff that links childhood experiences of violence with the development of future perpetrator behavior. In other words, he talks about how perpetrators of violence where once victims of violence. He writes:
“Any child exposed to chronic intrafamilial violence will develop a persisting fear response. Because there are marked gender differences in this [fear] response, with females more likely to dissociate and males more likely to be violent” (Perry, 1997).
Let me be clear – this is NOT a statement about males being more violent than females at a biological level. This is about patterns of how people respond to trauma. Wouldn’t it seem quite natural for someone who is being assaulted to become aggressive and violent in self-defense? Also, when working at a middle school, I saw plenty of young females who were aggressive. Both genders can be prone to violence, and that violence can be expressed in different ways.
Female violence against males can be through emotional manipulation and through rape. Imagine a mother who rapes her son. (Yes, this does happen and it happens more than we want to think.) What does this boy learn about rape/sex? What might he want to do in order to get revenge? He was once powerless to someone else raping him – would he not want the chance to feel powerful over someone and rape them? Isn’t it better to be the dominator rater than the dominated?
This brings us back to a point Henry Rollins makes: “It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control.”
For at least this month, let’s think about our need for power and control. What is healthy power? Perhaps, what is empowerment?
What is healthy control? What is domination or manipulation?
Power, control, and the need to dehumanize another person are at the root of sexual assault and human trafficking. There are certainly additional factors to consider.
However, during a month that is going to seem like advocates are focusing on the sexual part and not the assault part, I wanted to highlight this fact:
Violence is about domination and exploitation. “Sex” is one weapon that is commonly used.
And it is a potent weapon because not only is it a physical violation, it is a psychological, emotional, and relational violation. It affects a person’s identity and their experience of sexuality and vitality.
And to many survivors’ dismay, it deeply wounds a person’s ability to interact with and trust other people.
One last thing: I put “sex” in quotes above because it is really rape. I am often reminded that if I call what happened to me “sex,” then I will never want to have healthy sex and sex will always be associated with rape. That does not have to be the case.
So maybe Sexual Assault Awareness Month can also be called Assault on Humanity using Rape. Not so catchy, but maybe to the point.