I do not know a single woman who has not been sexually assaulted.
In all of my friends and family, not one.
In all of the women who come to me for therapy, not one. You may think I must specialize in trauma or surround myself in rape support groups. I don’t. I’m an autistic therapist who specializes in autism. I largely avoid groups and love my time to myself.
You know what else I love? Deep conversations. You know what always comes up in deep conversations with women? Sexual assault.
It comes up because it is so common. It comes up because it impacts us for the rest of our lives. It comes up because it permeates how we see and experience the world.
It comes up because it needs to come up.
But it is also very maddening. I’m tired of all of the discussions about all the ways we as women should contort ourselves so it doesn’t happen again.
Where we travel. When we travel. How we travel. What we wear. Who we go with. What we carry with us. What skills we develop.
There is a far more simple solution: Men Change Their Behavior.
Actually, I wish it was that simple. It’s not.
I think MANY of the men who perpetrate sexual violence against women do not see themselves as offenders.
Most depictions of rape in movies and our culture are of a quick, violent, and brutal attack. In all of my experiences and those that I have heard, that is not how it usually happens.
It is usually someone we know. It usually happens in small, uncomfortable gradients. It is usually a confusing dissent. Women often freeze and don’t know what to do. Men take liberties.
This is a hard thing to explain without giving personal examples. And yet, I do not want to go into my sexual assault experiences. This is not because of any fault of my own, or lack of “healing” or any other bullshit someone wants to put on me. I have discussed my experiences in therapy, I have discussed them with those closest to me. I do not want to parade my personal tragedies for the world and uncaring strangers to pick apart. I have boundaries and I know when I need to protect myself from the prying, critical eyes of others. This is my right.
You know what else is my right? My body. And to lose control of that is an incredibly harrowing, scary experience.
My friend told me that it wasn’t what was done to her body that lives with her, it is the loss of control and fear that stays with her.
I couldn’t agree more.
The question haunts me: Will I be able to act if it happens again?
I could go through all of the permutations to make sure I can act. AND I am angry that I have to do that. I am angry that I have to figure out all of the permutations.
I want the assaulters to figure out all the permutations. I want THEM to figure out how to stop doing what they’re doing.
This is complex on multiple levels.
One, there are the men who know they are inappropriate and have inappropriate thoughts and actions. I know it is incredibly difficult for them to seek out help because of the shame and potential for them to be tossed in jail. There are people and organizations trying to work on this problem. This group of people is not the subject of this essay.
I want to talk about the assaulters who do not know they are assaulters.
How could someone not know?
Easily: Rape culture.
Here’s the problem though, the minute I say that phrase, every man runs. They think, I’m not a rapist, so rape culture has nothing to do with me.
Actually, it has everything to do with every man. Rape culture is how our culture is structured to lubricate environments where men act in ways that are harmful to women. Where men can misinterpret.
And this is where I will divulge some of my personal experience for the benefit of education. When I was 15, a man in his mid 20’s asked me if he could kiss me. I said no. He kissed me anyway. He thought my “no” was a coy invitation. He thought it was part of the flirtatious game. It wasn’t. He repelled me. I was dating a boy he knew. When this man kissed me, I froze. Everything else that occurred happened while I was frozen. I was like a detached bug on the wall watching. I was not beaten. I was not restrained. I was just a glob of goo.
And this man probably still thinks I was into it. This man didn’t know how to check in and see if I was present. This man didn’t pause to think about how this would impact me or my relationships. This man didn’t care to think about our power differentials (his age, his size, etc.). This man didn’t care to think about how safe I may or may not have felt. This man didn’t know this event would horrifically shape the rest of my life.
This man cared about how he felt in that moment. He did not care about me. He cared about his body and his experience. And he played out whatever was in his mind.
How do I know he doesn’t feel he did something wrong? How he talked to me the next day. How he was giddy and excited about what happened. How even months later he contacted me, wanting to be friends and hearing how my life was going.
I was robbed. Twice.
My solvency was robbed. And then I was robbed again when the very person who did it thinks he did nothing wrong.
And yet, I am not alone in this. I hear many, many stories where the “blurred lines” of what happened end up with many women feeling devastated, and men unaware they did anything wrong.
I could list examples, but the “blurred nature” means far more context needs to be provided to understand. So instead, I will list what men need to consider:
Power differentials present. Why do they matter? They impact how much power a woman may or may not have to decline or feel comfortable in the situation. They impact how safe a woman may or may not feel. Power differentials look like:
Body size differences
Hierarchical differences, such as at work or within organizations
Relationship ties (friend of the family, relative, etc.)
Her wellbeing tied in any way to that man (for example, if job opportunities are tied to him or her living situation is tied to him)
Is the woman present? This is not as simple as a “consent was given” and move forward. It means checking in throughout the process to see if she is fully present and enjoying what is happening (I intend to write an entire essay later on freezing and how men can identify it)
How will this impact the woman after? This means for a man to think about the other factors present in a woman’s life. Is she in a relationship? Will she have to hide this? Will there be some form of shame present?
Is this woman in a state of mind to fully consent? This means the obvious drugs/alcohol AND her emotional state. If she is a heaving, sobbing, crying mess because something happened in her life and a man decides this is the time to make a move… well let’s just say he and I would have a lot to discuss in therapy together.
There’s a lot more here I could list out.
What is at the heart of it is for men to step outside of what they are wanting in that moment. For men to think outside of just the sex they are craving. For them to pause and see confirmation bias might be occurring. Confirmation bias occurs when we want something and our mind automatically finds all the supporting details for it.
I think that happens a lot when a man wants sex. His mind automatically looks for all of the supporting evidence to confirm this is a green light. It’s why things can get misinterpreted.
I don’t think we are in an age anymore where my experience at age 15 would be considered consensual or simply “misinterpreted.” I was underage. He was not. I said no.
However, my story still reverberates with many women. Up my age to 18 and change “No” to “I’m not sure” or a frozen blank stare, and I think we’re left with what many sexual assault experiences look like today.
So where can we go from here?
Let’s stop putting the labor on women to navigate and contort through this bullshit
Let’s start naming the ways that men can think deeper about their actions
Let’s start calling for the action we would like men to take so they have more intentional, harm-free actions
Men, if you have somehow made it to the end of this essay, thank you for hanging in there. It’s a little sad I have to say thank you. So can you please step up and come up with your own creative ways to work on this issue. PLEASE?!? It’s also sad I have to beg. But that’s the state of our culture.
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