After receiving feedback that my previous post was, plain and simple, too dang long, I am splitting it up into parts for your reading pleasure.
Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault, victim-blaming attitudes.
*sits down at keyboard, cracks knuckles, rolls neck* Strap yourselves in, darlings. This is gonna be a doozy.
My sister forwarded me an article that appeared on Medium in August 2018 called “Fact-checking the #MeToo sexual harassment allegations. How many of them are true and fair?” You can read it for yourself here but.. it’s not great.
But in this article, I hear many common refrains that frequently pop up in our post-#MeToo era, and because I’m me and can never just hush, I’m going to walk us through this piece by victim-blaming piece. I will quote directly from the article (in bold) and then seek to answer the questions the author poses (in not-bold).
The article begins with a feeling of bewilderment at the state of things during and after #MeToo:
Did you know that hundreds of popular and successful men in the U.S. have suddenly been accused of sexual harassment in the last few months?
Well, yeah. I did know. But those men being popular and successful has nothing and everything to do with the position in which they now find themselves. Nothing because popularity and success does not somehow insulate you from being an abuser. Everything because it seems to me that some men in positions of power think they are above the law, above reproach, and unlikely to face repercussions. So they do as they do.
It appeared that almost anybody has been or has a friend that has been sexually harassed.
Yup, so maybe it’s time we take this seriously and do something about it.
Many of the accused have had their public careers ruined totally basing just on unconfirmed sexual allegations and no due process behind them at all. Why does the public penalize others so much on their own without depending on the courts? (An accusation without a legal process is just an accusation, isn’t it?)
This article talks a lot about “due process.” Due process and innocent until proven guilty are for criminal cases (we’ll get to that in a minute). Not everyone wants to bring charges, as is their right, but they do feel it is important to speak out in solidarity with others who have been through similar experiences.
I think of the whole Kavanaugh cluster-cuss awhile back and how everyone was crying out “innocent until proven guilty!” which yes, is important. If he were being charged with a crime. He is not. It was a glorified job interview, and someone had information that was extremely relevant to his fit for the job. And look at the abuse Dr. Ford endured for telling her story.
And now he’s on the Supreme Court.
Why people are avoiding legal process in the case of sexual assaults? Why are they bringing justice on their own?
Because the justice system has a long, long history of re-victimizing survivors and mishandling sexual harrassment/assault cases. Google is free, so I’ll leave that up to you to discover, but the stories are a-plenty. Whether it’s victim-blaming questions (what they were wearing or how much they drank has nothing to do with the case) or extremely light sentencing, there is very little in place to make survivors come forward when it’s unlikely the case will go to court, unlikely their abuser will be convicted, unlikely their abuser will get the sentence they deserve – yet every little secret from their life will be paraded out in front of the court to say “look, look, isn’t it possible she asked for it?” Survivors have already been violated, and the process toward justice is both another violation and mostly ineffectual.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t report. But what I am saying, and what I’ll continue to say, is that if we have those expectations for every survivor of some kind of sexual violence, we must create a system and a society that balances the due process but also the needs of someone who is traumatized. Until we have that, let’s just stop with the “why didn’t you report” business.
Third, what is that thing with requiring the signed agreement before having sex?
Not the point, never been the point, and people who see these things happening and jump to that conclusion are being woefully obtuse. Consent is not hard. It’s really not. Yes, it can be intricate and awkward or whatever, but it’s not hard.
“Hey, is this okay?” “You seem uncomfortable, do you want to pause?” “You good?” “Do you like that?”
Literally not hard. People who jump to the idea of a signed agreement just expose themselves as someone incapable of viewing their partner as an active participant in the act, someone with their own boundaries, wants, and needs.
Fourth, do all of my female friends have similar experience with sexual harassment in their past?
Statistically, probably most of them. In my mind, yes.
I don’t have research to back this up. All I have is my experience talking to others. But I think if we really understood what harassment, abuse, and sexual assault (which exists on a continuum – again we’ll get to that in a bit) really were, damn near every woman would be able to say “wow, that’s happened to me.”
Actually, let’s get to the sexual assault thing right now.
Generally when people hear “sexual assault,” they think “forced penetrative sex” (rape). But the term sexual assault actually refers to a wide range of behaviours that are “non-consensual sexual actions.” In Canada (where I live), there is no legal term for rape: it is all sexual assault but different levels are given based on the circumstance.
So here’s a story for you. I’ve written this one before but I think it’s particularly salient here. I think I was about 18 or 19 and I was in a bar (shame, I know). A drunk guy who I only kind of knew walked up to me and put his hand in my shirt. In my bra. His hand on my skin.
That is sexual assault. He didn’t rape me. But he did assault me by touching me in that manner without my consent. Because, of course, asking someone “Can I touch your boob in this public place?” is a weird question.
Then people start asking “Oh so I can’t even hug someone without permission?”
Well, yeah. How many times have you actually confirmed that someone wants to hug you? I know it seems weird and awkward, but you can’t know for sure. I find this a bit of a balance as well. With my brother, who is 16, I ask if he’ll give me a hug. He often says no. That’s his choice. I ask my niece, who’s not even 2 yet, “can Auntie have a hug?” It gives her the chance to say “Not right now” or “I don’t like hugs.”
Most, a vast majority of people, will not say a hug is an assault or harassment depending on the context. Stranger in a bar? Yeah, don’t hug without asking because you have no relationship with this person. Creepy uncle who gives you bad vibes or is a little too handsy? Don’t have to hug him.
Again: this is not hard.
Before, if you had asked me about any of the issues above, I would say they are obvious and need no explanation. I’d just pass you their definitions right away, e.g.:
- Sexual consent is when both of you want to have sex with each other.
- Sexual harassment is when you forcefully try to have sex with the others from your work place.
- Flirting, as long as it is not unwanted, is a cool and basic way to build up a strong and romantic connection with another person
The article is only partially correct on these points.
Consent to sexual activity is when you want to have sex with each other with the caveat that everyone involved is sober, able to consent, not coerced or fearful, and consents freely and enthusiastically. Not “I guess so.” Not a yes after saying no forever. Not giving in to a pushy partner.
Sexual harassment also covers a wide variety of behaviours with “forcefully trying to have sex with others from your workplace” being at one end of the spectrum. First of all, you can sexually harass people you don’t work with. Second of all, it can be invasive questions or comments, inappropriate touching, and things like that.
This doesn’t mean you can’t compliment people. But be mindful in how you do it. “Your body is rocking in that dress!” is a lot different than “you look nice today.” Catcalling – no one likes that, stop doing that.
I had someone in one workplace (that I was only at for a short while) tell me about his large penis. That is sexual harassment, but an instance I mostly shrugged off because… if you gotta tell people how big it is, it probably isn’t.
Sure, flirting is cool, but again, try to treat the person you’re flirting with as, well, a person and not just a conquest or genitals with legs. Don’t flirt with people while they’re at work. They’re not flirting with you – they are being nice to you because it is their job. Please remember that for women especially, they have no way of knowing you’re a “nice guy”TM. For all she knows, you could be someone who will get angry or keep showing up at their workplace, because it’s quite likely they have been in that exact situation before and it did not go well for them.
One of the primary goals was to split facts from the opinions, connect them with each other, and only then find the real questions that need to be answered in order to explain and solve this whole problem of sexual violence in the U.S.
It’s okay! I can solve this for you. But first, don’t call people’s stories “opinions.” Opinions are “I prefer cats to dogs.” Opinions are not “I choose not to believe what you are telling me about your own lived existence.”
Do you want to solve this “whole problem” of sexual violence? Educate people about consent and the right to say no. Call people in power out for their behaviour, no matter how minor. I have a friend working in a male-dominated field and she puts up with a lot of garbage. Very rarely, maybe never, does anyone stand up for her. STAND UP and say, “Hey that’s not cool. Cut it out.”
Don’t tolerate harassment in any form. I don’t care if it’s your boss or your best friend. Men especially should be raising the alarm when they see these things happening because they often have the safety and status to do so.
This post is only 50% of my thoughts on this article. Check out part 2 here.
Have questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments or find me on instagram: @theofficialkirstanley.