Sexual Misconduct and Assault

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

This is a very complicated topic for me and I’m only going to cover a few components here.

A male friend recently ask how many women I know who had experienced sexual assault.  About half of the women I know well, who I would call friends, have been outright raped.  If we’re talking about unwanted touching, coercion, pressure to engage in sexual acts, being taken advantage of in powerless situations, then it would be every female I know.

Having said that, almost all of the males I know well, who I consider friends, have probably touched a woman who did not want to be touched, pressured or coerced a woman into engaging in sexual acts (or at least tried to) or took advantage of a situation where she might have felt powerless.  These men are still my friends. These men are good men. There was no malice in their behaviour.  They did not do this to hurt the woman.  I suspect that they had no real understanding that the woman would be hurt or an understanding of how much she could be hurt.

20-30 years ago, behaviours that would now constitute sexual misconduct (so excluding outright rape, but possibly still including date rape) were treated by my peer group as something that just happened.  No matter how awful it might be to experience, it was something you put up with. And not just because males pressured us into putting up with it. Many of the females in my peer group spoke of these instances as nothing serious and someone who couldn’t handle it was weak, or over reacting.  We also have to acknowledge the perception that if a woman found herself in this situation it was her own doing. Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, stopping at a certain point was impossible because you would be considered a “tease”.  At the time it was one of the worst things you could be!

On the flip side, the males I knew were actively encouraged by their peers to engage in these behaviours. It was their job to get laid through whatever means necessary. If you didn’t you were a pussy or a homo. I’m not going to get into how appalling these terms are, we’ll save that for another post, but we need to recognize the social punishment it was to be called these things.  Now obviously not every guy did so with behaviours that would be called sexual misconduct today, but if they did it wasn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing.

One idea that constantly comes to my mind – for me, these behaviours being minimized kind of helped me to brush them off and get on with my life.  I want to make it absolutely clear, that minimizing these behaviours or experiences often does considerable damage.  I also want to acknowledge that for me, it was a benefit. And I think for many of my fellow women, looking at these behaviours as nothing, helped us to deal with experiencing them.

I’ve reached the age where I span different era’s with different expectations and different standards of acceptable behaviour.  Things have changed. What happened in the past is not acceptable now and it must not be allowed to continue.  So how do we deal with people now, who committed acts in the past that would not be acceptable in the present?

This post was prompted by an article about Louis C.K.’s comeback to the stage a year after allegations of sexual misconduct.  At the time of the allegations, he admitted it and said that at the time he justified it by gaining consent, but now he see’s that it isn’t really consent when the person is in a position of lower power.   Here is an acknowledgment and demonstration of understanding.  That is pretty rare.  It is very difficult for someone to look at themselves and say I behaved horribly, I take responsibility, I’ve thought about my rationalization for behaving badly, and I see it was wrong.  I was impressed.

At his recent return, people in the audience didn’t know he was going to be in the show.  Some were upset that he was allowed back on stage.  Some where upset that he just went on with his set without saying anything about what happened  He didn’t apologize. People were angry.  The same week reports of others accused of sexual misconduct planning returns to their careers came out.  People start discussing if this should be allowed.

I look at my male friends, the social spheres they lived in, the pressures they faced to act certain ways.  Would I want to see them punished? No.  Would I want their past behaviours to affect them now?  No.

I look at the men who groped, grabbed, made crass sexual remarks towards me, who begged, coerced or pressured until I gave in even if I really didn’t want to.  Would I want them punished?  No.  Do I hope that looking back on their own behaviour they are able to see it for what it was, and what it is by todays standards?  Yes.

I look at the women around me. Our perception of these behaviours.  Our actions and reactions that, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, reinforced these behaviours.  Do I accept that I did, said, implied things that maintained and promoted the idea that these are behaviours that are inevitable and just something to be put up with?  Yes.  Do I accept that my talking about dealing with these things as nothing and not getting worked up about it may have conveyed the message to other girls and women that not doing so is a sign of weakness?  Yes.

Would the threat of punishment lead to the denial of past behaviours?  Would it prevent people from looking at their behaviours reflectively? Openly? Honestly? In a way that could produce change?

Is refusing to let Louis C.K. and other celebrities from holding positions of public status less about punishment and more about not revering those who engage in bad behaviour?

I am certain the majority of people share the goal of preventing sexual misconduct. We need to think carefully about how best to achieve that to ensure we don’t just elicit denial, defensiveness, retaliation and in-fighting.



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