Category Archives: Sexual Assault

Nienke Helder designs therapy tools for women recovering from sexual trauma

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Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Nienke Helder has created a set of sensory objects that can be used to rehabilitate women affected by sexual abuse.

Presented at this year’s Dutch Design Week, Sexual Healing is designed to help women who are suffering from trauma-induced sexual problems, such as pelvic muscle blockage.

According to the designer, current treatment available often focuses on a clinical perspective – putting too much emphasis on physical issues, rather than the psychological aspects of trauma.

From her own experience, Helder recognised the frustration this can cause, which prompted her to develop an alternative therapy which focuses more on the emotional aspects of sexual trauma.

“I was really frustrated with the way we treat these kinds of issues. In my opinion, the treatments that I got only made it worse,” she told Dezeen.

“It was totally taking me away from the sexual context; it became really clinical. It was so focused on this end goal of penetration that I totally lost all fun in my sexuality.”

The designer worked with medical experts and women in recovery to develop a set of five objects which invite users to discover their own sexual pleasure.

The objects encourage women to explore what feels good to them, which in turn, relieves fear and pain, and help them regain a sense of security about their bodies.

The first object is an ergonomically shaped mirror that lights up.

“Research shows that if you look at your own vulva, it increases your body positivity a lot. But if you have a trauma, it can really be confronting to look at your own body,” Helder said.

She made the mirror in such a way that it only shows exactly what you hold in front of it, allowing users to take their time and slowly start exploring their own bodies.

The second object is a brush made from horsehair, which is meant to help users become comfortable with being touched again. It also enables them to invite their partner to the healing process.

“If you have a trauma, it can be really difficult to talk about it. But by giving someone an object and making them part of the therapy, it opens a lot of doors for conversation,” Helder explains.

Two of the objects focus on biofeedback and are designed to help the user detect if they are feeling tense or stressed.

“Trauma creates certain reflexes in your body that comes from your subconscious mind,” the designer said. “To break that cycle, you need to rationally understand what is causing these processes in order to overcome them emotionally.”

One is a sensor that is meant to be placed on the abdomen. The device lights-up when the user’s breathing becomes tense, functioning as a signal to relax again.

A second is an object that measures the pressure in pelvic floor muscles. If the user tenses up, the device starts to vibrate, signalling the need to relax.

The final object is a kimono made of silk jersey, which emphasises the need to feel warm and relaxed in the bedroom.

“I made it because the bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house,” said the designer. “As I mentioned in my project video, it is important to keep your socks on when having sex because women could not have an orgasm when they have cold feet.”


 
Mental health is becoming an increasingly explored topic in design, particularly among graduates.

At last year’s Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, designer Nicolette Bodewes presented a tactile toolkit designed to be used in psychotherapy sessions, while Yi-Fei Chen channelled her personal struggle with speaking her mind into a gun that fires her tears.

Helder’s Sexual Healing project was presented at this year’s Design Academy Eindhoven‘s graduate show as part of the annual Dutch Design Week event, which took place from 21 until 29 October 2017.

Complete Article HERE!

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Pain and power

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When #MeToo suddenly flooded social media with testimonials about sexual harassment, assault and violence, I applauded those who spoke out. Yet, even as I was overwhelmed with a need to support and fiercely affirm those around me, I was confronted with a certain uneasiness that extended beyond my reservations about the mentality of mass movements, representation of such campaigns and even ignorance surrounding the sexual harassment–awareness movement’s inception ten years ago. The torrent of posts filled me with a nebulous discomfort.

I couldn’t identify why until I began reflecting on my own experiences, memories of harassment and assault that I’ve swept under the rug as quickly as they have steadily accumulated over the years. From piano to debate, political functions to conversations with acquaintances, encounters with strangers to those I trusted, these are instances that I do not spend time discussing. When I recall the moments that constitute my identity, they do not come to mind. Yet, reflected in the honest and raw stories of the people around me — mostly women, but also oft-ignored men and queer individuals — I was forced to face how the climate of sexual violence has shaped my daily decisions.

Ironically, I have studied women’s rights movements and sexuality. I read voraciously about rape culture and gender inequalities, and consume op-eds and studies and literature on gender-based and sexual violence. With an understanding of how sex, gender and sexuality play into oppressive power dynamics, I advocate for survivors and women in so many spaces, defend the experiences of others around me and celebrate their bravery and authenticity with the fullest conviction. However, the culture I’ve internalized means that writing “me too” makes me feel either that I have no control over harassment and assault, which is scary, or that I hold responsibility for the situations I’ve encountered, which is worse.

This was and is still difficult for me, because I define myself as a strong, assertive woman. In the face of unfairness I have clung to resilience; I want to believe that I have the self-determination to control my own narrative and have the upper hand. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, or focusing on the little things, or acting hysterically. I don’t want to sound like I’m weak, and, like many around me, I have implicitly linked these experiences with victimhood cast as weakness.

When I finally did write about my experiences, it was a bid for both me and others to associate strength with speaking truth to disempowering experiences, to reconcile the “me” who seeks positions of influence with the “me” in “me too.” Amidst well-intentioned people who dismiss harassment and men who hesitate to criticize friends for predatory behavior, amidst women who quietly succumb to blaming themselves and those ashamed of their experiences, I wanted to affirm that you can be strong and thick-skinned, yet still say “me too.” I wanted my experiences to discredit how we characterize powerful women and what we expect strength to look like.

At the same time, however, I wrote with a certain anxiety about the way I depicted my experiences and how they would be consumed. I’m a believer that sharing our stories can elicit transformative empathy, but it was with a sinking feeling that I wondered whether I’d raise awareness or attract pity. I felt as if I’d submitted scenes into a long, continuous documentary of #MeToo experiences, where the various dimensions of survivors’ memories had been reduced to a performance of pain in an exhausting bid for change. I wondered about the actual impact of writing and speaking out; I questioned using my experiences as a place of implied advocacy.

The past week of reading, reflecting and writing about scenarios of sexual harassment and assault has been emotionally draining for both those who have withheld and those who have shared their stories. Although I wish otherwise, the only way for nonsurvivors to understand the lived experiences of others is through hearing about them. #MeToo has brought about a bittersweet mix of acknowledgement and pain, so I hope that we see this pain as power and truly shift the way we think about victims and aggressors. Don’t let this be a pointless show.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘I finally felt like one of the guys’

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How toxic masculinity breeds sexual abusers

By Jane Gilmore

“I’m a guy. I’m supposed to have sex. I’m supposed to be like every other guy. And so I’m like them, but [when I did this to the girls, I thought] I’m even better than them [dominant popular boys], because I can manipulate. They don’t get the power and the excitement. They have a sexual relationship with a girl. She can say what she wants and she has the choice. But the girls I babysat didn’t have the choice.”

This was Sam* explaining why he abused two girls, aged six and eight.

Sam, 18, was a foster child, abandoned by his biological parents and adopted when he was five by what he says was a loving, affectionate family. His adoptive parents both worked, but his mother did all the cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. His father “mowed the lawn, loafed around and worked with his tools”; he was in control of the family.

Sam was never the victim of physical or sexual violence at home, and he never committed any violence against his family.

School was a very different experience for him. He was short and heavy, and was subjected to constant bullying by the “popular dominant boys”. They told him he was “fat” and a “wimp”, that he would never fit in. He couldn’t play sport nor fight back when he was beaten up at school; the boys he perceived as popular and dominant shamed him by feminising him.

Sam understood this as his failure to be a “real man”. He wasn’t masculine enough for the “cool” boys to accept him. His body “served as an antagonist in his construction of masculinity”.

In his early years at high school when Sam started learning about sexuality, most of his understanding came from listening to the boys’ conversations there.

“Kids were talking at school about blow jobs and getting laid, telling dirty jokes and about having sex and stuff like that,” he said.

His understanding of sex and his own sexuality was that he had to have sex to be a proper man.

“Well, I’m a guy, so this is something that every guy does, that I want to be part of. I want to be like the other guys. I want to know what it feels like. I want to know what goes on.”

He didn’t think he could have relationships with girls his own age because he believed what the popular boys had told him for years – that his body and personality were not acceptably masculine, and therefore no girls would like him.

So at 15 he started babysitting for local families, and sexually abused the little girls in his care. He deliberately chose girls he saw as quiet and vulnerable. He didn’t use physical force, he used coercion, fear and control to manipulate his victims into submitting to the abuse.

“I felt that I was No.1. I didn’t feel like I was small any more, because in my own grade, my own school, with people my own age, I felt like I was a wimp, the person that wasn’t worth anything. But when I did this to the girls, I felt like I was big, I was in control of everything.”

This terrible and tragic story comes from a paper written by James Messerschmidt, a professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine. It’s a summary of several books and papers he’s written about the relationship between violence and masculinity, or at least the twisted version of masculinity too often imposed on boys and young men.

Zack*, the other boy in Messerschmidt’s paper, had very similar experiences. He was bullied for being short, overweight, bad at sport and wimpy. Zack, like Sam, decided that sex was a way to prove to himself and others that he was a “real man”, and he started sexually abusing a vulnerable young girl.

“It made me feel real good. I just felt like finally I was in control over somebody. I forgot about being fat and ugly. She was someone looking up to me, you know. If I needed sexual contact, then I had it. I wasn’t a virgin any more. I wanted control over something in my life, and this gave it to me. I finally felt like one of the guys.”

It would be comforting to think of Sam and Zack as aberrations: tragic, but unusual in their experiences.

Sadly, the truth is that they are likely to be typical of the boys and young men who turn to violence to confirm their male identity and align with what they think is a desirable masculinity.

Study after study after study after study after study has found that domestic and sexual violence is usually based on a need for control, based on toxic misunderstanding of what gender roles should be.

These studies include wide-ranging research, surveys and interviews with both victims and offenders. They all show that violence is most likely to occur in cultures that strongly enforce gender roles and unequal power relationships between men and women.

The notion that “real men” are sexually powerful, dominant, strong and never to be rejected does enormous damage to boys and men, which in turn leads to them doing enormous damage to girls and women.

Boys who fail the masculinity test suffer excruciating rejection, and this doesn’t just reinforce toxic masculinity in the boys seen to fail, but also confirms it for the boys who pass.

Anna Krien’s 2013 book Night Games was a searing insight into the world of “successful” masculinity in Australia, where the young men who achieved all the “real man” targets of being tall, strong, powerful and excelling at sport lived in a culture of sexual entitlement and an expectation that everyone would see women as objects, not people.

Sam and Zack’s stories are the ones we need to tell people who think anti-bullying and respectful relationship education in schools is a waste of time, or worse, a means of diminishing men.

Our schools are littered with potential Sams and Zacks, and with the boys they thought of as popular and dominant. All of them are damaged by the ideas they teach each other about being a real man.

And all of them damage women when they carry those ideas into adulthood.

* Not his real name

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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Study: Sex Ed Should Include Advice About Relationships, Consent

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Most parents aren’t great at educating their kids about the birds and the bees. But children are also missing out on general relationship advice, according to a new study. Researchers found that 75 percent of kids surveyed wish their parents had taught them how to manage the emotional aspects of their relationships, rather than just informing them about sex. The findings suggest that parents are largely doing “the talk” wrong—and that we need to focus less on how youth should manage casual sexual relationships, and more on how they should foster healthy, romantic ones.

We tend to assume that our kids “are going to learn to love naturally, or that they will magically or organically figure this out,” coauthor Richard Weissbourd of Harvard University told Quartz. “There’s a lot of evidence that’s not the case.”

Parents, as well as schools, tend to approach sex education with a heightened focus on hook-up culture. But the data indicate that the notion of a pervasive, high school hook-up culture is mostly a myth. When students were asked about their ideal Friday nights, only 16 percent of those surveyed indicated interest in casual sex. The rest felt their weekends would be better spent with significant others, with friends, or alone. That’s not to say solid sex education isn’t essential. But the study suggests focusing on the sexual sides of relationships isn’t serving the needs of the average kid.

Our overemphasis on sex rather than romance can also lead to a number of problems for kids as they mature, including high divorce rates, unhappy marriages, and even domestic abuse. Despite statistics suggesting misogyny and sexual harassment are as prevalent as ever, the study found that more than 60 percent of kids never have a conversation with their parents about consent, or even about the “importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you.” Shockingly, two thirds of the kids also told researchers they felt media reports of sexual harassment were “overhyped”.

Parents need to have more detailed, meaningful conversations with their kids about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the authors conclude. And we desperately need to revamp our approach to sex ed, so it addresses the issues kids are actually facing. Because while we now thoroughly address a hook-up culture that barely exists and arm our kids with condoms, it seems we’ve forgotten to teach them how to navigate relationships, obtain consent, and be safe, supportive partners. Unfortunately, that’s something they’re unlikely to figure out on their own.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Stealthing’ – what you need to know

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By Jim Connolly

“Stealthing” is a term that describes when a man removes a condom during sex despite agreeing to wear one.

It may not be a word you’ve heard before but there’s a lot of discussion about it right now on social media.

It’s being talked about because of a US report which found cases are on the rise.

Victims’ charities say it must be treated as rape – and that it’s a hugely under-reported problem.

The study by Alexandra Brodsky in Columbia Journal of Gender and Law says it is a growing issue.

“Interviews with people who have experienced condom removal indicate that non-consensual condom removal is a common practice among young, sexually active people,” she explains.

And she says she’s been contacted by lots of victims.

We’ve been speaking to legal experts and people who support victims of rape for a better understanding “stealthing”.

What is it?

The report says it’s “non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse”.

Put simply that means taking it off or deliberately damaging it midway through sex without telling the other person.

The study warns it “exposes victims to physical risks of pregnancy and disease” and is “experienced by many as a grave violation of dignity”.

Is it rape?

“That person is potentially committing rape,” says Sandra Paul.

She’s a solicitor who works at Kingsley Napley and specialises in sexual crime.

She adds: “There has to be some agreement that a condom is going to be used or there is going to be withdrawal.

“If that person then doesn’t stick to those rules then the law says you don’t have consent.”

In non-legal language, it means that if you agree to having sex with a condom and remove it, without saying, then you no longer have consent.

Then it is rape.

What impact does this have on victims?

The report author speaks to a range of people who say they’ve been “stealthed”.

One student called Irin tells her: “The harm mostly had to do with trust.

“He saw the risk as zero for himself and took no interest in what it might be for me, and that hurt.”

The report said that “apart from the fear of specific bad outcomes like pregnancy and STIs, all of the survivors experienced the condom removal as a disempowering, demeaning violation of a sexual agreement”.

Legally, what is rape?

Sandra Paul tells Newsbeat that rape is when “you penetrate another person and the other person doesn’t consent”.

“Or the person doing the penetration doesn’t reasonably believe that they have consent.”

Is talking about ‘stealthing’ a good thing?

Sandra Paul deals with a lot of sexual assault cases and thinks “discussing it is a good thing”.

“Starting a conversation has got to be the right thing to do,” she explains.

However not everyone is sure that it is a good idea to call it “stealthing”.

“I always find it quite surprising when new phrases like this come up for things that are effectively just a form of sexual assault,” says Katie Russell from the charity Rape Crisis.

“If someone consents to a specific sexual act with you using contraception, and you change the terms of that agreement mid-act then that’s a sexual offence.”

“Giving it a term like ‘stealthing’ sounds relatively trivial,” she says.

“It’s a very acceptable term for something that’s extremely unacceptable and actually an act of sexual violence.”

What should you do if it happens to you?

“It can be really helpful to talk to someone in confidence like a trusted friend, or family member, or a specialist confidential independent service like a Rape Crisis centre,” Katie Russell says.

“They can just listen to you, support you and help you think through your options and what you might want to do in order to be able to cope with and recover from the traumatic experience.”

Complete Article HERE!

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