Category Archives: Sexual Harassment

We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault

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The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before … over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex

The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots

It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Power imbalance.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk

These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.

Complete Article HERE!

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All forms of sexual harassment can cause psychological harm

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“Being exposed to non-physical sexual harassment can negatively affect symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem,” say Associate Professor Mons Bendixen and Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

This applies to derogatory sexual remarks about appearance, behaviour and sexual orientation, unwanted sexual attention, being subject to rumouring, and being shown sexually oriented images, and the like.

The researchers posed questions about sexual experienced in the previous year and received responses from almost 3,000 high school students in two separate studies. The responses paint a clear picture.

Worst for girls. This is not exclusively something boys do against girls. It’s just as common for boys to harass boys in these ways.

Girls and boys are equally exposed to unpleasant or offensive non-physical sexual harassment. About 62 per cent of both sexes report that they have experienced this in the past year.

“Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general. But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way,” Kennair notes.

“Girls are also more negatively affected by sexual harassment than boys are,” adds Bendixen.

Being a girl is unquestionably the most important risk factor when teens report that they struggle with anxiety, depression, or .

However, non-physical sexual harassment is the second most important factor, and is more strongly associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being than being subjected to sexual coercion in the past year or sexual assault prior to that.

Level of severity

Bendixen and Kennair believe it’s critical to distinguish between different forms of harassment.

They divided the types of harassment into two main groups: non-physical harassment and physically coercive sexual behaviour, such as unwanted kissing, groping, intimate touch, and intercourse. Physical sexual coercion is often characterized as sexual abuse in the literature.

Studies usually lump these two forms of unwanted behaviour together into the same measure. This means that a derogatory comment is included in the same category as rape.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of non-physical sexual harassment,” says Bendixen.

Comments that for some individuals may seem innocent enough can cause significant problems for others.

Many factors accounted for

Not everyone interprets slang or slurs the same way. If someone calls you a “whore” or “gay,” you may not find it offensive. For this reason, the researchers let the adolescents decide whether they perceived a given action as offensive or not, and had them only report what they did find offensive.

The article presents data from two studies. The first study from 2007 included 1384 . The second study included 1485 students and was conducted in 2013-2014. Both studies were carried out in Sør-Trøndelag county and are comparable with regard to demographic conditions.

The results of the first study were reproduced in the second. The findings from the two studies matched each other closely.

The researchers also took into account a number of other potentially influential factors, such as having parents who had separated or were unemployed, educational programme (vocational or general studies), sexual minority status, , and whether they had experienced physical coercion in the past year or any sexual assaults previous to that.

“We’ve found that sexual minorities generally reported more psychological distress,” says Bendixen. The same applied to with parents who are unemployed. On the other hand, students with immigrant status did not report more psychological issues. Bendixen also notes that sexual minorities did not seem to be more negatively affected by sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers.

However, the researchers did find a clear negative effect of non-physical sexual harassment, over and beyond that of the risk factors above.

Uncertain as to what is an effective intervention

So what can be done to reduce behaviours that may cause such serious problems for so many?

Kennair concedes that he doesn’t know what can help.

“This has been studied for years and in numerous countries, but no studies have yet revealed any lasting effects of measures aimed at combating sexual harassment,” Bendixen says. “We know that attitude campaigns can change people’s attitudes to harassment, but it doesn’t result in any reduction in harassment behaviour.”

Bendixen and Kennair want to look into this in an upcoming study. Their goal is to develop practices that reduce all forms of and thereby improve young people’s psychological well-being.

Complete Article HERE!

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