Category Archives: Sexual Trauma

‘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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For Veterans, Trauma Of War Can Persist In Struggles With Sexual Intimacy

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U.S. Marines march in the annual Veterans Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in 2014 in New York City.

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Much has been said about the physical and psychological injuries of war, like traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. But what we talk about less is how these conditions affect the sexual relationships of service members after they return from combat.

Since 2000, service members who were deployed received at least 138,000 diagnoses of PTSD. More than 350,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since 2000. Evidence suggests the numbers are actually higher because many don’t seek treatment.

These conditions cause their own sexual side effects, such as emotional numbness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. And the long list of medications used to treat PTSD, TBI and other medical conditions can worsen those side effects.

‘He would sleep for days’

Chuck and Liz Rotenberry of Baltimore struggled with their own challenges when Chuck returned from Afghanistan in 2011. He’s a former Marine gunnery sergeant who trained military working dogs. He left active duty in 2012.

For Liz and Chuck, sex had never been a problem. They’ve been married for 14 years and they’re still very much in love. Liz says she fell for Chuck in high school. He was that guy who could always make her laugh, who always had a one-liner ready and never seemed sad.

But when Chuck returned from Afghanistan, their relationship would soon face its greatest challenge. Baby No. 4 was just two weeks away; for sure, it was a chaotic time. But Liz noticed pretty quickly, something was terribly wrong with her husband.

“I wouldn’t be able to find him in the house and he wouldn’t be outside, and I’d find him in a separate bedroom just crying,” Liz says. “He would sleep for days. He would have a hoodie on and be just tucked away in the bed, and he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. He would have migraines that were so debilitating that it kept him in the bed.”

When Chuck was in Afghanistan, an IED — improvised explosive device — exploded 3 feet behind him. Shrapnel lodged into his neck and back.

It would take three years for someone at the Department of Veterans Affairs to explicitly lay out for Liz that Chuck had developed severe post-traumatic stress and suffered a traumatic brain injury — and that she would need to be his caregiver.

The Marine self-image

During that three-year period, there were times Chuck estimates he was taking 15 to 16 different medications twice a day.

Sex was usually the furthest thing from his mind.

“I didn’t think about it. I wanted to be with Liz, I wanted to be near her,” he says. “When the desire was there, it was unique. It was rare, as opposed to the way it was before. And a lot of times, with the mountains of medication I was on, you know, in my head [it was] all systems go, but that message didn’t go anywhere else.”

Liz noticed that Chuck stopped initiating physical affection.

“The thought of him reaching out to me to give me a hug wasn’t existent. It was like I had to give him the hug. I now had to step in and show him love,” she says.

Sometimes months would go by before they would have sex.

“It started off as being pretty embarrassing, pretty emasculating,” Chuck says. “It was like, ‘Really? This too doesn’t work?’ You blame it on, ‘Oh, it’s just the medication,’ or ‘You’re tired,’ or whatever initially, and you don’t realize it’s stress or my brain just doesn’t work like it used to.”

Liz and Chuck had never really talked about sex in any serious way before. So they kept avoiding the conversation — until this year. That’s when Chuck finally asked his primary care provider for help. The doctor prescribed four doses of Viagra a month. Liz and Chuck say the medication has improved things substantially — though they joke about how few doses the VA allots them every month.

But asking for just those four doses took Chuck three or four visits to the doctor before he could work up the nerve. He says it can be especially hard for a Marine to admit he’s having problems with sex because it contradicts a self-image so many Marines have.

“You know, as a Marine, you can do anything. You believe you can do anything, you’ve been trained to do nearly anything,” he says. “You’re physically fit. You’re mentally sound. Those are just the basics about being a Marine.”

If he has any advice for a Marine going through the same thing he and his wife are facing, he says you need to talk about it. Bring it up with your spouse. Bring it up with your doctors.

“Marines always jokingly hand out straws. You got to suck it up. You got to do what you need to do to get it done,” Chuck says. “It’s just a different mission. … Don’t let your pride ruin what you worked so hard for.”

 Complete Article HERE!

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Rape Culture and the Concept of Affirmative Consent

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March against rape culture

March against rape culture

Throughout most of our history, rape was a property crime.

Today we do not, in the modern United States at least, think of a woman’s sexuality as a financial asset. But that is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, rape was not treated the same way as other violent assaults because it wasn’t just a violent assault, it was also a crime against property.

You can see this view–of a woman’s sexuality belonging to her father and later her husband–in laws concerning rape and sexual assault. It was even possible for a father to sue a man who had consensual sex with his daughter because he had lost the value of his daughter. Based on this view, value is lost in terms of her work if she became pregnant and was no longer able to earn wages, or in terms of a future wife for someone else because of this stain on her character. Men could not be held accountable for raping their wives because a wife was a man’s property and consent to sex–at any time of his choosing–was part of the arrangement.

Lest you think that these laws are ancient examples of a culture that no longer bears relation to our current policies on rape, spousal rape was not made illegal in all fifty states until 1993, where it still may carry a less severe sentence than other rape offenses. The tort of seduction was technically on the books in North Carolina in 2003.

This context is important given our current cultural attitudes toward sexual assault. To understand this culture and how it can be amended, we need to look more deeply at the historical understandings of rape and consent.


Force Means No

The framework for defining rape underpins our understanding of who is required to prove consent or non-consent. The Hebrew Scriptures, which established longstanding cultural norms that helped form a basis for what was morally and legally acceptable in early America, make a distinction between a woman who was raped within a city and one who was raped outside of the city limits. The first woman was stoned to death and the second considered blameless (assuming she was a virgin). This distinction is based on the idea that it was the woman’s responsibility to cry out for help and show that she was non-consenting. A woman who was raped in the city obviously had not screamed because if she had someone would have come to her rescue and stopped the rape. The woman outside the city had no one to rescue her so she could not be blamed for being victimized.

This brutal logic, which is completely inconsistent with how we know some victims of rape react to an attack, was continued in the American legal system when our laws on rape were formulated. Rape was defined as a having a male perpetrator and a female victim and involving sexual penetration and a lack of consent. But it was again the woman’s responsibility to prove that she had not consented and the way that this was demonstrated was through her resistance. She was only actually raped if she had attempted to fight off her attacker. Different jurisdictions required different levels of force to show a true lack of consent. For example, fighting off an assailant to your utmost ability or even up to the point where the choice was either to submit to being raped or to being killed. Indeed, the cultural significance of chastity as a virtue that the female was expected to guard was so profound that many female Christian saints are saints at least in part because they chose to die rather than be raped or be a bride to anyone but Christ.

Potential canonization aside, it was consistently the responsibility of the woman alleging that she was the victim of a rape to prove that she had fought off her attacker in order to show that she had not consented. If she could not show that she had sufficiently resisted, she was deemed to not have been raped. Her chastity was someone else’s property, either her father’s or her husband’s/future husband’s, so it was always understood that someone, other than her, had the right to her sexuality. The assailant had assumed that he had the right to use her sexually and was only a rapist if she acted in such a way that a reasonable man would have known that she did not belong to him. Her failure to communicate that fact, that she was the property of some other man, was a sign that she had in fact consented. Therefore the rape was not his moral failing in stealing another man’s property but her moral failing in not protecting that property from being stolen.


Culture Wars

We can see the effects of this ideology in how we treat rape victims today. Although we don’t necessarily require evidence of forceful resistance, it is considered helpful in prosecuting a rape case. Rape shield laws may have eliminated the most egregious examples of slut-shaming victims, but an innocent or even virginal victim is certainly what the prosecution could hope for if they were trying to design their most favorable case. One of the first questions that will be asked of the victim is “did you say no?” In other words “what did YOU do to prevent this from happening to you?” The burden is still often legally and almost always culturally on the victim to show that they did not consent.

There is an alternative approach that has been gaining traction on college campuses and elsewhere known as the concept of “affirmative consent.” Take a look at the video below, which elucidates the differences between the “no versus no” approach compared to affirmative consent, which is often described as “yes means yes.”

In this video, Susan Patton and Rush Limbaugh both represent examples of rape culture. The contrast between the views of Savannah Badlich, the advocate of affirmative consent, and Patton, who is against the idea, could not be starker. To Badlich, consent is an integral part of what makes sex, sex. If there isn’t consent then whatever happened to you, whether most people would have enjoyed it or indeed whether or not you orgasmed, was rape. It is your consent that is the foundation of a healthy sexual experience, not the types of physical actions involved. In contrast, Patton expressed the view that good sex is good sex and consent seems to not play a role in whether it was good sex, or even whether it should be defined as sex at all. The only thing that could indicate if something is an assault versus a sexual encounter is whatever physical evidence exists, because otherwise, the distinction is based only on the assertions of each individual. Again we are back to evidence of force.


What is “Rape Culture”?

Rape culture refers to a culture in which sexuality and violence are linked together and normalized. It perpetuates the idea that male sexuality is based on the use of violence against women to subdue them to take a sexual experience, as well as the idea that female sexuality is the effort to resist or invite male sexuality under certain circumstances. It overgeneralizes gender roles in sexuality, demeans men by promoting their only healthy sexuality as predatory, and also demeans women by considering them objects without any positive sexuality at all.

According to this school of thought, the “no means no” paradigm fits in perfectly with rape culture because it paints men as being predators who are constantly looking for a weak member of the herd to take advantage of sexually, while also teaching women that they need to be better than the rest of the herd at fending off attacks, by clearly saying no, to survive. If they can’t do that, because they were drinking or not wearing proper clothing, then the attack was their fault.


“Yes Means Yes”

Affirmative consent works differently. Instead of assuming that you can touch someone until they prove otherwise, an affirmative consent culture assumes that you may not touch someone until you are invited to do so. This would be a shocking idea to some who assume that gamesmanship and predation are the cornerstones of male sexuality and the perks of power, but it works out better for the majority of men and women, who would prefer and who should demand equality in sex.

This video gives a brief highlight of some of the issues that are brought up when affirmative consent is discussed and the difficulties that can still arise even with affirmative consent as a model.


Evaluating Criticism of Affirmative Consent

The arguments are important so let’s unpack some of the key ones in more detail. The first objection, expressed in both videos, is how exactly do you show consent? Whenever the affirmative consent approach comes up, one of the first arguments is that it is unenforceable because no one is going to stop sexual activity to get written consent, which is the only way to really prove that a person consented. We still end up in a “he said, she said” situation, which is exactly where we are now, or a world where the government is printing out sex contracts.

The idea that affirmative consent will by necessity lead to written contracts for sex is a logical fallacy that opponents to affirmative consent use to make the proposition seem ridiculous. Currently, we require the victim to prove non-consent. Often the victim is asked if they gave a verbal no or if they said they did not want the contact. The victim is never asked: did you put the fact that you didn’t want to be touched in writing and have your assailant read it? The idea that a written explanation of non-consent would be the only way we would take it seriously is absurd, so it would be equally absurd to assume that requiring proof of consent would necessitate written documentation. Advocates for affirmative consent don’t want sex contracts.

In addition, even under our current framework we accept a variety of pieces of evidence from the prosecution to show that the victim did not consent. A clear “no” is obviously the strongest kind of evidence, just as under an affirmative consent framework an enthusiastic verbal “yes” would be the best evidence, but that is just what the best evidence is. That is certainly not the only kind of evidence available. Courts already look at the entire context surrounding the incident to try to determine consent. The process would be virtually the same under an affirmative consent model. The only difference would be that the burden would be on the defendant to show that they believed they had obtained consent based on the context of the encounter instead of placing the burden on the victim to show that, although they didn’t say “no,” they had expressed non-verbally that they were unwilling to participate.

The shift in the burden of proof is sometimes cited as a reason not to adopt an affirmative consent model. Critics argue that this affects the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Which is, rightly, a cornerstone of our judicial system. If this model did, in fact, change that presumption then it wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to this problem. But it does not.

Take another crime as an example. A woman’s car is stolen. The police issue a BOLO on the car, find it, and bring the suspect in and sit him down. They ask him “did you have permission to take that car?” and he replies “Yes, officer, she gave me the keys!”

He is still presumed innocent and, as far as this brief hypothetical tells us, hasn’t had his rights violated. It looks as though he is going to get a fair trial at this point. That trial may still devolve into another he said, she said situation. She may allege that she didn’t give him the keys but merely left them on the kitchen table. At that point, it will be up to the jury to decide who they believe, but that would have been the case in any event. He is presenting her giving the keys to him as one of the facts to show his innocence.

If a woman’s car is stolen we don’t question her about how many miles are on the odometer. We don’t ask if she wore a seatbelt the last time she drove it. We don’t care if she had been drinking because her alcohol consumption doesn’t negate the fact that she was a victim of a crime. We certainly wouldn’t force her to prove that she didn’t give the thief the keys. That burden would rightly be on him and we would be able to both place that burden on him and at the same time presume him to be innocent until he failed to meet that burden.

Adopting an affirmative consent model changes how consent is perceived. It is primarily a cultural change in understanding who is responsible for consent. Rather than making the non-initiating party responsible for communicating a lack of consent, affirmative consent requires that the initiating party obtains obvious consent.

That is how affirmative consent works. It wouldn’t require a written contract or even necessarily a verbal assertion. Context would always matter and the cases would still often become two competing stories about what the context meant. And it doesn’t mean that we are assuming that person is guilty before they have the chance to show that they did, in fact, get that consent. It just means that we are placing the burden of proving that consent was obtained on the party claiming that consent had been obtained.


Conclusion

There is no other category of crime where we ask the victim to show that they didn’t want to be the victim of that crime. A man who is stabbed in a bar fight, regardless of whether he was drunk or belligerent, isn’t asked to prove that he didn’t want a knife wound.

We need to change our cultural framework of rape and consent. When we are working under an affirmative consent framework what we are doing is changing the first question. Currently, our first question is for the victim: did you say no? Under an affirmative consent model our first question is for the suspect: did you get a yes?

Complete Article HERE!

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Are We Wrong About Male Sexuality?

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Is male sexuality inherently predatory and threatening? Are Donald Trump’s comments and Brock Turner’s behavior typical?

Is male sexuality inherently predatory and threatening? Do all guys just want to grab women’s private parts, as Donald Trump suggested? Was Brock Turner’s jail sentence of six months and registering as a sex offender too harsh for “20 minutes of action”, as his father complained?

Many people believe rape is an inevitable by-product of male sexuality because the male sex drive is impossible to control. They may even believe that sexual desire causes guys to make bad decisions. They are dangerously incorrect and we all pay the price.

The reality is that most men are quite capable of controlling their sexual urges, which is why the vast 001majority of men are not rapists. In fact, most men are not particularly interested in having many partners. Researchers consistently find approximately 15% of men in their 20s have three or more partners per year, and only about 5% of all guys have three or more partners for three straight years. On college campuses, surrounded by thousands of other unmarried people their same age with a minimal level of adult supervision, only 25% of undergraduate men say they want two or more partners in the next thirty days. Yes, males have greater desire for and greater experience with promiscuity than women, but it’s a minority of guys who are driving the differences: three-fourths of male college students aren’t interested in having multiple short-term partners and more than four-fifths of guys in their 20s aren’t being promiscuous. So much for “hookup culture.” Most men don’t desire a promiscuous sex life. If you can get a man to talk about a sexual experience he regrets, you’ll probably hear a story about a drunken hookup.

Instead of recognizing and acting on the reality, we continue to minimize guys’ ability to control their sexual desires and instead give responsibility to others. Because we think guys can’t control themselves, we give girls and women responsibility for not dressing provocatively, not “leading him on,” and proving they gave a clear – and clearly understood – no. Guys seem to have little responsibility for knowing their own limits or being decent listeners. (Not good listeners; “no” is about as simple as it gets.) “Bathroom bills” in North Carolina make transgender individuals responsible for preventing the rape of women in restrooms; why not make it illegal to falsely claim a Trans identity?

Female victims clearly pay the price, as the letter from Brock Turner’s victim demonstrates. The experience and its associated trauma are awful. Not being listened to, as in the Bill Cosby case, just makes it worse.

Victims of male-on-male sexual assault suffer many of the same outcomes, with an additional dose of shame for not being able to defend themselves. Mental health problems may be compounded by the lack of public and professional knowledge regarding male sexual assault victims, leading to less effective treatment.

002Some institutions have also paid the price of male sexual predation. They assumed rape was inevitable and then tried to act like it never happened. The Catholic Church has paid tens of millions in settlements. Football programs from Penn State to Baylor to Sayreville, NJ have paid, with reputations tarnished and jobs lost. At this level, the cost is paid not just by the perpetrators and those who covered for them, but many others who genuinely didn’t know. Some of those innocents, continuing to trust the organizations and relying on their faulty knowledge of male sexuality, lash out at the victims.

Although the cost is much smaller at the individual level, all men suffer from the notion that “men are dogs,” because any misbehavior of his reinforces that notion. Further, he is incapable of refuting the global charge because the group “men” is more likely than the group “women” to be lewd or commit any type of sexual assault. Most women date men, and when they spend time and energy trying to figure out if he’s a dog or a good guy, they’re paying the price of our misunderstanding.

We can and must do better. We can learn the facts about men’s ability and willingness to control themselves, and give credit to the majority of men for being responsible adults. We can also put responsibility on the minority of men who disgrace the whole group, and teach them how to do better.

 

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