Category Archives: Sexual Trauma

What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?

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Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

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The terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.

Rape

In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

Complete Article HERE!

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Consent doesn’t end with dating – husbands have to ask their wives for sex too

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Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with said that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape

Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression

By Hera Hussain

Thanks to the #MeToo movement the topic of consent is now on the agenda. The conversation is centred on dating and hooking up, teaching us how to navigate those confusing moments between going home and actively saying, or hearing, the word “yes”. What isn’t being expressed is that consent is something that happens every time we agree to sleep with someone – whether on a first date, or after 30 years of marriage. At every point in a relationship someone has the right to say no, and to be listened to.

It’s frightening for many to think that partners we trust, love and may even desire might force us into something they’re enjoying, when we’re not, but it happens in too many relationships.

Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with have expressed, quite reluctantly, that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape. And these women aren’t an anomaly. One study reported that nearly one in three women has experienced sexual violence within an intimate relationship.

I can never forget when one woman I worked with asked me, embarrassed, how sex was for another married woman. She asked me if it was supposed to feel good. Or the woman who would go to extreme lengths to avoid sleeping with her husband, pretending to be sick or on her period. And another who would lock the door and sleep in the guest room when her husband would come staggering home from a night out. There are so many more stories like these.

As seen in the recent high-profile cases, women continue to face a higher standard of scrutiny for experiencing abuse than abusers do for inflicting it. “If it was so bad, why didn’t she just leave?” people ask me. There are many reasons why women don’t leave an abusive situation.

Psychological barriers can prevent recognition of abuse, women are socialised to fear the anger of men who don’t get their way, and, for many women, leaving simply isn’t an option as there’s nowhere to go. After all, in England alone, nearly 200 women and children are turned away from domestic violence refuges every single day.

Clearly, we’re going wrong somewhere. Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression, and will often temper their response knowing that they risk being seriously hurt or even killed if they fail to comply.

If we’re serious about changing gender power dynamics for good, we need to take the NSPCC’s advice and teach children about consent from a young age. This begins with making PSHE education, including lessons on consent, taught by trained teachers, statutory in all schools.

Consent can’t begin and end with dates. Consent can’t be the absence of a “no”. It can’t be an extra. It can’t be a one-off check. Consent has to be affirmative and enthusiastic every single time, from the first time to the last time.

Complete Article HERE!

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What a leather convention can teach everyone about sex and consent

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I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

“Hotel is closed for private event” read the signs affixed to the front of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill last weekend. A steady stream of people, mostly men, many in leather harnesses, some in collars and on leashes, and some simply in jeans and sweaters, walked in and out in an almost continuous stream.

Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL), now in its 48th year, is a three-day long celebration of the leather community, a subculture that celebrates various sexual kinks, many centered around leather and toys. Bears, daddies, pups and others identifying with various subsets roam the Hyatt Regency, participating in conference-like demonstrations about suspension (BDSM where you’re bound and hung) and electro (BDSM involving electric shocks), buying handcrafted leather goods and sex toys, and, of course, partying. (Actual sex was not part of the convention but no doubt took place in private.) It’s a predominantly LGBTQ centric space, although look closely enough and you’re sure to find people on every part of the gender and sexuality spectrum.

My first MAL was in the winter of 2016. I’d just gone through a breakup and my friend had suggested that perhaps it would be good for me to explore life beyond my comfort zone. “Just get ready,” he’d said, “it may be more than your little vanilla heart can handle.” And he wasn’t entirely wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it, but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

That first year I met Adam, a dentist in town from Texas just for MAL. “You look like you could use a drink,” he said back in a hotel room he was sharing with a friend of mine.

“Do I look that out of place?” I asked. I’d put on a leather jacket to try to blend in.

“Not out of place,” he said, “just kind of shocked.”

And shocked I was. Not necessarily at anything that was going on at the hotel that night, but more so at the fact that for the better part of my life I’d allowed myself to believe that this kind of sexual openness was only available to a certain kind of person.

“Where I grew up, there wasn’t really anything like this,” said Anthony, a 30-year-old living in Arlington, Va., who grew up in Portsmouth. (The sources for this story preferred that only first names be used, for privacy reasons). “There was no kink culture, and I really wanted to explore it. Everyone here was super welcoming, and that’s why I keep coming back.”

This was a common sentiment. “It’s a different part of the gay family,” said Garret, 28, who lives in Washington. “We all have different interests … and if nobody else respects that, come to MAL because they do here.”

Respect, as it turns out, is a dominating theme throughout the course of the weekend. You might expect that when many attendees are walking around in only a jockstrap and a harness, but it is pleasantly surprising to see how strictly they adhere to that principle. In the era of #MeToo, when more and more queer folks are being vocal about the role consent plays in queer spaces, perhaps the leather and kink communities have something to teach the general public about active and enthusiastic consent.

Ask for permission before petting. Hold out your hand and let the pup come to you first. If the pup doesn’t, or turns or growls, let them be as they may not want to or have permission. This is rule No. 5 as listed on the board outside the 10th anniversary mosh at the MAL Puppy Park, a yearly tradition in which individuals who participate in pup play — a BDSM role-play wherein one participant acts as the “pup” and one as the handler — have an opportunity to interact with other pups. Other rules include: Nudity is not permitted in public spaces, genitals cannot be exposed and DO NOT pull on a pup’s tail or collar. It can cause injury and is disrespectful. Change some of the verbiage and perhaps these would be appropriate guidelines to post at the Academy Awards.

“It’s where I met my current roommate,” said Allyn, a 31-year-old originally from Wisconsin who now lives in Washington, of his first MAL experience. “It was exhilarating. I’d never seen anything like it. It make me feel brave and nervous at the same time.” He didn’t speak to his would-be roommate the first night they met, however. “I mean, I had a ball gag in at the time,” he recounted.

Zack, 23, from Baltimore, also used the world “exhilarating” when describing his first MAL experience. “I got chills coming down the escalator into the lobby of the hotel,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to Folsom I’ve ever been too,” a reference to the San Francisco street fair that’s the world’s largest leather celebration.

Everyone I spoke to talked about descending that escalator on the evening of the opening party. It is truly a complete sensory experience. The sight, sound and smell of wall-to-wall leather and latex on every kind of body, not just seen but celebrated and appreciated.

While I was talking to Garret about the weekend, someone he appeared to know approached him, whispered something in his ear and, after he nodded yes, lifted Garret’s arm and began to sniff his armpit. Garret continued to answer my questions without pause. “There may be something over here that’s not your thing, but then you’ll look over there and see something going on that you’re totally into,” he explained “Don’t be shy, don’t judge other people for something you don’t understand. And above all, come and have a good time. No one is here to be spectacled. It can be a learning and cultural experience.” The sniffer had moved on to his other armpit by the time he finished talking.

Although I have yet to be brave enough to buy and wear a harness to MAL myself, each year I attend I move closer toward that goal. At the very least, the event has highlighted for me the fact that there is an exciting world beyond the “vanilla” one I’d relegated myself to — and has given me a better understanding of the queer community as a whole. At one point, in the leather market, a man who had recently undergone top surgery was trying on a new harness next to a group of folks signing to one another, while feet away a $1,400 bejeweled pup hood was on sale. Only at MAL.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why do half of women have fantasies about being raped?

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There’s a wide range of sexual fantasies people have, ranging from entirely unrealistic to applicable to real life, sex with Superman through to banging on a plane.

But the fantasy of being raped, also known as nonconsent and forced sex fantasies, is common.

Sexual fantasies let you explore your sexuality, they’re what we use to get off in those harsh, cold wifi-free winters, and we get to use them in roleplay scenarios to make our sex lives even more fulfilling.

But this common fantasy is one that few of us feel comfortable sharing. It puts people on edge and makes us feel a bit wrong.

Recent research indicates that between 31% and 57% of women have fantasies in which they are forced into sex against their will. For 9% to 17% of those women, rape fantasies are their favourite or most frequent sexual fantasy.

It’s natural if that makes you feel alarmed.

In real-life contexts, rape – meaning sex against your will – is deeply traumatising. It’s not at all ‘sexy’. It’s an intense violation that causes high levels of distress.

Content warning: Those who find discussions of rape and sexual assault may find this article triggering. 

It seems strange that we’d use rape as the basis for our sexual fantasies – and yet so many of us do.

And it’s incredibly important to note that while rape fantasies are common, this does not mean that women secretly want to be raped. There is a huge difference between acted out role-play, imagined scenarios, and real-life experiences. No one asks to be raped, no one deserves to be raped, and how common forced sex fantasies are in no way justifies unwanted sexual contact of any nature.

It’s difficult to know exactly what these fantasies entail, because, well, they’re going on in someone else’s mind.

But the women we spoke to mentioned that their fantasies of forced sex steered away from experiences that would be close to reality.

Rather than lines of consent being crossed by friends or bosses, we fantasise about high drama situations in which we are forced to have sex to survive, entering into sexual contracts rather than having our right to consent taken away from us outright.

Amy*, 26, says a common fantasy is being kidnapped and held hostage, then having one of the guards forcing her into sex to keep her safe.

Tasha, 24, fantasises about thieves breaking into her house and being so attracted to her they have to have sex with her against her will.

In both scenarios, the women said they start out by resisting advances, then begin to enjoy the sex midway through. It’s giving up the fight and giving in to desire that’s the turn on, rather than the very real trauma of real-life rape.

But for other women, fantasies are more true to life. For some it’s not about feigned struggle, but imagining consent and control being ripped away as a major turn on.

Why is this? Why are so many of us aroused by forced sex when we’d be horrified by the reality of it? Why do we find the idea of rejecting sex then doing it anyway a turn on?

Dr Michael Yates, clinical psychologist at the Havelock Clinic, explains that there are a few theories.

The first is that women’s fantasies of nonconsensual sex are down to lingering guilt and shame around female sexuality.

‘For centuries (and sadly still all too regularly today), young women are taught to hide sexual feelings or encouraged to fit narrow gender stereotypes of the acceptable ways that female sexuality can be expressed in society,’ Michael tells Metro.co.uk. ‘As a result sex and sexual feelings are often accompanied by anxiety, guilt or shame.

‘One theory is that rape fantasies allow women to reduce distress associated with sex, as they are not responsible for what occurs, therefore have less need to feel guilt or shame about acting upon their own sexual desires or feelings.’

Essentially, lingering feelings of shame around taking agency over our own sexual desires can make us want to transfer them on to another body, thus giving us permission to fantasise about sexual acts. In our minds, it’s not us doing it, it’s all the other person, meaning we don’t have to feel guilty or dirty.

This explains why most rape fantasies don’t tend to be extremely violent, and why the women I asked reported resisting at first before having an enjoyable experience (which real-life rape is definitely not).

‘More often than not, most people who have rape fantasies imagine a passionate scene with very little force, based around the “victim” being so desirable that the “rapist” cannot control themselves, while the victim generally does not feel the terror, confusion, rage and disgust of an actual rape,’ says Michael.

The second theory is down to the dominant narratives shown in media and porn. It’s suggested that because our media and porn so often show men being dominant and losing control around a meek, deeply attractive woman, that’s simply how we envision ideal sex in our fantasies.

Take a flip through classic erotic literature, or even just look at the covers, and you’ll be confronted by strong men grabbing weak, swooning women.

‘Although rarely do these novels portray rape or sexual assault explicitly, they do play into the idea of a female sexual role as succumbing to the dominant role of male sexuality,’ notes Michael. ‘One whereby men can act upon their sexual urges at the point they choose (with the female having little power to object).’

So that might be the why – but what about the who? Does having fantasies about being raped mean anything about us? Are certain types of women more likely to have fantasies of being raped?

As with most sexual fantasies, it’s really not something to panic about.

Complete Article HERE!

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When “No” Isn’t Enough And Sexual Boundaries Are Ignored

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Violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize sexual abuses in the moment.

By Sherronda J. Brown

I recently realized that sex is unhealthy for me. Not sex in theory. No, of course not. Sex is healthy for our bodies and even our hearts and minds.When I say that sex is unhealthy for me, I mean the kind of sex that I have experienced — an experience that I share with many women, femmes, and bottoms. The sex where my needs are neglected and my boundaries are ignored in favor of whatever desires my partner may have.

Not everyone experiences sex and the things surrounding it in the same way, for various reasons. Some of those reasons might include gender cultivation, (a)sexuality, choice of sexual expression, knowledge of self/knowledge one’s own (a)sexuality, or relationship with one’s own body. Some of those reasons might include how certain body types are deemed “normal” and acceptable while others are only ever fetishized or demonized.

Some of those reasons might include the fact certain folks are told that they should be grateful that anyone would even be willing to look at them, let alone touch or love them, while others are expected to always be available for sexual contact. Some of those reasons might include the fact that some people are afforded certain permissions to make decisions about their sex and love life without being eternally scrutinized, while others are nearly always assumed to be sexually irresponsible.

Some of those reasons might include past or current trauma and abuse. And a host of other reasons not mentioned here, or reasons that you or I have never even considered because they’re not a factor in our personal story.

I’m not straight. I’m just an asexual with a libido—infrequent as it may be—and a preference for masculine aesthetic and certain genitalia. Most of the sex that I have had is what we would consider to be “straight” sex, and I am fairly certain that I would enjoy the act more and have a healthier relationship with it if more sexual partners were willing to make the experience comfortable and safe for me. Instead, men seem to want to make sex as uncomfortable and painful as possible for their partners, whether consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether or not that is what we want.

Many men seem to judge their sexual partners abilities the same way that they gauge how much we love them and how deep our loyalty goes — by how much pain we can endure. I say this based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of many of the people around me who have been gracious and trusting enough to share with me their testimony. Many of us have been conditioned to measure ourselves in the same way, using our ability to endure pain as a barometer for our worth.

Not only do we need to address the fact that far too many women have sex when they don’t want to because it’s “polite”, but we also need to talk about how many of us, of various genders, are having sex that is painful and/or uncomfortable in ways that we don’t want it to be, but we endure it for the sake of being polite, amiable, or agreeable. Many times, we also endure it for our safety.

This goes beyond simply not speaking up about what we want during sex. It’s also about us not being able to speak up about our boundaries and limits without fear of the situation turning violent. The truth is that many of us have quietly decided in our heads, “I would rather suffer through an uncomfortable/painful sexual situation than a violent one, or one that I might not survive.” This is about too many men not being able to tell the difference between a scripted pornographic situation or a story of sexual violence.

There have been too many times when I have been engaged in sexual situations and told my partner that I did not want a particular sexual act done to me, and they proceeded to do it anyway, with no regard for my boundaries, comfort, or safety. I gave them a valid reason for why I did not want the particular sexual act done to me, but I didn’t have to. My “No” should have been enough.

I once had to blatantly ask a guy if he understood what the word “No” meant. He had been attempting to persuade me into performing a sexual act that I was not interested in and had already declined several times. Therefore, it seemed a valid question.

“Yea, I do,” He responded. “It means keep going.” His answer did not stop there, but I will spare you the totality of the violent picture that he painted for me with his subsequent vulgarities. His voice was steady with a seriousness I dared not question. There was anger behind it, but also excitement and pride. The very thought of ignoring my “No” seemed to arouse him, even as he was filled frustration at my audacity to ask him such a question. I abruptly ended the phone call, grateful that this conversation had not been in-person. A chill came over me and I felt the urge to cry. My head and neck ran hot and the rise and fall of my chest quickened. Anxiety gripped me as I remembered that he knew where I lived and my panic drew out for weeks.

This is only one of my stories. I have others that include blatant disregard of boundaries, harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. I spent much of the last year contemplating the many ways that I have been coerced, manipulated, or even forced into sexual situations or sexual acts in the past, and how this violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize these abuses in the moment. Instead, they come back to fuck with us days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries after the fact.

It took me more than seven years to realize that the first guy I ever had sex with coerced me into it. Literally trapped me in his apartment and refused to take me home until I gave in. After this, he went on to violate my trust and disregard my sexual boundaries in other ways until I ended our “friendship.” It took me months to name the time a former partner admitted to having once removed the condom during our encounter without my knowledge or consent as a sexual violation.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have stories like mine. And these stories belong to many people of other genders, or without gender, as well. This is our “normal,” and that is not okay. We need a broader understanding of what sexual violence and misconduct look like, and we need to deal with the fact that they are more a part of our everyday lives and common experiences than some of us are willing to admit.

We have to stop thinking of sexual violence and misconduct as something that only happens when someone is physically assaulted, drugged, or passed out. It’s far more than being groped by your boss, or terminated or otherwise punished for rejecting their advances. In a world where people do not feel safe saying “No,” not only to sex itself but also to certain sexual acts and types of sex, we cannot go on talking about sexual violence as if rape and harassment are the only true crimes. In doing this, we are leaving people behind.

The ways in which our bodies and boundaries can be violated are abundant. Too abundant. Fuck everyone who ever made another person feel like they couldn’t safely say “No.”

Complete Article HERE!

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