It’s Not Just Harvey Weinstein
Last Friday I received an email that made me think about something. This was a mass mailing from my campus’ student police department, required under federal law to be sent, stating there had been a sexual assault on campus. The email did not use the words sexual assault, it used the words “non-consensual fondling” – and I guess they wanted to be more specific or avoid charged words like “sexual assault.”
This is not the first time a college campus sexual assault occurred; it is far from the first time even on my campus. The reason this one draws my attention is it is an echo of national news.
We have been reading about all the women Harvey Weinstein mistreated in Hollywood and how our president, at one time in his past, said he would “Grab um by the [expletive].” These are not the only cases on the national stage even, but they are two of the most prominent.
Sexual assault has been a skeleton in the closet of society for a long time. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network – or RAINN – approximately every 48 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. This is not simply a set of small isolated things but a piece of a larger problem.
We hear about the big cases, the people raped by celebrities, or mishandled by college campuses. What gets ignored, however, is the casual sexism that quickly becomes sexual assault. This is the root of our big problems, and anyone of us can be guilty.
Let me give an example to clarify my meaning: a high school boy walks up to a female friend and starts giving her a shoulder rub without prior asking, the girl feels uncomfortable but says nothing as she doesn’t want either of them to look bad in public.
This sounds very innocent because we don’t think of this as sexual violence, but what I have just described is how situations like the non-consensual fondling on my campus get there start. The root of the problem here is not the touching itself, but the assumption of the right to touch. The boy thinks this girl is his friend, that he knows her and shoulder rubs are nice. The girl realizes his intentions are good but still feels uncomfortable about it. The discomfort and lack of permission make this sexual assault, even if it’s not something we would normally think of that way.
There are multiple ways of approaching this situation, however the most often used one in our society is to ignore it. Ignoring the problem is, in its own way, supporting it. This is how those around Harvey Weinstein dealt with him for years, and all it did was raise the number of victims.
Getting back to the hypothetical boy and girl, there are lessons for both. For the girl, the lesson is twofold. One, realizing her body is her own business and no one has the right to touch her in a way she doesn’t want them to. And two, that if something makes her uncomfortable she should speak. If the boy is truly a friend, the problem would end here – in most cases.
For the boy, at some point in his life the idea he could walk up and touch whomever he pleased – without asking permission – was engrained in him. The message he should have gotten was to seek consent. However, if a person is drunk or under the influence of drugs, they are not able to give proper consent. Also, one yes now does not equal a yes later.
Just asking for permission to touch seems a simple concept.
What if in the same scenario the boy walked up and asked the girl, “Hey you look stressed, would you like a shoulder rub?” If she says no, the conversation moves on. If she says yes, it’s not sexual assault, it’s a shoulder rub.
It’s really all about communication. We need to instill that touch – sexual or not – is a choice that should be up to the individual. It may seem odd to ask questions like this, but it would be a big step toward solving a larger problem in our society.
It’s not just the Harvey Weinsteins of the world who commit sexual assault, it can be the boy or girl next door. It can all seem innocent, but that doesn’t mean it is.