Sexual harassment, assault, and rape

Monday in class we were discussing our final project, a media inquiry research paper on a topic related to education, and in our conversation about news coverage related to education a recent incident at Wayne Hills where football players charged with assault were allowed to continue to play came up. As the universe works, the conversation then turned to other football related scandals, specifically Penn State and Joe Paterno, which in turn led to a heated conversation about sexual harassment and rape, victim blaming, the culture surrounding victim blame and ideas such as “boys will be boys”, and how teachers are in a position of unique importance when dealing with harassment, rape, and assault of students by their peers or people in positions of power, like coaches or other teachers. A teacher’s first reaction to a student who comes to them about being harassed should never be to ask the child why they let something like that happen, why they didn’t stand up for themselves, or why they didn’t come forward sooner.

I know that it is a difficult concept for some people, but nobody “allows” or “asks” to be sexually harassed or assaulted. By definition, it is unwanted and uninvited. For those of you who are visual, one of my favorite web comics recently posted (Go check it out here) on the subject outlining why it is ridiculous to say anyone “asks” for such treatment. The comic is done in what I think is a very sensitive, but still comedic, fashion especially considering it is such a sensitive subject. In my experience, it is very rare that comedy related to rape or harassment is actually funny, but in this particular instance instead of making a joke out of the victim or belittling the seriousness of harassment and rape the comic points out the absurdity of the commonly used argument that “She/he was asking for it”.

I bring all this up here because I think it is important that we talk about these issues because talking about the nature of rape and harassment can lead to changing the cultures of schools and businesses and the other institutions in which people live their lives to create an environment that doesn’t accept the idea that “boys will be boys” or that women’s clothing is responsible for the acts of violence men commit (feel free to swap the word “women” with “victim” and the word “men” for any of the following: rapists, criminals, predators. I’ve said it before, we don’t need to conform to the social constructs of gender, though honestly the English language can make that difficult, and rape/harassment can happen to anyone, not just women, and can be done by anyone, not just men). I think it is important that the question we ask when a girl reports harassment is not, “Why did she let him treat her that way?” but instead, “Why did he think it was acceptable to treat another person that way?”. Put simply, the problem isn’t the actions of the victim; the problem is the predator. For a more eloquent explanation of that concept, check out these blogs for their posts on Predator Theory and other related issues; Feministe and Yes Means Yes, and follow their links, too.

3 responses to “Sexual harassment, assault, and rape

  1. Wow. I wish you had left this as an open blog. People will forget the password, and I think there are some people who would benefit from your analysis.

    I’d also like to take your analysis a bit further. Any person, regardless of biological sex or gender (which is a sociocultural construct), can be a victim or a predator. And the focus can’t simply be on victims and predators. We live in a society that needs to change and be changed in regard to how it views acts of harassment, violence, and sexual violence.

    • I can change the protected status of the post, I just hesitated because it was late, I was tired, and it is a very sensitive subject. I wanted to look it over in daylight before I let it be a part of the permanent internet record.

      I think your comment helps to clarify my point. I get a little lost sometimes and end up talking in confusing and less-than-helpful circles when I try to explain that any person of any biological sex or gender identity can be a victim or a predator. The idea that our society needs to change how we view acts of violence, harassment, and sexual violence is what I was trying to get at when I talked about changing the cultures of schools and businesses and other institutions.

  2. I agree that there is something inherently wrong with blaming a victim instead of focusing on the person who committed the crime. That kind of mentality creates an environment, at least in my opinion, that discourages coming forward because it starts to feel like being victimized all over again. It must already be extremely difficult to discuss any kind of abuse (and there is no correct timeline for doing so) but to have the added pressure of people looking for ways to blame and stigmatize you does not make it any easier.

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