March 18, 2013 | life, relationships

Is it Sexual Assault if…?

Stop Sign

In last week’s episode of Girls, there was a really disturbing scene. I’ve been trying to process it since. It made me feel all manner of uncomfortable things and anger and sadness and disappointment and disgust. A woman was sexually violated in a pretty awful way and when the scene ended, you were left thinking, what the hell just happened? Except it’s clear what just happened. Then you go online or talk to friends and hear debates about it and realise that not everyone shares the same view of what should be pretty cut and dried. Except it isn’t. Because rape is still one big grey area. And with each new debate, we realise just how much more conversation needs to happen. We need to talk about rape.

For those of you who didn’t see the episode of Girls to which I’m referring, excuse the spoilers. Adam and his new girlfriend decide to have sex in this episode because their relationship seems to be going well. She initiates their first sexual encounter and lists a few things that she’s uncomfortable with/doesn’t like as they start the foreplay. The second sexual encounter however, goes altogether differently. Taking place at Adam’s apartment (or lair, as it would seem), he demands she gets on all fours and crawl to the bedroom. He grabs her, throws her on the bed. She is trying, in her way, to say she doesn’t want to. Her discomfort, as a viewer, is obvious. Adam, quite literally plows through her as if she’s barely a person before flipping her over and leaving his mark on her chest. She covers herself instantly, hiding her body from him and saying ‘I really didn’t like that.’ Adam says ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me’ implying he’s aware he just did something wrong.

I’ve seen discussions about this scene and the varying views. For many women and men, it’s clear and unquestionable: she was sexually assaulted. But then, of course, there’s the inevitable argument that comes up: she didn’t say no, she went to his apartment, she got on all fours, she crawled to the bedroom, she let him ejaculate on her chest, she made a comment about not wanting him to ejaculate on her dress – and would a rape victim be worried about that? Is that how a rape victim would act?

That’s an actual comment from someone I was having a conversation with about this. Apparently, there are degrees of appropriate reaction for a rape victim.

There was another argument that she was just frigid. In their first sexual encounter, she had this list of things she didn’t like, so the sexual assault was just Adam’s way of spicing things up, of introducing her to a down and dirty kind of sex.

The very notion that he can just f**k it into her is sickening, but alas, I think there were a fair few males who watched that scene and didn’t see a problem, who genuinely can’t see what all the fuss is about.

And therein lies the problem. These lines of what is appropriate and what is not are so blurry. The victim blaming messages we’re constantly given wind up with men and women alike watching that scene and thinking ‘well she didn’t scream, she didn’t say no, she didn’t run out afterwards….can’t be rape.’

The conversation needs to change. Damn, we just need to HAVE a conversation. Young men need to be educated about how to treat women. We need to stop constantly laying the responsibility on women to instantly understand and react to questionable sexual situations. Men need to be emotionally educated enough to be able to check themselves, to know when they’re crossing a line and be able to stop, discuss, apologise.

I’m sure there are men who may very well have been in that situation and acted similarly to Adam and be absolutely appalled with themselves to think they’d assaulted a woman. In their mind, it was consensual. In their mind, they were just opening her up to a new sexual experience. And you know, she didn’t say anything so…

The societal message seems to be that for men, sex is there for the taking. All that emotional stuff? That’s for women, the men don’t have to concern themselves with it. And I’m sure some men believe if they know the woman, it’s not rape – simply being an acquaintance is consent enough. Rape is only done by some strange man jumping out of the bushes. *sigh*

When you read about the Steubenville case that’s been going on over in the States, you really have to question what messages 16 year old boys are getting where they genuinely don’t see anything wrong with sexually assaulting (in a myriad of ways) a girl they knew (warning: reading the details in that article of what they did will cause nausea). The two young men involved were found guilty yesterday. Hopefully that will send some sort of a message.

Interestingly, there were three other young men involved in that incident who stood by and watched and did nothing. This is also a huge issue – men seem to be unwilling to check each other on their behaviour. They seem to be unwilling to stand up for women. We cannot continue to try to fight this battle for change as women alone. Where are all the men who find this behaviour deplorable? Whenever rape is discussed in the public forum, I rarely hear men taking a passionate stand on it, I rarely see them discussing with other men how they can collectively try to change the dialogue among their sex.

But guilty verdicts in rape cases a million miles away mean nothing to the average Joe. There need to be more discussions, there needs to be some sort of emotional education, especially for young men. Attitudes towards women, towards sex need to change. Something’s gotta give. Women are doing all we can, but we need men to be active participants in order to see change.

As is always said: teach men not to rape, not women how to avoid being raped.

Just before someone jumps in the comments with the inevitable ‘not all men are rapists!’ comment, I am more than aware, thank you. I am not saying they are. Focus on the actual discussion here.

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18 Comments

Bigfashionista

Steubenville for me, as a mother of two daughters AND a son, quite literally fills me with horror. Reading the comments online about the rape is so frightening that people actually think like that, will justify other people who think like that, and people have created a monster that now will never die.

I don’t watch Girls but if it has sparked this debate then perhaps I should give it a go.

Mascara & Mud

I saw that episode. It was the first time i had watched it too. I put it on as i had read that it was brilliant. Not sure if i will bother again, though. i can remember feeling really uncomfortable with that scene. even my husband was like ”what the hell are you watching?!”. As ever, you have hit the nail on the head.

Meg

One thing that really upsets me about the Steubenville case is the comments from the community about how ‘the lives of promising young me were ruined with the conviction’. I want to jump up and down and say NO! Their lives were ‘ruined’ when they raped.

I can only hope that it starts a culture change.

Laura

I came across this Steubenville news report on tumblr earlier and it literally made me want to throw my computer out of the window – http://youtu.be/MvUdyNko8LQ

The fact that these cases are being reported on national news is very important and a step forward, but the tone and language around rape needs to be addressed. This report actually manages to place the rapists as the victims in the is case!!! I think I was even more shocked that it was women giving the report – as a woman I cannot even begin to comprehend this mindset.

Lex

Bangs has hit the nail on the head: Rape and sexual assault is still a grey area.

I look back at some sexual encounters I had in my early 20s and I remember thinking at the time, ‘I don’t want to do this, I am not enjoying this’ and even vocalising this to my then-partner… Who ignored me and carried on.

I do not feel I was raped or sexually assaulted, but I really wish I’d had the balls to REALLY kick up a fuss instead of letting it carry on and then afterwards, beating myself up for being a wimp.

It’s a saddening fact that some men out there really get off on over-powering a woman, whatever the ‘degree’ of exploitation actually is. Young women and girls need to know it’s OK to kick up a massive, huge, almighty fuss if they’re involved in such a situation. Young men and boys need to learn how to communicate better their sexual ‘intentions’ and in turn, how to listen and gauge their partner’s response.

As for the Steubenville case: Most media reports made comments about how drunk the victim was. So she got so drunk she passed out. That’s kinda dumb. It doesn’t mean she deserved to get sexually assaulted! It’s like, “what did she expect?” Errrrr how about NOT getting sexually assaulted when in a vulnerable state (regardless if it was self-inflicted vulnerability)?! As a teenager, getting drunk is normal. Raping someone is not.

Olivia

Good on you Bangs for getting across the message in the beautifully clear and to the point manner you do.
It’s not about rape or sex, but I was called a slut by another female the other week for showing a little cleavage in a summer dress. I felt so dissapointed by that. The fact that another woman could say that to me about the silliest thing.
Everyones attitudes to sex and sexualising women need to change.

BlarDeJour

If he used his penis to penetrate her vagina, mouth or anus and she did not consent to the penetration then that is Rape. There’s no grey area. It’s written in law. Allowing this to happen under duress is not consent.
Jury’s however appear to think differently.

The Jaded NYer

If we can just get people to understand that rape is about control and power… that scene you describe seems pretty clear to me (I don’t watch the show so I’ll take your word for it). She had a list of what could and couldn’t be done. So she basically “controlled” the situation. By putting her on her knees like that and treating her like a flesh-light (google it) he turned the tables to control (and shame) her. Maybe not on purpose- again, I don’t watch that show- but that girl was violated.

And I can’t even get into those boys and what they did to that drunk girl. When I read the “I didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing” comments I wanted to thrash somebody. In that case you have to turn to the adults and yell LOOK AT THE CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT YOU HAVE CREATED. Because where else would these kids have learned it was OK to behave this way? Sickening!

Em

I have to agree with BlarDeJour, I don’t think there is a grey area. It is either consensual or it’s not and if a man is not sure he has consent he needs to stop. Very drunk, sleeping, scared etc women and girls are in no position to give consent. Just because women and girls can get themselves into situations where they are vulnerable dies not mean they ‘deserve’ to be assaulted. They deserve to be cared for until they are no longer vulnerable. I think we victim blame to pretend that ‘it wouldn’t happen to us’ and kid ourselves we have more power than we do.

L.B.

Got to agree with your comment about teach men not rape. I get sick and tired of hearing the usual lines about how we should protect ourselves as women. Yes, we should do all we can to ensure our own protection, but on the flip side men should be educated enough to understand what rape is. The thing that worries me the most is those that understand what it is and don’t care either way. How do we correct this behaviour? *scary*

Jessie in Fashion Limbo

I watched that episode too and it was the nail in the coffin for me when it comes to Girls. I know it is applauded for being different, but to me, that was a really uncomfortable drama… I don’t know what they were trying to say about this character… whether it was to show him as flawed as his female counterpart (Hannah) or to maybe show what piece of crap this character really is… For me that was rape. I’ve seen things like this happen to close ones, and yes, what Girls portrayed was rape. Yes she could have walked up and left the apartment, but she didnt out of fear/love, whatever the reason, she voiced her “no” repeatedly, and it still happened. I really, sincerely hope that the author of the show was not trying to glorify this kind of behavior, make it look cool, or “out there” , hip in some sort of twisted way. But it did come across to me as that, so I doubt I will be able to continue watching the show. Great post Bangs x

Polly

It’s not just the boys though, girls need to have a better understanding of what is consensual or not, and I think so many women’s magazines and other media promote the idea that men are rampant sexual beasts and to be a good girlfriend you should go along with their desires, even if they make you feel uncomfortable. There was a quite badly made TV show on a couple of months ago about an STD Clinic in Manchester, and there were teenage girls saying that they didn’t use condoms because guys didn’t like them – it’s a problem with the wider message that women are told sex is something for men to enjoy and women to put up with, not on their own terms.

Marijn

Great post!

I had exactly the same feeling when watching the episode.. really really uncomfortable.

However, I believe that it is not just guys who need to be educated on what is rape and what is not. Girls need to be taught as well, & we need to be more willing to stand up for ourselves and others!

I think scenes as the one in Girls happen way too often, and way more often than we think they do. And most of the times girls will think of it as a bad experience, cry over it while watching Bridget Jones, eat lots of cookie dough and move on. But we need to raise our voices more, and get the word out on the street that these situations are NOT OKAY.

That no is always no, also when everything started of all warm & fuzzy and clothes came off willingly.

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