It’s men’s turn to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month
By Mark Kaufman, MSW, LICSW • JFCS Therapist
When our Counseling department decided to write a blog post in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I apologetically and reluctantly volunteered.
“I’m willing to write it, but who wants to hear from a man? I mean, we’re the ones responsible for most sexual assaults.”
Now I realize that is exactly why I should be writing this. Seriously, men are responsible for vastly more sexual assaults according to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010. The target audience here is us, guys, not women. As a result, I am writing this in a style that seems to oversimplify the gender spectrum, but I really want to emphasize this as an issue that men need to consider and that men can relate to.
My assumption about who should write this and for whom is part of the problem. We have a particular role in creating an atmosphere that supports safety and holds one another accountable. The tasks for that role fall into two categories: Becoming aware of how our behaviors become sexually assaultive; and becoming aware of how our behaviors and attitudes make it easier for others, particularly men, to become sexually assaultive.
That’s some pretty provocative language, but part of the issue is that a lot of sexually assaultive behaviors have been dismissed as “normal” or allowed to go under the radar. We are only beginning to recognize some behavior as sexually assaultive that we used to excuse. When was the last time you saw Back to the Future? I watched it a couple of years ago and was shocked: The character, Biff, sexually assaults Lorraine. He is on top of her in a car, and she is clearly not consenting, as she asks George for help. There are several other scenes involving a lack of sexual consent, and I do not remember this as shocking in 1985. Why? Because at the time I thought rape and sexual assault happened as attacks by strangers in dark alleys.
I remember comic books that referred to “stealing a kiss” and sports analogies for sexual contact that set women and girls up as goalies and defenders to get past. I don’t remember discussions about asking for consent. The assumption was that women and girls alone had the responsibility of setting sexual limits and the social ramifications that came along with it.
This is the takeaway for men to be aware of how our behavior becomes sexually assaultive: ask. Ask if a kiss would be welcome, and notice if there is hesitation. A passive acceptance, or a response like, “well, I guess…” is not enthusiastic consent.
How best can we become aware of how our behaviors and attitudes make it easier for other men to become sexually assaultive? I wonder if how we talk about women’s bodies makes it easier for some men to violate women. Men often talk about women’s physical attributes. Perhaps we need a larger discussion about the difference between noticing someone as sexually attractive and visually violating her (most likely her), or at least stop talking about her as if she were there for men’s pleasure. We are still surrounded by a culture that expects men to watch women. Stop and think about how creepy it sounds that we are watching women. We need to remove the cultural norm that this happens, and is accepted.
It’s our turn to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month. If we want sexual contact, we must ask. If the conversation turns to a description of women’s bodies, let’s focus instead on how that represents a view of women as being there for our pleasure, and remind ourselves that it’s time to think differently. Let’s not move Back to the Future. It’s time to move forward.
Mark Kaufman, MSW, LICSW
I have a Master’s Degree in Social Work from University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. I have 10 years of experience in mental health, working with adults with anxiety, depression, severe mental illness, and chronic illnesses. I have always been interested in how people think, and this ultimately has led me to working with people in therapy. I love walking with people through problem solving and self-discovery. I believe in the importance of collaboration in finding healing, personal growth, and solving problems. I use this perspective with my clients as they navigate the challenges that led them to work with me. We explore how previous problems were dealt with and how that problem-solving process applies to current challenges, how one’s thoughts impact one’s feelings, and explore new and old experiences and the emotions surrounding them.
JFCS’ counseling services include individual psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children, couples therapy, family therapy, play therapy, parenting coaching, grief support and more. Our services are confidential. We accept most insurance including Medicare. For more information call 952-546-0616 or click here.