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About unwanted sexual contact - the unbridgeable gap in understanding

Reblogged from Moonlight Reader:

I want to pause for a moment and talk about sexual abuse and exploitation and gendered perspectives.


As many of you know - but as I must explain every time I post one of these posts because it provides so much insight into how my perspective is informed - I am a sexual abuse prosecutor. For 18 years, I've spent the bulk of my career prosecuting men for sexually abusing and sexually assaulting women. There are all kinds of ways in which this manifests, and it is true that there are women offenders, but they are few and far between.


Most of my colleagues - the people who do the exact same job I do - are men. And I'm saying this not because they are bad at it, or they don't understand, or because I feel I am "better" at it in a way that they can never match. I'm saying this because it is important to the rest of this story.


One of the things that we do, as colleagues, is staff cases to discuss plea offers and sentencing recommendations. I don't want to go too deep into boring prosecutor stuff. However, it is important in any jurisdiction that similarly situated offenders are treated similarly. This is related to a concept of even-handedness in treatment. In order for a system to have credibility, wildly disparate results based upon who the assigned prosecutor is are problematic.This is pretty obvious, right?


So, we staff cases. And I'm going to talk about a specific thing that happened when we were staffing cases. It was a group of about five men - all of whom are very tuned in to things like rape culture, and sexual assault, and the ways that sexual assault occurs - and three women. I was one of the women, along with another couple of female colleagues. 


The talk turned to something called "frottage" which is, essentially, what offenders do when they have sexual contact with a victim who doesn't necessarily realize that they are being sexually offended. The best example is when a victim - typically a woman - is standing on crowded public transit, and an offender - typically a man - uses some part of her body for his sexual gratification. Ladies, when a man rubs his junk on your ass on the subway, that's frottage.


And we were talking because frottage is considered by sex offender therapists to be a specific kind of warning sign for offenders who will engage in predatory offending. It's similar to public indecency, but is one step forward because it isn't a hands-off offense. It is a contact offense.


In the conversation, I made a comment that probably every single woman above the age of about twenty-five had at one point or another been subjected to frottage. They looked at me like I was insane. I told him about the more than one time when I was younger that it had happened to me (Seattle and Rome, in my case). They were completely astounded. I turned to the other two women in the room, and they both nodded, and proceeded to explain their experiences.


This is the unbridgeable gap, ladies. Because women don't talk openly about their experiences of being offended because we have been socially programmed to believe that being victims says something about who we are, not who our offenders are. These, again, are men who are tuned in. And they were astonished that all of their female colleagues have been sexually assaulted, at least to a relatively minor degree (when I say minor, I mean legally minor, as this is misdemeanor level offense. I make no assessments of the impact that such contact can have on its victims, which can vary widely depending upon the vulnerability of the person who is the victim).


In my case, I was also sexually assaulted in my junior high school, when a boy shoved me up against the wall of the darkroom (in the pre-digital photography days) and proceeded to grope me from breast to groin, while whispering that he knew I wanted it. I didn't. It was deeply humiliating, and I never told anyone. He knew I wouldn't, and he was right. I still won't post his name, because so much time has passed, and I feel it would be unfair. But yes, I remember it. And I will remember it until I die.


The gap is only unbridgeable as long as women remain silent. When we remain silent on the bus or train or subway because we are humiliated that we are being victimized, the offender wins. And when we remain silent until we are 47 about being sexually assaulted in our teens, rape culture wins.


There are great men out there. Most of them, in fact. But fundamentally, they simply do not understand that sexual abuse and sexual exploitation and sexual assault are a near universal experience for women. We need to tell them, so that they do understand that it is their sisters, their wives, their daughters, who have these experiences. It is impossible to blame the victim, when the victim is almost certainly more than 50% of the population who has been subjected to unwanted sexual contact at one point or another.