Having worked in the field of women’s sexual wellness and empowerment for the last 15 years, I have been elated to hear women’s voices speaking out—and finally being heard—around the pervasive sexual shadow of our culture and the effects it has on women’s lives. Conservative estimates state that 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and many experts say that a more likely estimate is 1 in 3. Anecdotally, I have never met a woman that has not experienced unwanted, unprovoked sexual energy either physically or psychologically.
Through my work as a somatic sexologist I have heard all too often women taking responsibility for traumatic sexual violations that crossed their boundaries, didn’t feel safe and left them in a state of psychological and emotional trauma. There are many ways that culture blames women for sexual assault—being in the wrong place alone, trusting the wrong person, wearing the wrong clothes, not speaking up, not walking away. This implies that it is the woman’s responsibility to avoid or redirect a potential sexual assault.
Most instances of sexual assault do not happen in dark alleys by sketchy strangers lurking in the shadows. Furthermore, most acts of sexual assault are not physically violent. For example, most childhood sexual abuse happens by familiar people close to the child and their family. Most rape happens in instances where people know one another and the interaction began as friendly and consensual. Sexual harassment is not primarily conducted by construction workers hollering at passersby on the streets, but occurs chronically through passive aggressive comments and invasion of personal space by people that are familiar and, most often, where there is a power differential, such as between a boss and employee.
Sexual abuse and assault most often are wrought with coercion and manipulation in a relationship that began with an inherent trust.
The #metoo movement has begun to bring this cultural shadow into the light. More of us are starting to see this insidious beast and we are finally witnessing consequences for serial perpetrators in powerful positions. A lively and, occasionally, insightful discussion has opened debating what constitutes a violation and where the lines are for consent. While it is important that we are now having these discussions in the public forum, there are many ways in which we are still missing the mark. There are altogether new, more nuanced conversations that need to be called in. Read More