As a society, we still can’t seem to agree on what is categorized as sexual violence. Questions like “Can sex workers be raped?” or “Is it still assault if the people involved are married to each other?” are all part of a broader conversation on the
types of sexual assault we need to stop minimizing (because the answer to both of those questions is yes). Treating all sexual assault with the severity it requires starts with the ability to acknowledge what it is in the first place.
lack of awareness about what constitutes sexual assault often stems from a lack of understanding about consent. Culturally, we are unfortunately still widely unclear about what is and what is not consent. To be completely clear, an act is only consensual when all parties involved express an enthusiastic, continuous “yes.” While it is correct that “no means no,” that is only a fraction of the conversation we should be having about consent. “No means no” does not address things like coerced consent or things like nonconsensual pornography, where a victim may not know about an incident until after the fact. Our conversations on consent need to be all-encompassing.
statistics on sexual assault reveal an all-too-common reality. If we want to work towards a becoming a culture that takes sexual violence seriously, we need to treat all forms if it with severity. Here are seven types of sexual assault and harassment we need to stop diminishing.
Treating “revenge porn” with the severity that all forms of sexual harassment and violence should be treated with entails proper repercussions for the perpetrator. The growing prevalence of non-consensual pornography like “revenge porn” requires legislation to adapt as technology does. Currently, at least
34 states have laws against “revenge porn,” in addition to which seven states have legislation pending. However, not all of these laws are entirely effective in addressing and further preventing “revenge porn.” The internet abuse and sexual consent lawyers at C.A. Goldberg cite on their website that Illinois currently has the best “revenge porn” legislation. Additionally, Facebook recently developed tools to help stop “revenge porn” from spreading.
Proper legislation and taking measures to prevent “revenge porn” help create a culture that works to protect the victim and to end this type of harassment altogether.
“Leaked” Celebrity Photos
The way we talk about “leaked celebrity photos” starts with the way we categorize it. Pictures intended to be private that are then shared without permission are not leaked,
they are stolen. Stories about celebrities whose private images were released are not “scandalous,” they are criminal.
Our culture is no stranger to
victim blaming and shaming, especially when it comes to forms of sexual harassment like non-consensual pornography. The default answer people give to “What are ways to fight revenge porn or stolen photos?” is often “Don’t take those kinds of pictures in the first place.” But this response shifts blame in the same way being told “don’t get raped” places the onus on the victim of a crime instead of the perpetrator. But the fact remains: Non-consensual pornography is a form of sexual assault and should be treated as such.
As defined by the
National Sexual Violence Resource Center, any sexual acts performed using coercion like threats, manipulation, or abuse of power are considered sexual assault. A person who says “yes” because they believe they will be unsafe if they say “no” is not giving legal consent. If a person does not believe they have the choice to say “no,” it is still rape even if they say “yes” or are silent when asked to have sex. A coerced “yes” is not a consensual “yes." Nor is silence a consensual "yes."
Despite what harmful ideas like the “
friend zone” perpetuate, sex in relationships is not transactional. A person is never “owed” sex based on how nice they have been or assumptions about a relationship. Creating ultimatums or implying that someone doesn’t have a choice otherwise are forms of coerced sex and fall under the category of sexual assault.
Despite how it may have been covered by some media, the nonconsensual removal of a condom during sex or
“stealthing” is sexual assault, not a “sex trend.” Consenting to one act (i.e. sex with a condom) does not entail sex for all sexual acts (i.e. sex without a condom). Consent is like saying “yes” to an established set of rules for what you’re going to engage in. As one lawyer in the UK explained to BBC, “If that person then doesn't stick to those rules then the law says you don't have consent.” Categorizing it as a “sex trend”, even when prefaced with words like “disturbing” or “awful,” diminishes its severity. Lifting weights with your vagina is a “sex trend”; engaging in a sexual act both parties have not consented to is assault.
Continuing Sex After A Partner Has Revoked Consent
Consent is continuous. As previously stated, a “yes” to one act, at one point in time doesn’t not entail a “yes” to all acts, at any point in time. Thus, if a person wants to stop having sex even if they said “yes” at the beginning,
they are allowed to do so. However, as Broadly recently reported, most states don’t legally consider sex continued after a partner withdraws consent as rape. A recent rape case in North Carolina was dropped as state law says that consent cannot be revoked once it’s given. There are currently only eight states where law explicitly acknowledge that consent can be revoked once it’s given. Legislation helps legitimized the experience of victims. As it stands, many states’ laws protect the perpetrators.
Because of things like unclear ideas about consent and false narratives about who commits rape, many people don’t believe people can be sexually assaulted by their spouse. The stereotype of rapes exclusively taking place by strangers in dark alleys is far from the reality: 80 percent of
rape victims know their assailant. Rape is most often committed in or near the home and by someone the victim knows.
In the United States,
marital rape laws are far from perfect. Loopholes, like the statue of limitations, make it harder to prosecute these types of crimes. Again, legislations helps legitimize the experiences of victims and survivors. Laws should work to protect the victim, not the assailant. Proper legislation paired with a better understanding of consent would help create a culture in which people understand the reality of sexual assault.
Sexual Assault of Sex Workers
sex workers can be raped. The idea that they cannot is one of the myths about sex workers we need to stop perpetuating as a culture. This notion that sex workers are “exempt” from being raped seems to stem both from misconstrued ideas about consent as well as a culture that perpetually blames the victim. Sex workers are still human beings and do not exist in a separate category when it comes to sexual assault. Again, saying “yes” to one act, with one person, at one time does not entail consent for any act, with any person, at any time. The clearer we can become as culture on what is and is not consent, the closer we can get to eradicating sexual assault of all forms.