Columns / Discourse / May 21, 2014

Men at Knox: Invisible victims of sexual assault

The majority of victims of sexual assault are females and the majority of perpetrators are males —  this is the patriarchy at work and informs the general stereotype of male-on-female assault. Taking up the majority of cases, it is thus entirely reasonable to prioritize the factors behind male-on-female assault.

But non-consensual activities, ranging from minor transgressions (i.e. I want them to kiss me, just not this soon or in this way) to full on assault, are pervasive in human societies because ensuring consent is not —  nor has never been —  the norm. As a result, we generally miss out on the very real experiences of male victims of assault.

This stereotype, that all assaults are male-on-female, relies on several false assumptions.

The first is that erections are always indicative of interest, lust or desire, rather than being a natural, biological response. This is exactly the same line as a perpetrator defending themselves by saying that a female victim was wet or any other possible biological response to penetration.

The second assumption is that men always hold more power and that if they didn’t like it, they would just stop. A male can be stimulated while asleep, wake up to the horrifying reality of an unwanted woman on top of him and be paralyzed from fear and/or shock —  a common experience for many victims.

To illustrate how such a female-on-male assault may transpire I will convey an anonymous example that will also, hopefully, convey the complexities of sexual assault.

A male became blackout drunk and passed out on a couch at the residence of a female friend, a friend whose advances he has turned down repeatedly over an extended period of time. He wakes up in his own bed, next to his friend, with no idea how he got there. He finds a used condom and puts two and two together.

As she is the only one who knows what occurred that night, he accepts her narrative: he woke up the night before, chatted, consented and brought her home. But the case nags at him until he arrives at the obvious conclusion —  he was assaulted.

The friend is heartbroken —  blinded by her feelings and poor grasp of consent (like most others in college), she felt they had experienced a breakthrough, and had been elated. But there is no way around it —  she assaulted him and must come to grips with it. Fortunately for her, he defends her actions as being a “mistake,” but the damage is done.

And this is where this columnist will make a particularly controversial argument —  that sometimes, in particular cases, we can extend understanding to those that have committed assault in the course of explaining how they went wrong.

As ASAP so importantly points out, there is a distinct and dangerous lack of consent education at Knox, from orientation week onward. This can be done by us too, the students; we can and must educate ourselves and each other on these topics. We must ask difficult questions and hold ourselves in challenging moments of self-reflection.

Of course, there is also male-on-male assault, female-on-female assault, male-on-trans assault and just about any other scenario involving more than one person, no consent and/or lived trauma.

We should not forget that the majority of sexual assaults are still male-on-female. But we should also not let that narrative blind us to the very real trauma and suffering of others.

Tags:  administration college employee gender Knox College male men rape rape culture sexual assault

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Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

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