Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A response to Paul Recher, Dorroughby NSW.

In the June 23rd edition of The Echo, a local newspaper which is distributed freely in the Northern Rivers region, I noticed a letter. Written by what a Google search proves to be a local doctor, the letter absolutely floored me. It’s got to be a troll, right? I thought (clearly indicative of my internet habits). No one can be that stupid… Apparently they can, and below is the letter:

For years I have heard this statistic:"One in every four girls is sexually abused by age 18."It's a stat I don't believe. What I want to know is, what is meant by sexual abuse? Are we talking strictly about touching the crotch area and worse, or what? For example, is Bob Hope a sex abuser?My mum, born in 1914, was in vaudeville as a chorus line dancer. Her diary entry for one day in 1931 reads, "Bob Hope is nice, but fresh. What's the matter with men?"Mum was warned to not stand in the wings watching the acts with Bob, because he was in the habit of putting his arms around a young woman's waist and grabbing some titty.So in today's world Bob Hope is a criminal and sex abuser, not merely a man behaving obnoxiously.  When an 11 year old brother grabs a feel on his 14 year old sister's boob, is this counted in the statistics?If a male talks dirty to a female about what he wants to do to her sexually, is this sexual abuse? Or is it only sex abuse if she's not interested in him? For example, is it sex abuse to wolf whistle and growl sexually at a female passing by? Yes, but only if she has no interest in the perpetrator. In other words, if she turns around and sees a short fat guy growling she is disgusted and it's abuse, but if it's a hunk she's got chemistry for, she smiles. Same incident but one time it's abuse but another it's not.  Seriously, is there anyone who knows what the working definition is for sexual abuse that is bannered by 'one in four girls by age 14 will be sexually abused?'

Having been so disgusted by this, I have pulled out my research cap, swigged down a glass of thorough indignation, and have written my own response. In this post, to provide the clarity that Dr Recher feels is so absent in our society, I will be using the following definitions:

Sexual Exploitation: "any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically, from the sexual exploitation of another". (UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, 2010)
Sexual Abuse: "the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions." (UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, 2010)
Childhood Sexual Assault: "any sexual activity between a child and an adult, or older person. This can include fondling genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or any other object, fondling of breasts, voyeurism, exhibitionism and exposing or involving the child in pornography." (ACSSA Wrap, 2005)

These definitions were easily sourced by simply typing “define: sexual assault” into a search engine. Believe me, Google showed up plenty of pages.


Dr Recher, according to studies undertaken by the ACSSA, your first premise is correct. 25% of females are not sexually assaulted by age 18; rather, the stats are closer to 18%. Before you start crowing, I’d like you to keep in mind that the majority of sexual assault cases are not reported. And why is this?
Because they are ashamed.
In a society where man is king – and sadly, this is still true; respect for women (despite the strides we have made) is still horrifically low – they are made to feel it is their fault. Have you seen stories on the news where a woman from an overseas country has been raped, then sentenced to death because she ‘clearly’ egged the man on?
The following quotations are from Amnesty International's 1995 document, Women in Pakistan - Disadvantaged and denied their human rights
“If the victims bring complaints of rape before the courts, unless they can prove that they did not give their consent they may be punished for unlawful sexual intercourse...”
“Despite the number of women who have been beaten and raped in police custody, few police officers have ever been prosecuted for such violations… the convictions have always been overturned on appeal…”
“A woman who has been raped can be sentenced to imprisonment, flogging in public or death by stoning after a trial in which she was given no chance to testify.”
Not much has changed in 16 years, another Amnesty International document shows.
"The Pakistan Supreme Court's acquittal of five men charged with the gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai highlights the failure to bring perpetrators of such crimes to account, Amnesty International said today."
What are women being told?
It's their fault.

According to the website Child Abuse Effects, Western society is sadly labouring under the following sexual assault biases:

  • “If a female has a crush on the male who sexually assaults her, she may be blamed for seducing him, rather than the blame being placed where it belongs: on the offender.”
  • “If the girl doesn’t fight her abuser, she may be viewed as ‘liking it’.”
  • “If the girl is promiscuous, she is often blamed for her sexualised behaviour, rather than seen as a legitimate victim of sexual abuse.”
  • “If a girl dresses in a provocative way, she may be seen as ‘asking for it’.”
  • “If a girl is well endowed, if she is voluptuous, if her body looks more mature than her years, or if she acts more mature than her years, society may see her as ‘looking older than she is’ or ‘acting older than she is’ and excuse the offender’s behaviour, rather than recognise the girl has been sexually abused.”

 How about a clear example from a victim of sexual assault? 
"[My uncle] told me it was my fault because of the way I looked."
Dr Recher, I believe the statistics are much higher than the 18% that the government can accurately state; even on the ACSSA’s website, there are two publications of note that suggest why these figures are not wholly accurate – and are pushing a figure that doesn’t represent the entire picture. For example, research conducted outside of the reported cases involves women of a certain socio-economic background – primarily, women who speak English (and presumably of the middle class). In modern Australia, this rules out many women. So too, this rules out homeless women, as the second study shows.  A study conducted by multiple sources (Lievore, 2003; VLRC, 2004; Heath, 2005; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005) shows that approximately 85% of sexual assault cases never come before the courts, effectively lessening the accuracy of the statistic even more.

As for the second element to your argument – that Bob Hope was not guilty of sexual assault, but merely was “acting obnoxiously” – that is most certainly not the case. At most, your mother could have been 17 when referring to the ‘fresh’ behaviour of Mr Hope. This would make her a minor. (Regardless of whether she is a minor or not, Mr Hope’s actions are still horrifying.) Mr Hope, being in a position of power over her, is not only committing sexual assault, but also sexual exploitation. It is not a man’s place to inappropriately touch a female – whether she is a minor or not, it is her body, and she is entitled to decide what is done with it.
Yes, she lived in the 1930s, before women’s rights were firmly fought for. It does not make it okay. The fact remains, your mother was warned by the other women not to stand near Mr Hope. Doesn’t that suggest to you that they were uncomfortable with his behaviour, and that they knew it was wrong? If there was nothing wrong with his behaviour, she’d not have been warned. He was not a man acting obnoxiously. He was a man assaulting women – and given the times in when he lived, and who he was, it certainly is sexual exploitation and assault.
There is a very small chance that your mother would have gotten anywhere had she chosen to report the abuse. Does that change anything? Of course not. Human rights abuses are freely committed in many countries - people are raped, murdered, sold into slavery - and these are regarded as perfectly fine. But are they fine?

When an 11-year-old brother grabs his 14-year-old sister’s breasts, it is sexual assault. His relationship to her does not render him innocent. His age does not render him innocent (in Australia, following the doli incapax presumption, a child under 10 years of age has “no criminal responsibility”; after that, he or she is free to be trialled in a juvenile court). It is not a game. It is not only assault, it is incest – and this is prohibited in all states across Australia. The female is also under the age of consent, which falls into child abuse. 
(Incidentally, a report regarding adolescent sex offences - i.e., where the perpetrator of the crime is an adolescent - was written and would be well worth a read.)
f a father did this to their daughter, they would be placed on the Sex Offenders Register, no questions.
If the assaulter is taught that the behaviour is okay, the chances are they’ll try it again.
No matter what, it is not a game. It is not exploring. It is the female’s choice as to what she does with her body. No man, no matter his age, is to decide for her.
In answer to the question – “is this included in the statistics?” – I would hazard a guess at not. See my links above as to why, though feel free to rebut.

Beginning to hit a grey area in terms of what’s commonly perceived as ‘hitting on’ a woman, and I’ll relay a personal experience.
About a month ago, I was at work. A customer approached me; he’d been in the store plenty of times, and while I was a tad uncomfortable around him, I treated him politely and civilly. He asked me if I had a boyfriend, and I replied honestly with no.
As this man was older than my father, and I’d never been placed in this situation before, I didn’t think that this man was scoping out the territory. It didn’t occur to me to lie.
This man brightened, and began to tell me that it was a shame. I was very attractive, he told me. In fact, I was so sexy, I distracted him from his shopping every time he entered the store.
Naturally, I was absolutely horrified. “Excuse me, that’s just not on,” I said.
He ignored me, and continued. “You and I should go on a date some time.”
“You’re older than my father! No, I’m not interested.”
“Why not? I’m good company.” He accompanied this with a wink.
“I said no,” I said firmly, and handed him the pie he’d asked for.
He looked me up and down and said, with the creepiest smile I’ve seen, “Oh well, I’ll just get you next time.”
This completely freaked me out. In what universe did a fifty-year-old man approach a nineteen year old – while she was working – and speak to her like this? I’d given no encouragement beyond typical customer service, and as he’d made me feel uneasy, I’d been a tad cold towards him. He viewed it as his right to harass me in this way. It is harassment to make comments like that towards a woman, especially when she tells you to stop. I told my supervisors (one of whom told me that he used to tell her that he’d watch her in the shower when he lived across the road from her) and a co-worker (who informed me that he’d hugged her last week and didn’t let go when she asked).
A lot of people say, “Oh, but if it was a young guy asking you the same thing, you’d not be put off.” Believe me, I am. I’ve had guys in my age range telling me similar things when I’m working. I’ve had guys wolf-whistle me on the street. And they’re all levels off attractive. My response is still revulsion. When is it okay to growl at a woman, to whistle at her like she’s a piece of meat? An inanimate object solely created for men to leer at? You’re doing it at a distance. Men do this to women who are behind a counter, because they subconsciously are aware that the woman serving them is forced to be polite – else she might get fired. They whistle at women who are walking along the street, because the woman has the audacity to walk in front of them. They act as though it is their right to behave in such a disgusting manner towards women, not considering how this might make the woman feel (humiliated, dirty, etc). Dr Recher, no matter the age or the attractiveness of a man – if a man is making commenting on, or acting towards, a woman in a way that she does not like, that is considered harassment. I personally consider it harassment if the man is acting in that vulgar way of from afar, no matter the man's intent. If you want to make a connection with a woman, how hard is it to go up to her and talk to her, rather than accosting her in a position where she cannot escape?
And as a general rule, if the female in question is young enough to be your daughter, don’t go there. It’s sick. 

In case you believe I’m in the minority of people who regard this as harassment, the question “Do you consider receiving a wolf whistle from a stranger a compliment, or even a shout out complimenting your assets? How do you take it?” was asked in the Bubhub forums. A few choice responses:
  • ·        “Harassment. It makes me feel gross, I’d never go near guys with a ten foot pole who do it. Heck, even my boss who was a builders labourer for decades said it’s harassment.”
  •          “… it actually makes me feel self conscious rather than complimented.”
  •          “I think pig/s”
  •        “Harassment. I have not been put on this earth to be leered at.”
  •          “I find wolf whistles and sleazy comments plain humiliating.”
  •          “When a guy smiles at me its something only he and I see. When a guy whistles at me everyone else around can hear and see it and I think I find it rather humiliating.”
  •          “As a teen I found it intimidating. In my 20s I found it disrespectful and oafish. Now I find it confusing.”

This entire forum – the majority of women admit to feeling humiliated when a man offers up lascivious behaviours like those aimed at them. They can be attractive guys, they can be young. Still humiliating. Still harassment.

I hope this post has enlightened you, Dr Recher. I’ve tried to go through and answer your questions – you probably won’t see this post, but for all the other men out there who are querying the same? (Heck, even the women.) You can find accurate definitions for sexual assault. You can find out what is deemed assault.
And no matter your gender, age, or background, you can take a stand against it.

[Note: I completely realise that men are sexually assaulted; some of the statistics I came across in this shocked me, as it’s very rarely publicised. (I think the first I became aware of it was when I was a young teen, reading The Kite Runner – if you’ve read it, you’ll know the scene to which I refer.) However, it does happen. As I was responding to Dr Recher’s letter, which specifically addressed women, I didn’t bring it up as at the best of times I flit onto tangents.
For awareness, see the following links and studies. Women are not the only ones hard done by Western stereotypes. Men can be, and are, victims.
If you’re under 25 and are a victim of sexual abuse, phone Kids Help Line in Australia.
If you’re over 25, phone LifeLine.
Telling someone is the most important thing – you are not to blame, not in any circumstance.] 

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