Tag Archives: sexual harassment

“Legitimate” Rape Fallacy

By now, many of you have already heard about the “unfortunate” word choices of Represenative Todd Akin (R-Missouri) when discussing his opposition to any exceptions to abortion law.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [babies concieved as a result of rape are] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

There are many things that are fundamentally wrong about this statement (beginning with the fact that somehow the body can prevent insemination at will), but what bothers me in particular is the ignorance about rape in general and how Akin’s comments remind us of how much further we as a society need to go in recognizing the importance of mutual, respectful relationships.

First, let’s talk about the law. In Akin’s comments, he is talking about forced, non-consenual sex at weapon point. It also harkens back to the days when the law put the burden of defense on the victim rather than the attacker. First a woman was asked if she said no and fought tooth and nail to defend herself. If she didn’t defend herself “to the fullest extent” then the courts were loath to qualify an attack as rape. As we moved away from physical defense, rape became a state of mind, also from the perspective of the victim. Questions such as “did you enjoy it,” “did your nipples harden,” or “did you become otherwise physically aroused” were asked to determine whether the victim wanted to have sex. Again, if the answer was yes, then the courts were loath to convict a perpetrator (generally a man) of rape.

Now we are looking to actions of the victim. What clothes did they wear? Where they drinking alcohol? Did the person go home with the other party. All of these actions are used to defend against accusations of rape by perpetrators against their victims.

The legal definition of rape has always lagged behind the times of social awareness. Up until 2012, men couldn’t be raped according to the Department of Justice. They could be unlawfully sodomized, but not raped. As a result, the courts have reinforced the notion of Akin’s “legitimate” rape and limited to violence against women solely by unknown perpetrators attacking from the shadows.

The second point that follows from the legal argument is that traditional notions of sexual assault are misleading at best and harmful at worst.

Akin is not alone in his thoughts about “legitimate” rape. Many in society cling to the idea of the “rapist in the bushes” and are loathe to find assaults in the bedrooms of partners, at parties with friends, or at bars with drunken strangers. This is despite the fact that a majority of reported sexual assaults involve friends, family, or loved ones (otherwise known as acquaintance rape).

These misconceptions are perpetuated in a variety of ways. The myths are perpetuated by not looking to men as active agents in the conversation about and acts of sexual assault. The myths are perpetuated by the singleminded focus on what people wear and where they come from. The myths are perpetuated by the few public false accusations that occur that hide the far too many private claims that go unreported.

But mostly, this idea “legitimate” rape stems from the misconception that sex is an entitlement. No amount of wining, dining, good conversation, length of committment, can ever overcome the simple fact that btoh men and women have the right to do what they want with their own body.

Without an affirmative yes uninfluenced by excessive drinking, drugs, or mental, physical, or emotional pressure, any sexual contact is a legitimate rape or sexual harassment claim.


What would you do: Street Harassment

I love the show What Would You Do? on ABC Primetime! They create some of the most powerful and realistic bystander scenarios that I have ever seen. They address such a wide variety of topics and situations. I have used clips from numerous episodes in my training and workshops. The clips are a great way to introduce a topic and see potential helpful and harmful responses. I’ve always received great feedback when clips from the show are used.

Their newest episode did not disappoint. The situation was called From Flirting to Harassment and featured a woman being harassed by men on the street in Hoboken, New Jersey. She is dressed like she is going to workout and three men harass her while she is waiting to get some coffee at a food cart. It is apparent from their interaction that the conduct is unappreciated and unwanted.

Watch the clip below to see how the bystanders responded. This clip features numerous helpful interventions from privately offering her  support to offering to call the police. It is wonderful to see people intervening when a woman is being sexually harassed in a public setting.

If you want to learn more about how to address and stop street harassment, check out our friend Holly Kearly’s blog at Stop Street Harassment.

Street Harassment event

I don’t have a lot of time this morning, but I just wanted to put up a quick post about the Stop Street Harassment event last night with Holly Kearl at The University of Iowa. Despite some technical difficulties, the event went really well and we had pretty good attendance. I am so grateful that Holly was able to stop by and share her expertise about street harassment. She was wonderful to work with and I hope we can continue building on what we accomplished last night. Here is an article about the event in The Daily Iowan.

Holly introduced me to this cartoon last night. What a great illustration about the incorrect assumption that street harassment is just a compliment, which minimizes the negative impact on the recipient. The artist is Barry Deutsch. You can find this work and more by him, here. Please consider supporting his work. He is someone who is trying to raise awareness about these issues through his art.

I’ll post a more thorough review about last night’s event and compile some resources about street harassment in a longer post later this weekend. In the meantime, stop by Holly’s blog www.stopstreetharassment.com to learn more.


Street harassment event with Holly Kearl!

I’m really excited to announce that author and activist, Holly Kearl will be at The University of Iowa this month to discuss street harassment. The Men’s Anti-Violence Council is cosponsoring the event with the UI Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. The event is free and open to the public. It is on Thursday October, 21 at 7:15 p.m. in 100 Philips Hall.

Street harassment doesn’t have a formal definition. I find it easy to think of it how Holly describes it on her blog, sexual harassment that happens in public. A good start is to think of all of the behaviors and language that would be inappropriate or illegal at work or in the classroom. It could be disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening, harassing and is most often of a sexual nature.

Holly’s lecture will begin with several students from the university describing their experiences and reactions to street harassment. Hopefully, we’ll get a discussion going about the potential intersection of race, class, perceived sexual orientation and gender on the occurence of street harassment. There will be time for Q&A after the presentation.

One of the most important aspects of Holly’s work, and what I am the most excited about, is how to create an effective response in reducing and preventing the behavior. Discussing how recipients, witnesses and the community can respond is a major focus of our work at MAC. Stop by and join in the discussion. You can download the flier here.

Visit Holly’s blog: www.stopstreetharassment.com

Read about her book: http://www.greenwood.com/books/printFlyer.aspx?sku=A2949C

Increase in workplace sexual harassment claims by men

A recent NPR story highlights a workplace sexual harassment charge filed by Jonathan Pilkington against his boss. Jonathan endured being harassed, groped and fondled by his boss over a dozen times during a two year period. The NPR story uses this specific case to highlight recent statistics by the Equal Employment Opportunity  Committee (EEOC) that workplace sexual harassment claims by men have doubled from 8% to 16% in the last 20 years.

There are several explanations for the increase. The most reasonable explanation is that sexual harassment has always been significantly under-reported regardless of gender. Recent improvement in sexual harassment training, reporting procedures, and “No Retaliation” clauses have probably contributed to an increased likelihood of filing a claim. If you think the increase in men reporting sexual harassment has anything to do with the increased number of women in the workplace, the NPR article reported that the majority of sexual harassment claims by male victims are directed toward other men. You can view a detailed chart of  related statistics on the EEOC website.


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