What we really need to discuss when talking about sexual harassment
It seems like sexual harassment and assault has been in the media more than ever before. Culturally, the amount of attention brought to this type of violence is unprecedented. From TIME dedicating their notorious “Person of the Year” award to the “silence breakers” in 2017, to the viral #Metoo movement, to the New York Times on-going list of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct; it’s clear that we’re currently witnessing a striking cultural momentum that’s demanding further discussions and accountability towards sexual violence.
But, let’s get real for a minute--we wouldn’t be talking about sexual harassment and assault the same way today without a history of people like Anita Hill or Mechelle Vinson who stood up against a cultural acceptance of this violence that both criticized them for their actions and victim-blamed them for the what they had experienced. While sexual harassment has garnered more awareness and strides have been made in identifying and addressing this type of violence, there still continues to be confusion around the exact deep-rooted cause of it.
Commonly in our culture, the motivation behind sexual harassment and assault is defined by two main myths. First, this violence will be primarily perpetrated by a stranger and second, sexual harassment and assault is solely about sex or uncontrollable sexual desire. In order to identify the true root of sexual violence, let’s break down these myths surrounding it.
Myth 1: Sexual violence will be primarily perpetrated by a stranger.
Reality: Often, when considering sexual assault, people initially jump to the “man in the bushes” myth that considers all perpetrators to be strangers who are desperately in need of fulfilling their sexual desires. This has actually proven to rarely be the case, with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, reporting that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor.
Myth 2: Sexual harassment and assault is solely about sex or uncontrollable sexual desire.
Reality: While there’s no doubt there is a sexual element to sexual harassment or assault, this is not the main motivation when it comes to sexual violence. If we look a little deeper in fact, sexual violence has very little to do with sexual desire. Think about it like this, if we shift our attention towards the perpetrator’s true impact of the crime and consider a survivor’s perspective, sexual violence is clearly used as a mean to control and exert one’s power over another human being. This can be addressed in terms of the need to maintain power and control over another, rather than sexual desire.
Narrow definitions of sexual harassment and assault that focus all attention on the sexual acts themselves, instead of looking at these larger pictures of power and control avoids the true motivation lurking behind sexual violence.
Still, to this day, 1 out of every 3 women ages 18-34 report that they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work while an additional 16% of women don’t realize the behavior that they are experiencing in the workplace constitutes sexual harassment. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. The need for a cultural recognition of how power and control play a direct role in the maintenance of sexual harassment and assault is so crucial to understanding these crimes.
It’s time for us to recognize that power and control are the primary motive of sexual harassment and violence. Through this, we can better address these issues within our lives, whether it’s in our offices, homes or public spaces.
For more information on sexual harassment and assault please check out the following resources:
Contributing Writer: Brittany A. Hamilton
Photo Credit: Mihai Surdu