“Imagine living a life when the only sex you can get is to force yourself on someone who doesn’t want you. That kind of sex is an act of violence, and not only towards the victim…”
Almost all of the interviews that I do these days are about consent, or more aptly the lack of it on college campuses. Reporters often begin these interviews believing that this issue is isolated to our youth, that somehow having unwanted sex is time limited and associated with fraternity parties. Recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein and all of the non-consensual sex that our favorite beautiful Hollywood stars had to succumb to are proof that issues surrounding sexual consent are life long and certainly nothing new.
Weinstein is the just the latest domino to fall, but the sweep is happening faster and faster: Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, and Woody Allen are all links in a robust chain that has long tied male sexual abuses to power, money and influence. What’s new is the coverage of the courage of women to speak up and reveal the pain, shame and regrets that they have carried around, sometimes for decades as victims of unwanted sex. And although it makes headlines when these women are famous in their own right, lets not delude ourselves that the rape culture and domination of men over women is limited by any demographics.
Every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in this country. Most vulnerable are girls and young women who are up to four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault. You don’t have to be a movie producer to have power and influence. You could be a shift manager at a fast food restaurant, or a boss at an insurance agency, or a friend of a friend… or an estranged boyfriend or husband. What I have always found most startling is that most sexual perpetrators are not strangers to their victims. Just like Harvey, these men are known to the women they harm and just like Harvey, it is rarely a one-time thing.
In fact, this is the critical divide between sexual addiction and sexual abuse- while they often occur simultaneously, they have very different
intent and consequences. Addicts are compulsively acting out as a coping modality, they also feel guilt and shame by their acts; whereas a perpetrator is motivated, turned on even, by the power dynamics and often has no remorse about their behavior. The impact on their victims is not a consideration for them, which is what makes this slippery slope so disturbing. Mental illness that attaches itself to sexuality is not uncommon and it is complex. How we justify our outlying behaviors in one area of life, colors the rest.
Understanding that sexual abuse does not exist in a vacuum of isolated cases- rather, that the world has been steeped in sexual abuse since the
beginning of recorded history and is still actively in play in the lives of millions of girls and women around the globe- is a true starting point.
This pathology of sexual assault is as much a part of the fabric of culture as racism is- and just as all the elite athletes have had enough, so too is
our collective voice now rising up, saying no more hiding, no more excusing the abuses of power as a sexual weapon.
Harvey Weinstein and his cronies are just the tip of the iceberg. Hollywood’s sexual depravity does not overshadow the millions of young girls who carry the shame of sexual abuse from people who were supposed to protect them. If anything, Hollywood’s latest discovery of all that is hidden in the sexual dynamics of its players shines a mirror back to us. And the discussion will fail us all if it stays fixated on the allegations surrounding one man.
Sexual trauma is distinct from other traumas in the ways that it defines us, often making it impossible to maintain healthy intimate relationships for decades. Shattering our ability to trust, even ourselves, carrying shame in the cells of the body, victims lose access to pleasure, one of the most powerful healing mechanisms in the body, for decades.
I always say that if we fixed only one problem in the world and it was this sexual one, we would fix all the others. Consensual sex is the only kind of sex that is actually sexy, that offers the mysterious release and reset of our mind, body and spirit. Everything else, whether on a college campus, in a swanky Hollywood hotel, in the halls of government, in a girls bedroom… is an act of violence and betrayal.
Fixing sexual consent begins with education, providing both language and permission to express one’s own sexual needs and desires. We can’t know what we don’t want if don’t have any idea of what we do want. Deeper still, it demands that we honor and protect everyone’s sexual autonomy. To do this, we must stop being bystanders to the sexual assaults that we witness and that we participate in this rising voice of no more.