Posts Tagged With: Rape

I Watched the Emma Sulkowicz Sex video, and this is what I saw

Normally I would not watch such a video, much less admit to it on the internet. However, The Daily Beast has been repeatedly posting about the video on my timeline. I have been supportive of her mattress project, and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. She made the video as an artistic statement about sexual assault, and so I decided to set aside my own prudishness and see the statement she was trying to make.

For those of you who don’t know who Emma is, she is the Columbia student who has been carrying the mattress she reports she was raped on around her campus as an art statement and protest about how her case was mishandled.

As the story has gone, she reported her assault to her campus, her campus investigated, and dismissed her case. She felt the case was mishandled, and started her mattress project as a way to protest this mishandling. Her accused rapist has maintained his innocence, but he has had other accusers as well

This month, she has put up a video entitled “Ceci n’est pas un viol” in which she vividly reenacts a violent sexual encounter. She invites people to watch provided they do so with respectful intent.

I did, and this is what I saw.

The film starts out consensually. I won’t go into explicit detail, but the initial acts are clearly consensual and include her putting protection on him as she initiates some of the acts. About halfway through he strikes her, and she can be heard saying “hit me again.” He then starts to choke her, and she says “stop.” He continues, pauses, removes the protection, and then enters her anally while she screams in pain and again yells to stop. He finishes, leaves, she gets up, showers, and cleans up her room.

But that is not all I saw.

I saw a scene where consent was given, one person took the act further than the other was willing to go, consent was withdrawn, and the other person continued without the consent.

I also saw how a scenario similar to this could lead to the report of rape being wrongfully dismissed. Even though she explicitly states that this was not a reenactment, the events do mirror her early description of what happened to her. Given that our society sees consent as something that needs to be gotten around, not something to be acquired and maintained, I can see how the university could use her initial consent to shift the blame onto her, ignoring the fact the consent was withdrawn. For a university who would want to make the rape go away, motivated by not wanting the notoriety rape would bring to the school, this initial consent would be all that was needed, and the removal of consent would be inconsequential to them.

Finally, I saw how far people are willing to go to silence this conversation on consent. I made the mistake of reading the comment sections. Rather than engage the material, and discuss the statement being made, people have just repeated the old accusations that she is a liar, seeking attention, and every comment that is levied at every rape accuser in the media. If you were to, as she asks, not see this as a reenactment, but rather look at the statement being made, there is a very important conversation being had in the video. However, the response people are having is one where people do not want to have this conversation. Emma’s character has nothing to do with this larger conversation, but they are attacking her to distract from and end that conversation.

So that is what I saw in the video. Ultimately, I believe it is meant to spark a very important conversation on the concept of consent, and sadly this is a conversation people seem to be terrified of.

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Was it rape? Here is a simple test.

Between Rolling stone articles, new mandates from the President, a certain celebrity revelation, pundit rants, paranoid internet ravings, and general political stupidity, there has been a lot of talk in the media about rape and how to tell if a person really was raped. As a public service to society, I have created a simple and concise test to determine if a rape has occurred. This test consists of 3 questions, and can be used in any civil or legal discussion involving rape.

The questions are:

1) Did the sexual act occur?
2) Were both participants free of threat, coercion, impairment, and legally capable of giving consent?
3) Was affirmative consent given by both participants and not withdrawn by either during the sexual activity?

Three easy questions.

It’s really that simple. No need to ask about clothing, prior behavior, etc., just ask those 3 simple questions. If question 1 was answered with a “yes” and either questions 2 or 3 were answered with a “no,” then the rape occurred. If all questions are answered with a “yes” then no rape occurred. It really is that simple. No conversation is needed about legitimacy, regret, clothing whether or not someone made a good enough attempt to fight someone off, etc.

Seriously, it is just that simple.

There actually should be no further explanation needed. But if you need to understand it better, I’ve explained things in depth below.

Question 1
The answer to question 1 is easy to establish. In many cases the participants will have memory of the act. In cases where a participant may have been unconscious, there are often reliable signs that the sex occurred, such as clothing put on wrong, bruising, etc. People may object to this being reliable because people could lie about the sex occurring or not occurring. But when you consider that false rape claims are actually extremely rare, and that most rapists consider what they do to not be rape, but to be normal sex, there is a high likelihood both parties will answer honestly. This question can also be used to protect against misidentification (which is actually included in the false allegation statistic, reducing the actual rates of false claims even lower), as sex is a pretty definable act and occurs in a specific time and space, and a person could easily prove they were elsewhere at the time. In the recent Rolling Stone fiasco, in which the rapists were misidentified as a certain fraternity. The fraternity defended itself successfully by proving they were not the ones who did because they could prove they did not have sex with her.

Question 2
The answer to question 2 is also easy to establish. Was the victim intoxicated? Was the victim given a drug to lower his/her inhibitions or knock him/her out? Did the perpetrator have to hold him/her down? Was their a threat of violence if he/she resisted? Was there an abuse of authority that threatened other consequences if the victim attempted to resist (principals who can threaten students with expulsion, etc.). Basically, were both parties capable of saying “yes” or “no” in a competent manner, and could they say “no” without fear of any consequences?

Now there are those who might have some objections to the conditions of question 2, especially around drugs and alcohol. However, these conditions are part of legal definitions for rape, so there isn’t much of a debate to be had. Remember how I have pointed out that most rapists don’t consider what they do to be rape? Well if you have an issue with this, you really need to reexamine a few things.

Question 3
The answer to question 3 should be the easiest to establish, and disturbingly, this is where people have the most trouble with the 3 questions. Essentially, the rubric here is whether or not both parties said “yes.” we aren’t looking for a lack of a “no” we are looking for an explicit “yes.”

It has often been asked, “won’t stopping to ask ruin the mood?”

Seeking explicit consent can not only be worked in seamlessly, if you do it right, you can actually make the sex better. Now if you are lucky, your partner will enthusiastically communicate a desire for sex before any activity begins. In which case, you are good to go, and there is no need to worry about the rest of this explanation.

Also, *high five.*

If that was not the case, something as simple as looking into a partner’s eyes and whispering “are you ready?” and waiting for that verbal “yes” or an affirmative nod does not break the flow. But if you really want to be sure, there is a little technique called “foreplay” that whips your partner into such a sexual frenzy that they will actually shout out their desire to have sex with you.

Seriously, that happens a lot if you are doing things right.

Now there are specific non-verbal ways of giving consent. These are made up of behaviors that are initiated by your partner. When a partner undoes his or her pants, that is an explicit communication communication of consent that he or she will let you help take their pants off. If you start unbuckling their pants, and they don’t fight you, that is *NOT* an explicit communication of consent, because lack of a “no” is not the same as consent, and it is at that point you would need to seek consent before you continue. Other forms of non-verbal consent deal with active presentation, and active acceptance. If your partner actively gets naked for you during sexual activity, they are consenting to your contact with their naked body. If you partner actively presents him or herself into a known sexual position, they are most likely granting permission. If you are a male, the most clear and explicit way your partner can express consent is though the “guide in” technique. This is when your partner takes your presented penis in hand, and guides it to the desired sexual orifice.

Now, what is NOT consent is assumed consent. A person may be wearing alluring clothing consisting of very little material, but if he or she is not actively taking said clothing off for you, he or she is not giving consent for that clothing to be removed. Likewise, not putting up a fight is NOT consent. Maybe your partner is just being a cold fish. Some people do that. If that is the case, the sex is going to suck, and you deserve better, so have some respect for yourself and let them know you have standards by insisting on active consent. But the real and frequent danger here is that your partner, if not resisting, might be in a terrified state. She/he might not be resisting because she is afraid you are going to hurt her/him. If you used force, pinned her/him down, or rushed the process because you didn’t want to lose a moment and have her/him change her/his mind, you didn’t seek consent, and she/he is probably now giving up in hopes you won’t hurt her/him further. That is a problem and you need to revisit rule #2. And even if you didn’t intend to rush him/her, pin him/her, or force him/her, if he/she is not resisting, but not actively engaging, then something is wrong. He/she might have a history of being assaulted and something you unknowingly did triggered the trauma. That triggering was not your fault, but proceeding without continued active consent will be your fault. Maybe he/she just changed her mind, which he/she is allowed to do midway, and is to scared to know how to say stop, so he/she just stops activity. If that is the case, you need to make sure there is no problem and seek consent again before you continue. If there is no problem, you’ve only risked a pause, and its been my experience that most partners become more trusting and more active later on (also the sex gets better) if you take the time to check on issues like that.

So those are the 3 simple questions explained in depth.

If there is any question about a rape’s legitimacy, just ask those 3 simple questions.

If you are terrified of that extremely miniscule chance of having a false rape accusation made against you, just make sure you are able to show you’ve answered those 3 simple questions properly before sex and you should be safe.

If you hear a rumor and are unsure, just ask those 3 simple questions.

If you see a sensationalized account in the media and are wondering which side to take, just ask those 3 simple questions.

And is really is that simple.

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Why people do the things they do, for better or for worse

This post has been bubbling under the surface for a while, but it’s been hard to figure out how to really put it into words. However, a reader recently contacted me about a shame she had been holding in, and though I may not have been able to complete my thoughts on this, I think that it is important that I get this out. This is a post about why people make the moral choices they do. This is an explanation as to why people do some very good things, and why people decide to do some very horrific things. Originally, this was meant to try to get people to look inwards at their own actions, words, and choices, But now I am hoping it can also help people to let go of the shame that they may be taking on.

To ask the reason for an action is deceptive. The assumption is that there is thought process involved, that the reason involves reason. We like to believe that we use a sophisticated logic to carefully control the decisions we make. But the truth is the contrary: we make decisions based on emotion, not logic. This emotional decision making was uncovered in the research of Antoine Bechara and Jonathan Haidt. Bechara’s research on individuals with a specific brain damage that inhibited emotional expression showed that without emotion, even the most basic decisions were also inhibited. Haidt’s work showed that people make moral decisions first and then add logical explanations afterwards. According to Haidt, certain actions are encouraged by the “moral elation” done by the decision, and inhibited by a “moral disgust” against the decision. The decisions we make are dependent on the emotional weight we give them, not the logical weight. A decision is encouraged if there is an emotional reward, and discouraged by the emotional revulsion. Logic can play a part, but only in that logic can change the meaning that trains emotion. Ultimately the decisions are emotional. The reasons people report are developed as an afterthought.

But what does that really mean?

When a person decides to do something, the decision is based on their anticipated emotional response to the act. An act is not caused by a reason, but rather the person acts according to how they think they will feel after the act. Two people can face the same screaming child, for instance, and have totally different responses. People can slap the child, not slap the child, or beat the child viciously.  The option they choose depends on their emotional reaction to the concept of hitting a child. A person who feels a sense of wrongness, disgust, or revulsion to the idea of hitting a child will do anything they can to not hit the child because they know they will feel horrible after striking the child. A person without this disgust will be more likely to hit the child to get the response of quiet they want because they will not anticipate feeling bad about hitting the child. But a person who feels a sense of reward over exercising power through abuse will not only be more likely to hit the child, but will look for reasons to hit the child because they anticipate feeling powerful and “good” after striking the child. So when it comes to whether or not a particular person will hit a child, it has less to do with the actual screaming of the child, and more to do with the person’s feelings about the action of hitting the child. The person may talk about styles of discipline, but the prime motivation behind the action is that emotional response. Similarly, two people can see the same child with a spilled ice cream cone and decide to either buy the child a new ice cream or keep walking. The person who stops and buys the child a new ice cream cone either anticipates an empathic reward for the generosity or a sense of revulsion of leaving the child in that state of suffering. The person who keeps walking lacks that sense of revulsion for allowing the suffering to continue and does not share that same anticipated reward for helping. Again, any explanation give for the choice is an add-on.

This principle of decision making is extremely important when seeking to understand sexual assault motivation and where the blame needs to be placed. A person rapes another person because the rapist lacks the emotional disgust associated with the act of rape, and gets an emotional reward from the act of the rape. It does not matter what a girl was wearing or how much she had to drink, because a non-rapist would feel revulsion towards the act of having sex with the woman without consent, and the rapist will not only lack that same disgust, but will feel as sense of reward from it. The decision to rape lies not in the circumstance or the victim, but in how the person feels about the action of the rape. A woman could be passed out, naked, and spread eagle, and where one man could have the overwhelming urge to violate the woman, another man would have the overwhelming urge to cover her up and make sure she stays safe. And when a person has no revulsion to the act, but gets a reward from the sense of power, they will seek out a victim to rape based off that anticipated reward. The only victim characteristic that plays a factor is availability. If the one victim were not present, another one would be sought out.

For the readers who are taking on the shame for their abusers, I am hoping that this explains why no fault lies with you. Your abuser was primed to abuse someone before you came along. They just happened to find you first. It was not about your clothes, your body, what you were drinking, what you said, etc. It was about the abuser’s own feelings about the actual behavior that constituted abuse. Had you been dressing or acting the same way around a decent person for whom the idea of such an abusive behavior was abhorrent, you would have been left alone, and had you not been there, the abuser would have found someone else.

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People may lie, Symptoms Don’t

I’ve been following the controversy surrounding Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow. Even though I have the limited information of the case that everyone else has who has been reading the opinions and articles has, there are some very clear facts that cause me to believe in Dylan’s reports. Mainly, her symptoms and diagnosis of PTSD.

People accuse rape victims of lying all the time. It’s an easy way out. Accuse the accuser, create doubt, and you can make sure there are no punitive actions. Add in society’s already prevalent “blame the victim” attitude, and the disturbing reality that most rapists don’t themselves believe their actions constituted rape, and you have an environment where the victim is put on trial more than the perpetrator.

Now false allegations do happen. But despite what rape apologists and deniers would like to believe, the actual percentage of allegations that turn out to be false is extrememly low, between 2% and 8%. Factor in the fact that 60% of rapes go unreported, and you see how really misguided it is to accuse the accuser.

But if that isn’t enough for you, if you still think the factors of celebrity and divorce still complicate the issue too much for such an easy conclusion of Dylan’s honesty, then let me point out that while, yes, people do lie, symptoms don’t. Dylan’s speak a truth.

**For those readers who may have histories of thier own, I am about to repost segments from Dylan’s own letter to the New York Times. I will try to put it into clinical perspective. For many you may find this helpful, but for others, you may find it triggering. You know yourselves best, continue or leave according to your own best judgement. **

Dylan describes the constant fear of their abuser children of sexual assault experience. “I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me” She describes the terror his face still invokes, “Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.” She describes how she would escape her body during the abuse by focusing on objects in the world around her, objects which now also trigger the memories of the abuse. “I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”

This fear and avoidance are characteristic of trauma. The actual event is one that is too overwhelming for the person. They must find an escape, any escape. Dissociation is not uncommon, and that is what Dylan reports doing. She couldn’t run, she couldn’t fight, so she left her body by focusing her awareness on her brother’s toy train. She did what she could to survive a violation from a man who was physically stronger than her and an authority in her house. The resulting scars were very distinct. Any reminder, whether it be the face of the man who attacked her, or the train her mind fled to in the actual rape, sends her into a panic.

But the scars don’t end there. “I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.” The flight from her abuse was so severe, that any man’s touch triggered her horror. But on top of that, there was the cutting and the eating disorder. Today these problems are seen as worrisome teen fads. But the truth, for the people who are serious about harming themselves these ways, both cutting and eating disorders are desperate attempts to regain control of a life and world that for them is perpetually out of control. Cutting is done in response to overwhelming emotions. The physical damage causes endorphins to release while the actual experience of pain distracts the person from the uncontrollable emotion. Eating disorders are fundamentally about control; they can’t control anything else in their life, but they can control their body, down to the point of dangerously denying themselves the otherwise instinctual and self preserving need to eat.

But what if she is making up and lying about  her symptoms? Or what if her mother just put the idea of the abuse in her head, and the symptoms came from that?

Again, symptoms don’t lie.

With PTSD, the fear and anxiety are visceral. They aren’t remembered as a horror in the past, like one would if they were recalling a scary movie. Normal memories start in the short term “now” memory, get processed, small details get discarded, and finally get stored in the long term memory. With trauma, the event is too overwhelming to be properly processed. Because of this, the memory actually stays in the short term storage area. Every little detail, down to the bodily sensations felt, are still there. Every smell, every sound, and every pain inside and out, are sitting in the short term memory, and when the memory is triggered, it is all perceived as still occurring in the moment. The physical, bodily nature of these symptoms make them near impossible to realistically fake.

And if her mother had somehow put these ideas in her head (the letter addresses this and reports the opposite), the symptoms would be different as well. When a person is made to believe something that did not happen happened, the memory is stored differently. Because the event did not actually occur, it did not spend any time in the short term memory, and could not get trapped there in the visceral manner of a real traumatic memory. Such a form of gaslighting could cause one to develop the secondary symptoms of the cutting and eating disorder, because gaslighting makes a person call into doubt their own experience of the world, and is traumatic on its own. But when it comes to the memories imposed, they will lack that visceral element, because there was no touch or smell to experience. There will be no flashback, because there is no actually memory trapped in the short term buffer to re-experience.  In short, you can’t react the same way to a memory that isn’t really there.

We are very quick in this culture to decide the guilt or innocence of an individual. All to often, though, when it comes to sexual assault, the person we rush to judgement about is the victim of the crime. But if the studies and the statistics on the reality of allegations are not enough to convince you, take a moment to listen to what they have experienced since their attack. Watch the terror in their eyes as they re-experience the crime, listen to how their breathing changes as they struggle to hold off the panic, and note how they disappear from the moment as the past reasserts itself into his or her life. You will know the truth, because their symptoms won’t lie.

Then notice the monster you have become by forcing them to go through that horror once again.

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