Until we regulate rape statistics, Julie Gillis writes, sexual violence will never be accounted for what it really is: diverse.
First of all, I believe men and women both are raped and sexually assaulted. I also believe that men and women both can act as perpetrators of sexual violence. I find any and all combinations of such violence horrifying. As a human being, I want to intervene and help promote a more peaceful world, a world where people do not attack each other with or at their genitals.
I have no idea where on a bell curve one would see the distribution of male victims and female perpetrators. I’m not sure we’ve ever, at least in the U.S., collected truly accurate stats on incidents of sexual assaults across multiple variables (ages, genders, races). I would love to see an accurate bell curve. I really would.
As many of you know there was a recent CNN report on broadening the old definitions of rape for statistical purposes. There have been several articles already here at GMP on rape, including a commentary by founder Tom Matlack, a piece on Rape Culture by Soraya Chemaly, and several others, each with many comments and arguments over what exactly constitutes rape.
These definitional revisions should provide an even greater incentive to find more accurate stats. In years past, I would have been satisfied to think that we’d come a long way, that we’d succeeded as a society and government to change the definition of rape in such a way that men and women’s experiences could both be accurately counted.
This would lead to the aforementioned Bell Curve of Truth.
In the past, the definition of rape was the forcible penetration of a woman, by a man, with a penis. Now, for the Justice Department, rape means any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration, whether by a penis, hand, or implement. It does not however take into account envelopment of say, a penis by a mouth or a penis by a vagina. I’m not sure if it takes into account a mouth on a vulva either (which would omit women who had been forced to endure oral rape by a man or woman in the lurch, statistically speaking). Penetration is the name of the game and discounts the experiences of men (and perhaps women in the case of oral without penetration) who have had sex against their will in a way that does not fit the description.
To this, I call bullshit.
Why is envelopment, and oral on penis or vulva, not part of the definition? If it’s forcible oral sex when a penis or object penetrates someones mouth, why wouldn’t it be forcible oral sex if a mouth envelopes a penis no matter the mouth’s owner?
This is me going down a rabbit hole. Want to see what it looks like?
“Why is sex defined as penetrative at all?
What is, exactly, sex?
The standard, heteronormative version of how sex is defined? Sex equals penis in vagina (PIV)? Oral sex isn’t really sex? Hand jobs are just a warm up? What about the trans-experience of sexuality and gender—where does this fit in? When does sexual activity equal sex? When is it sexual assault and when is it rape? Is there ultimately a difference? Is the difference all based in penalty? How does one quantify suffering and enforce an adequate punishment if a forced oral sex experience led to more trauma than a forced PIV encounter?
Why have we created a world where we do not believe men are capable of being assaulted and where women are not capable of assaulting?”
It’s hard to come out of that rabbit hole. I get empathy overload. I read stats and figures and feel overwhelmed. I get angry that human beings can be so bloody horrible to each other and yet I realize that sexual violence has likely always been used as a powerful weapon throughout history and we are actually at a place where things may be at a point of change. Maybe. I hope.
That helps. Realizing that sexuality, power, and the way we talk about it, question it, helps.
Sexual activity is a continuum at best, and, depending on your history and point of view on sexuality, sex might be defined as getting naked and touching genitals, or as a penetrative act, or as tantric breathing.
We don’t talk about sex in this country in a way that leaves room for a continuum. We don’t talk about or teach about boundaries and consent that leaves both men and women open to saying no or yes based on where they might be in any sexual situation. We don’t teach or talk about how men can not want to have sex, can feel overwhelmed by sexual pressure, suffer in silence around assault, and we don’t often discuss how women can be sexual aggressors.
We don’t define sex in a way that leaves room for non-normative sexualities, erasing swaths of individuals. We create a deepening morass of polarizing discourse around who gets to have sex when, to what roles we are to play, and to claim what suffering one gets to have when things go badly instead of looking at the situation from a completely different angle.
(And that’s just a U.S.-centric Western perspective. There certainly are other issues at play here throughout other regions of the world—for example, sexual violence systematized as torture in wartime in El Savador, Chile, Sarajevo, and Uganda, and sexual violence as pecking order and dominance displays in prisons.)
Some of the arguments about why things are considered in statistics are quantitative. If there is only so much funding for rape prevention, then you focus on the greatest number of people affected by the crime. Stopping there becomes a choice between quantitative and qualitative experience. But how many men are enveloped? Does it matter to the ones that have been, if someone says, “Well, there are more cases of penetration so we aren’t funding envelopment prevention?”
As MediaHound, put it, quoting “And The Band Played On,” “Tell us what to do so that we don’t annoy you—and give us the qualitative barrier that even one man has to exceed so that he is not a number but a Human Being!”
I wish it were that easy. Maybe it could be that easy if it weren’t for funding—funding that is in short supply, funding that is dealt out depending on numbers of people affected by any given problem.
Funding. Funding something usually requires statistics, yes? Which brings us back to the CNN report and the Justice Department definitional change of rape.
Statistics are everything. In today’s world, should you want to gain the political leverage and power needed to get government funding, grant money, friends in high places, you need data.
When one is dealing with government funding, there is often only a limited amount available. Getting that funding is a priority and thus there are competitions to make sure Group A gets what Group A deserves, even if it is at the expense of Group B. This in and of itself bothers me because it creates a division between people. Why should A in one part of the world get more money than B in another? Because A’s number of issues is bigger?
Or because B had it’s moment? Is it because the country with the money is allied more strongly with the country that has A and at odds with the country that needs B? Is it because A has better PR? Stronger lobbyists? Better stats? Cultural dynamics in place as well, that cause A to be a better recipient of funding that B?
Most likely, all of these things account. This is why we might see (trigger warning for extreme examples of sexual violence) Ugandan men getting little to no treatment for rapes incurred through the Congo Wars, for example.
That’s politics for you. It is never about an equal distribution of resources. There are quantitative barriers in place for qualitative experiences. I don’t know how that changes, save with dogged, loud, fierce political action. And ironically, actual accurate statistics.
But then, as I’ve said, I’m not sure we’ve ever, at least in the U.S., collected truly accurate stats on incidents of sexual assaults across multiple variables (ages, genders, races). Can we actually get those stats? The real ones? Is it possible to define real at all?
If you have them, share them, please!
Data can be collected in a number of ways, by a wide variety of people and used for a multitude of things. Sometimes the same data can be used against itself. The dynamics are such right now, and feelings and tensions are so high between the MRA and Feminist communities, that I fear no one would believe factual information if it were even collected, that the Bell Curve of Truth would be ripped asunder depending on who disagreed with it, leaving the people whose stories made up that Curve floating in the void.
And again, I call bullshit on that.
Is there no way to throw the poles and group-think ego out the windows and deal with the cumulative and collective human guilt/shame/bad feelings/defensiveness? To support the idea if anyone is utilizing sexual violence as a way to control, manipulate, torture or dominate anyone, whether on a date or in time of war, it’s a bloody bad thing?
That human beings should not use our genitals as weapons?
That any political group that covers up the human rights abuse of others for their own ends is actually part of the problem?
What do we want, people? Do we want to do things the same old ways, fighting over definitions to get funding to prove points, or do we actually want to make a substantive social and cultural change in which human beings can live lives without fear of sexual assault and abuse and have justice for those who experience it? And can we do one without the other?
Getting the most accurate facts and stats on hand would be one good way to start. I’m totally on board with including envelopment if it means getting stats to focus on stopping rape. Looking past stats towards the bigger pictures of how social structures support war or violence or prisons would be another way. Revamping how we do or don’t talk about sexuality with our partners, families and children would be yet another. Dealing with a culture that places more value on corporations and stock holders than education and keeping people well fed (thus leading to crime and poverty and profitable prisons!) would be yet another.
It can’t be poles. It can’t be MRA vs Feminists.
Maybe that’s heresy. I just don’t have a lot of tolerance for poles right now. I envision these social justice moments more as a sphere-like wheel with spokes all connecting to each other and influencing each other.
To do this work, which is vital, moral work, there needs to be room for everyone at the table to help expand the continuum of dialogue around sexuality, peace, gender, and stopping violence. To look at the biggest picture possible and to make the biggest change.
If that’s heresy, I’m all for it.