Normalizing sexual violence

Here’s a sad finding from sociologists in gender studies – girls view sexual violence as normal.

(April 2014) – New evidence from the journal Gender & Society helps explain what women’s advocates have argued for years – that women report abuse at much lower rates than it actually occurs. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 44% of victims are under the age of 18, and 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

The study, “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse,” will appear in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, a top-ranked journal in Gender Studies and Sociology. The findings reveal that girls and young women rarely reported incidents of abuse because they regarded sexual violence against them as normal.

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews conducted by Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse. Often times they rationalized these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states:

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

See…this is why feminists are so widely seen as huge pains in the ass. It’s because we keep pointing out the badness of what most people view as normal. We keep trying to defamiliarize the “normal.”

The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men. In particular, the study pointed to how the law and popular media may lead to girls’ interpreting their abuse as normal.

I wondered about that a lot when I was navigating the street harassment in Paris as a teenager. It was so relentless and constant that it was clear all women in Paris must be familiar with it…so did they just view it as normal, and if so did that make them able to ignore it? I couldn’t imagine how that could work. I still can’t.

You know another thing that’s apparently viewed as “normal”? Bullying. Of course sexual violence is a form of bullying, but it’s not the only form. At any rate it’s terrible that such things become normalized. Feminism is going to continue to denormalize the “normal.”


  1. Kevin Kehres says

    Ah. I get it now.

    It’s your fault for not wanting things to stay nice and normal. The way god and Republicans intended.

    Shame on you.

  2. iknklast says

    I’ve often suspected that’s why we hear so much about priests abusing boys, but not girls, even though girls are being abused in churches at high rates. Abuse girls, it’s normal. Abuse boys, it’s perverted (and more titillating for a lot of people, unfortunately). I suspect it’s also seen as more traumatic for a boy to be used sexually by an adult male than for a girl – again, because it’s considered normal. So we hear a lot less about abuse of girls and women, because it’s “normal”.

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