A terribly backwards take on the Franken resignation


Ugh, New Yorker.

The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply, Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial accusations to Franken’s resignation, is based on the premise that Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be policing non-criminal behavior related to sex.

It’s not at all about sex. It’s about consent and respect. It’s about treating women as people.

If Al Franken had been participating in discreet wild orgies with consenting adult men and women, it would be fine — it would be none of our business, would have harmed no one, and would have been irrelevant to his position as a senator. I’m not interested in “policing non-criminal behavior related to sex” at all. The concern is the casual abuse of power, the expression of mocking contempt for a colleague, and the neglect of that all-important consent.

I don’t know why this is so hard to get across to some people. Your sexual behavior is personal and private, and as long as it only involves consenting adults, we shouldn’t care. It’s the Right that wants to bust into your bedroom and arrest you for your activities there.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been very disappointed and surpried by Masha Gessen’s articles about the sexual harassment stuff. I’ve spent much of the last year reading and listening to everything I can find of her concerning Russia and Trump, because I think she’s absolutely magnificent on those topics. But this one is a very poor take.

    Still think she’s indispensible when it comes to the other subjects though

  2. analog2000 says

    What am I missing? Physically “forcing” someone to do anything is violent, and it is illegal. If these accusations are true, Al Franken sexually assaulted someone – and that is illegal. Anything else and you are getting into an argument about “levels” of sexual assault (penetration is worse than groping is worse than kissing, etc.). So this is not about sex – it is about “power, violence, and illegal acts.” What about “forcible kissing” is non-criminal? I suppose you could argue that the odds that he would actually be charged and convicted for this type of behavior is low, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t criminal.

  3. analog2000 says

    Seriously, can anyone explain this to me? Touching someone without their consent is assault – period. I have read this story a couple of times and even read some other articles about Franken, and I just don’t understand what is going on. Am I missing something super obvious? What about what he did isn’t illegal? Again, you could argue that it is extremely unlikely that any action would be taken against him, but it is illegal. I don’t want to compare his alleged behavior to jaywalking – but…. if I am jaywalking it is extremely unlikely I will be arrested or charged, but a probable lack of consequences does not change whether or not something is legal. Right? I feel like I’m in the twilight zone here……

  4. Dunc says

    That “non-criminal” quibble is one to watch for… The implication is that anything that doesn’t rise to the level of a prosecutable offense is hunky-dory, and it’s a close cousin of the idea that anything that can’t be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law can be disregarded… But it should be fairly obvious that there’s lot of skeevy shit that doesn’t rise to those levels, but should still give us pause. There’s a lot of gray between acceptable conduct and jail time. So yes, we should be interested in “policing non-criminal behavior related to sex” – and not just sex. Bad tippers and people who talk loudly at the theatre should have reason to fear social opprobrium, even if they face no risk of prosecution.

  5. zibble says

    Sorry, but Zibble’s gotta quibble here; the standard right now has nothing to do with consent. The standard now is consistency – that’s why Franken, with a fantastic voting record on gender issues, is going to resign over his personally creepy behavior, but barely anyone is demanding the resignation of Trump or Moore, not even the same fucking Democrats who spoke out against Franken.

    https://twitter.com/MSNBC/status/932768029187776514?s=17

    Does this shit make sense to anyone else?

  6. microraptor says

    zibble @6: That’s because everyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention already knows that Dump and Moore have no sense of shame or decency and therefore calling for their voluntary resignations is an exercise in futility. They’re saving their effort for the investigations that could turn up actual evidence of wrongdoing that could lead to them being forced out of office involuntarily.

  7. hotspurphd says

    “It’s not at all about sex. It’s about consent and respect. It’s about treating women as people.”
    #2 analogue 2000. “So this is not about sex – it is about “power, violence, and illegal acts.”
    Seems to me it is also about sex. Isn’t it? How is it not?

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    How is it not?

    If it’s just another microagression to keep women down. That has been explained here very often.

  9. says

    @ 8:

    Seems to me it is also about sex.

    The men who do these things have partners; they have options. Short form: if they wanted consensual sex or fun times, it was easily available to them. Helping yourself to someone else’s body is not about sex per se; it is about dominance, about power, about control, and about humiliation. This is one of the quickest ways to humiliate a person, and that applies to all genders.

    If someone grabs your dick* and squeezes, helping themselves to your bits, maybe with a forced kiss and a strange tongue jammed down your throat, would sex be on your mind?
     
    *or whatever bits apply.

  10. hotspurphd says

    #9 nerd.” If it’s just another microagression to keep women down. “ yes, another micro aggression having to do with sex. People say rape isn’t about sax. The rapist with the erection would disagree.
    “That has been explained here very often.” Oh, it must be true then.

    10 Caine . Yes much of this behavior is to humiliate people. It can also be used to get off sexually. In The example you give sex would not be on my mind, but still someone grabbing a woman’s breast very well may be having sexual thoughts and feelings . I don’t understand the resistance to seeing these behaviors as having to do with aggression AND sex. With some people they most certainly are, I think.

  11. zibble says

    @7 microraptor
    Nuh uh, that doesn’t fly. It’s not just that they aren’t calling for resignations. It’s that someone asked Gillibrand “should Trump resign?” and, for reasons genuinely unfathomable to me, she can’t just fucking say “yes”.

    Also, we have to update our political analyses to reflect something close to reality. Did the GOP’s strategy of fighting Obama tooth and nail over every little bullshit hurt them? No, it led to them setting the terms of debate since 2010. This alleged Dem strategy of concentrating on one fight is *not working*. Every person in a position of power or authority has a responsibility right now to make it clear this isn’t normal or acceptable, but it’s unbelievably demoralizing to hear the people we put into power to fight this assault on our families to hem and haw about Trump or to flat out say “even if we have the votes, impeachment is off the table” (thanks Pelosi!)

  12. consciousness razor says

    hotspurphd:

    I don’t understand the resistance to seeing these behaviors as having to do with aggression AND sex. With some people they most certainly are, I think.

    Ugh, I don’t think we should have to go through this over and over.

    Rape is immoral. With this, there is no puritanical claim being made that sex is wrong, that rape should be thought of as one variety of this larger category of bad behavior known as “sex.” Because the claim is not that sex is bad.

    There are many people who believe it is, and they are all wrong. People who engage in sex are not depraved sinners or however these people may want to describe them. The solution is not to take a vow of chastity, find Jesus or whatever the fuck. It’s not that we must purge ourselves of such feelings like Vulcans. We should not be “policing” sexual behavior, as the quoted author suggested, not as long as there is consent.

    That is “what rape is about,” which is unfortunately a misleading way to refer to what is wrong about it: you must have a person’s consent to do certain things. Not doing so is violating their autonomy, in the same way that a doctor could violate a patient’s consent to a medical procedure, which of course has nothing to do with sex.

    You might be wondering this: What precisely goes on in a doctor’s mind, if/when they do that? It’s a question. But it doesn’t matter what that may be, because no matter what it is, it is wrong if they don’t have such consent. (To put it very simply, and I’m not going to delve into all of the other issues concerning patients’ rights.)

    Similarly, the moral question about rape does not depend on the deepest inner workings of the rapist’s own mind. Were they attracted by the person’s body? Were they interested in starting a committed relationship? Were they in love? What motivated them? Irrelevant. It doesn’t fucking matter in the slightest how those questions are answered. I’m sexually attracted to people all of the time, feel and want all sorts of things, etc., yet notice how I’m not forcing myself upon anybody, because I shouldn’t be.

    The problem depends on the other person, the one being violated, since they haven’t consented to something which nobody has a right to impose on them. You should be concerned about that person’s perspective, not the rapist’s. That’s what the rapist failed to do, and that’s what people attempting to address the problem need to understand.

    They don’t need to understand anything about sex or sexuality, since that isn’t a problem. Some notion of chastity had better not be on their mind. Whether the people are married is irrelevant, as well as whether they are straight or gay. And the list of bullshit goes on and on. All of that ridiculous shit is completely off the table, and the solutions proposed by such bullshitters are all extremely misguided and counterproductive. That ought to be very clear, as soon as you focus on what the problem actually is.

  13. hotspurphd says

    13consciousness razor
    This seems to be a problem with the definition of sex. You seem to be saying if the person being assaulted is not consenting then it’s not about sex. Well, it’s not about consensual sex but for the man who presses his hard penis against a woman without her consent he is experiencing it as sexual. Ask him. Ask the rapist. An erection is by definition sexual. Masturbation is sexual. At least in my experience. No other person is necessary.

  14. consciousness razor says

    You’re not listening, or you just don’t want to listen. I think I explained very clearly why I don’t care about that. We are talking about rape, which is a crime, a social issue, a problem that of course we need to understand in order to correct/mitigate it. What a rapist thinks and feels has no place here.

    What do their victims think and feel? They weren’t consenting, and that is precisely the issue. Suppose you were going to teach boys and girls about this for the first time. What is the lesson they need to learn? It is not that rape is a sexual thing, because rapists may be experiencing something sexual (and by the way, we should be ignoring their victims’ experiences). That tells us nothing of any value.

    Besides, sexual feelings often have nothing to do with it for the rapist anyway. I was sexually assaulted as a young teenager, by two other straight dudes. I’ve always been certain they were doing it simply to harm me. I got away from them before it could have led to anything worse, but the point is that this is not an unusual story.

    The abuse I experienced, why I can tell you that it was an assault against me, why it was approaching rape and not any other (perhaps innocuous) type of situation…. none of that has anything to do with whatever happened to be running through the minds of those two shitheads at the time. Put whatever fucking thoughts you want into their heads, and it changes nothing about what was running through mine. I’m sure they’d want all of it to be under their control as well, since they could define it all away as if we were working on a new dictionary. But it isn’t up to them and that’s not what we’re doing.

  15. hotspurphd says

    All I am saying is that while it is an assault it is also sexual as I defined it. It is different than if you were punched and kicked. It is sexual for the rapist . I don’t know why this is so hard. It seems so obvious.

  16. consciousness razor says

    All I am saying is that while it is an assault it is also sexual as I defined it. It is different than if you were punched and kicked. It is sexual for the rapist.

    Except when it isn’t. In my case, it was only to harm me. That’s what my attackers wanted out of it. Not sexual pleasure for themselves, just violence. That’s all. I knew these people years before and years after, and I know what the fuck I’m talking about. You’ll get no more details, but do not even fucking try to tell me what you presuppose must have really happened, on account of your useless fucking definitions.

    You said you didn’t understand the resistance. Is that beginning to change? Are you seriously going to tell me that none of the things I explained had already occurred to you? Or did those not suffice somehow? I’ve read your comment here many times in the past, and I don’t recall you being so obtuse about anything else. So what’s the fucking deal?

    Here are some things I don’t understand. Do you think your “obvious” point is more essential to recognizing and dealing with the problem, compared to anything that I (or many others like me) have had to say about it? What the fuck could possibly make you think that? Is there anything that would make you suspect that what you’ve been saying is at best a distraction, or that it’s a “terribly backwards” perspective as PZ put it? Are you even trying to comprehend why things like that would be resisted, or is that not really what you’re trying to do?

  17. Mark Dowd says

    Oh my fucking god how thick can one person be? Pardon my French, but I can only handle so much stupid at a time.

    This shit isn’t about sex. It’s about sexual assault, like rape and molestation. It’s not the sex part of it that’s pissing people off, it’s the fucking assault part.

    Sex, in and of itself, should be an easy thing to get for a man of wealth. If a normal relationship is not available, pay a prostitute. Sexual assault comes from a desire to force yourself on another person, not a desire for the physical actions of sex itself. Even if the perps are jizzing their pants at the thought of molesting their targets, it’s not the sexual part of these actions that people are focusing on, it’s the fucking assault part. I don’t know how else I can explain this to you.

    Also, pay attention to the context. The New Yorker article is not doing an analysis of Franken’s motivations, but about the accusations and the “conversation”. In other words, it’s explicitly about the accusers, not the accused. The accusations and the conversation is not about sex, but (say it with me again) sexual assualt.

    You keep trying to split hairs on some stupid technicality to try and prove that you are technically right about some point, but every post you’ve made has been a useless unnecessary pointless trite vapid vacuous insipid (I’ll put my thesaurus away now) distraction from the actual point. It’s like if someone becomes parapalegic and confined to a wheelchair and you tell them “you’re going to have a hard time reaching the top shelf at the grocery store.” Technically true, but not even remotely fucking close to the biggest issues at hand.

    It’s dumb-asses like you completely missing the fucking point that lead to stupid shit like William O’Neill (Democratic candidate for Ohio governor) to brag about his sexual exploits on Facebook because “It’s a matter of parody suggesting that, as a governor candidate, I assume I am the next target of the media frenzy”. AHHHHHH!!!! SHUT THE FUCK UP SHUT THE FUCK UP SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!

    That’s not to say that pure sex scandals don’t exist. You want to know one that’s still current? The Russian hooker tape. That is a scandal that is purely about sex, and not much else (there is a Russia connection, but that takes a back seat to the pee-pee part). All the fuss over that is nothing more than kink shaming, and it sickens me to think that we live in a culture where the existence of that tape would be more damaging to Trump than anything else that he has been accused of so far, even though it should be the least scandalous thing.

    but barely anyone is demanding the resignation of Trump or Moore, not even the same fucking Democrats who spoke out against Franken.
    https://twitter.com/MSNBC/status/932768029187776514?s=17
    Does this shit make sense to anyone else?

    So you’re saying politicians (even Democrats!) are shitty, hypocritical people more concerned with their own political power than consistent and ethical principles? When the fuck did that become a surprise?

  18. Mark Dowd says

    I’ll just reiterate this one point in a slightly less ranty way:

    All I am saying is that while it is an assault it is also sexual as I defined it. It is different than if you were punched and kicked. It is sexual for the rapist . I don’t know why this is so hard. It seems so obvious.

    You’re the one missing the point. Even reading just the quote PZ pulled out of the New Yorker article, this is about the accusations and the conversation. The motives and desires of the molester are not the focus, it is about the harmful actions suffered by the victims. The harmful actions were not just sex, but sexual assault. Sex only comes in as an aggravating factor; because sex is usually an intimate, personal, private, and emotional activity, sexual assault can be more psychologically traumatizing than non-sexual physical assault.

    I don’t know why you’re trying so hard to focus on a mostly irrelevant part of the situation, why the primary issue is so blindingly obvious.

  19. says

    @ 16:

    All I am saying is that while it is an assault it is also sexual as I defined it. It is different than if you were punched and kicked. It is sexual for the rapist .

    NO, it. is. not. Usually, when I see someone so focused on “hey, it’s a sex thing”, they are trying like hell to justify something they did. I don’t know what your particular problem is, but you are beyond creepy with this shit.

    Assault is the intent to harm, full stop. That includes all the ways in which someone can assault another sexually. Again, most of the people we’re discussing have avenues for consensual sex, this is not about any one of them standing around, thinking “oh hey, horny, I’ll help myself to ____”. These instances are an expression of power. These instances are an expression of dominance. These instances are an expression of control. It’s not about sex.

  20. says

    @hotspurphd

    I think you misinterpreted what PZ was saying.

    When PZ said “it” is not at all about sex, I believe you should mentally replace the word “it” with: “the criteria that were met, causing people to be upset”. Or, rewording the whole sentence: “whether or not something is sexual is not at all the criteria being used by people who are upset about this”. Clearly this is the truth, because the actual criteria (consent) applies not just to sexual misconduct, but also non-sexual assault, non-sexual harassment, and so on.

    @15, consciousness razor

    We are talking about rape, which is […] a problem that of course we need to understand in order to correct/mitigate it. What a rapist thinks and feels has no place here.

    I’m pretty sure those two statements are flatly contradictory.

  21. says

    Also, the PZs following paragraph spells out the logic too. Sex would be fine. He then says “The concern is the casual abuse of power, the expression of mocking contempt for a colleague, and the neglect of that all-important consent”. He didn’t say “it” this time, he said “the concern”, so it’s clearer. And it fits my interpretation of what he meant by “it”.

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    Brian Pansky @22:

    I’m pretty sure those two statements are flatly contradictory.

    No, they’re not. If a culture/society allows bad behaviour, there will always be those who behave badly. Because they can. Who cares what they think and feel? You stop them from hurting people by establishing that this is not OK.

  23. Onamission5 says

    @Brain Pansky #22:

    You seem to be making a claim that the way to understand rape is from the perspective of the rapist. Surely that’s not what you mean to say, seeing as how it is better understood from the POV of the victims, as consciousness razor has more than adequately explained.

  24. says

    @25, Onamission5

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

    You seem to be making a claim that the way to understand rape is from the perspective of the rapist.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Maybe I need to know what you mean by “understand rape”?

    As for the claim(s) I am making:

    Explicitly, I made a claim about the logical consistency of two things consciousness razor said.

    CR said rape is a problem we need to understand in order to solve (this seems sensible, see my writing about problem solving here and here). Then CR said “What a rapist thinks and feels has no place here” which I interpret as meaning: “we don’t need to know what the rapist thinks or feels” or “we don’t need to understand rapists”.

    It’s possible I just misinterpreted.

    As for your phrase “the way to understand rape is from the perspective of the rapist”, first of all, that leaves no room for understanding multiple perspectives simultaneously. But second, a rapist’s perspective of themselves and what they did can be (and probably is) flawed and inaccurate. So while their perspective may be useful information for us during our problem solving efforts, it probably couldn’t (especially on its own) be called “understanding rape” in any accurate sense.

    Hopefully this helps to clear things up.

  25. says

    Sex and power. Sea AND power. Always. It’s implicit in the fact that the harasser and the assaulter are actors. They act on the harassed and the victim. Ignoring the power is not possible since you have to go beyond mere anatomy in thought. The power is in the relationships between people.

  26. consciousness razor says

    CR said rape is a problem we need to understand in order to solve (this seems sensible, see my writing about problem solving here and here). Then CR said “What a rapist thinks and feels has no place here” which I interpret as meaning: “we don’t need to know what the rapist thinks or feels” or “we don’t need to understand rapists”.

    It’s possible I just misinterpreted.

    Rob made the point clearly in #24.

    Look, if we were investigators trying to find and apprehend a specific criminal, that’s a situation when the problems we’re facing include understanding their motives, how and what they think, etc. I didn’t mean to suggest nobody needs to do things like that, under any circumstances.

    But what is our problem? If it “has no place here,” then where is that? What’s the context of my statement? We’re discussing it in very abstract terms on a blog. We’re in a society that should be serious about improving itself, as a way of solving a social problem in general, which is unlike solving specific crimes. We’re adults who can try to influence each other, our children, and so forth. Identifying why it is harmful (which is one thing we need, in order for us to become properly socialized) requires understanding non-consent on the part of the victims, as well as of course the implications of that. It doesn’t require knowing anything about a rapist’s perspective.

  27. says

    CR:

    It doesn’t require knowing anything about a rapist’s perspective.

    No, it does not. It’s also quite stupid to attempt to lump all rapists under one term or category. Motivations would vary from one offender to the next, so it’s moronic to focus on that. It’s also yet another way to divert attention from victims, like we really need men coming up with yet more reasons to ignore victims.

    (I know you grok all that, CR, just emphasizing.)

  28. hotspurphd says

    19mark dowd
    “I don’t know why you’re trying so hard to focus on a mostly irrelevant part of the situation, why the primary issue is so blindingly obvious.”

    I am not focusing on the sexual aspect of the situation. All I have said is that in SEXUAL assault , sex is a factor. Otherwise it would be called assault. You all have said many things I agree with. Don’t see what you find creepy about the idea of sex being involved in sexual assault. Why is it called sexual assault.

  29. chigau (違う) says

    also
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    It makes comments with quotes easier to parse

  30. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    All I have said is that in SEXUAL assault , sex is a factor. Otherwise it would be called assault.

    Thanks presuppositional evidenceneless asshole of admitting it is ASSAULT. You lose, as always. Stop playing, and you will quit losing.
    It is all about the about the assault and aggression against women, with the sex as the tool. You are too stupid/ignorant/presuppositional/misogynist to acknowledge facts,
    Bye-bye loser. You want to win? Show third party evidence. Until you take to legitimate parties outside of yourself, you will be dismissed, like now.

  31. mountainbob says

    Much/most/nearly all the history of sexual harassment comes down to the quote from another’s blog entry:
    “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Thucydides
    May it be that a new era is dawning. Bob – 2017

  32. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    All I have said is that in SEXUAL assault , sex is a factor. Otherwise it would be called assault.

    1) There is a distinction to be made between “sex” in the sense of “having sex with someone” implying mutually volitional activity and “sexual” in the sense of, to a first approximation, “involving the genitals.”
    2) The “assault” is the relevant part.

  33. says

    It’s amazing how hotspuphd will always straight go for the perspective of the man doing the harm. cr has done a marvelous job explaining why this is wrong.
    It only serves to muddy the water. Just like when newspapers will write about sexual assault in terms of juicy sexual transgressions against common morality. Some weeks ago there was a case in Germany where a teacher had invited some of his female students (14 and 15) home, got them drunk and raped them. And when he was sentenced, the newspapers wrote about “teacher sentenced after orgy with students” and such, making it sound like a poor man seduced by sexy teenagers and punished because of puritanical views on sexuality.
    This is what focussing on the “sexual” part means.
    I don’t care if all the men who ever groped and assaulted me got an orgasm out of it. I’m pretty sure most of them have long forgotten that they ever met and touched me.
    I haven’t.

  34. sundiver says

    Giliell. One word. Consent. Period. How thick does one have be to not comprehend the concept?

  35. hotspurphd says

    Admitting that sex is part of sexual assault does not mean “focusing “on it. Just including it. Your attempts to exclude sex are strained, forced. According to your definitions a personal who masturbates is not committing a sexual act. Sex can mean different things and has varying degrees of importance . You objection to my take is based on false inference which I am unable to overcome.

  36. says

    According to your definitions a personal who masturbates is not committing a sexual act.

    If there was ever an assertion without evidence, this is it.
    Also, nobody “excluded” the sexual part of it. We’Re saying it is wrong to focus on it and act like it’s about sex and transgressing sexual morals instead of the violence is wrong and only helps perpetrators. You use a framework that focuses on the assailant, his wants and needs. The only one benefiting from this are assailants.

  37. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Horspurphd, only with consent by all people is it sex. Without consent, it is simply assault of the person who doesn’t give consent. If you masturbate, you gave yourself consent. Such bloviating shows you have no real idea of what you are talking about.
    With assault, the why doesn’t matter, That is why you are getting nowhere other than being perceived as just another misogynist asshole who fails to understand the problem, and has nothing cogent to say, but says it anyway repeatedly. If you don’t want that, you do have the ability to just stay quiet when the topic comes up.

  38. hotspurphd says

    Horspurphd, only with consent by all people is it sex

    Sure, but I dont say sex, I say sexual as a way of describing an aspect of what is called sexual assault. That’s why it’s called SEXUAL assault.

  39. kupo says

    @hotspurphd
    Do you also go onto articles about assault with, say, knives and insist on people taking into consideration the aspect of knives in the assault and how the assailant feels when they use a knife? The joy that stabbing brings them?

    Rape is not about sex. I can see that you can’t understand that erections don’t always equate to sexual desire (do you also believe men can’t be raped?), but it happens to be true. And rape and other forms of sexual assault don’t always involve an erect penis. So why focus on that?

  40. savant says

    Hi, everyone! I’m a mostly-lurker, rarely-commenter who’s been here forever. Please correct or comment on anything I say! ’cause I’m about to say.

    @hotspurphd, hi! You seem to be having semantic issues, let me try to help. @consciousness razor and others have dove pretty deep into this already, I’ll just give a go at restating their excellent points.

    There is a difference between sex, sexual activity, sexual arousal and sexual assault. Sexual arousal is the physical feeling of sexual pleasure. Sexual activities are actions that are intended to result in sexual pleasure. Sex is when two (or more) people decide to engage in sexual activities together – note that the participants have to be willing. Sexual assault is the use of sexual activities during an assault.

    Notice that the definition of sexual assault doesn’t include sex – just sexual activities. Sex is not involved in sexual assault. Sexual activities are, which may or may not result in sexual arousal, but sex itself never comes into it.

    This might feel like it’s just semantic games, but it’s really not – being able to recognize the difference here is vitally important in not raping people. The fact that so many people find it so hard to understand demonstrates just how deeply rooted the problem is – our own language carries the problem within it, in the similarities of the words.

    Now, let me get ahead of some criticism here. You might suggest that sex is involved in sexual assault – the word’s in there after all, I’m just playing games with words. So let me outline a parenthetical to demonstrate the differences. Trigger warning, description of mildly rapey behaviours. A guy, in his house, watching a neighbour undress through a window and masturbating to it – the stereotypical peeping tom. Is he experiencing sexual arousal? Sure. Is it a sexual activity? Since it’s intended to induce sexual arousal, sure, yes.

    Are they having sex?

    No, of course not. Why? Because the neighbour isn’t an aware, willing participant. If they were aware of it and were willingly doing it, you could arguably call that sex, but they’re not, and no one would think that the peeping tom is having sex with their neighbour.

    So, what if the neighbour is the peeping tom’s secretary, and he asks her to come into his office and masturbates in front of them? How is that different? If he takes it further, demands a more active role from his neighbour? Forces his neighbour? That’s an assault. And it still isn’t sex.

    Sex has nothing to do with sexual assault, and suggesting that it does only demonstrates how deeply entrenched rape is in our culture. Sex requires willing participation of the people involved or it isn’t sex. Talking about the sexual arousal or sexual experiences that the rapist feels because of that assault does nothing but provides a cover of legitimacy that our society has leaned on forever – he couldn’t help himself, he just needed sex so badly.

    I hope this helps you understand why PZ pointed out that sexual assault isn’t sex, and why you’re getting raked over the coals for suggesting otherwise. It’s not, you’re wrong, and that viewpoint is harmful.

    Thanks for listening, and I welcome all corrections. I’m a bit bleary at the moment so am probably wrong in a bunch of places!

  41. consciousness razor says

    I don’t think hotspurphd is very interested in listening, but I’ll say it again. The assholes who attacked me were not aroused. They held me down and wanted to humiliate me, bully me, intimidate me, overpower me, control me…. Body parts were used as weapons, with me as the unwilling target. I was tortured, and they were torturing. That’s not how sex works, and that’s not what sex is like. There was nothing sexual about it for any of us, in terms of what we experienced, only the methods they used to accomplish these things which are what characterized it as sexual assault instead of something else.

    That’s all relevant and accurate information about what actually happened to me, what matters about what happened to me, why it shouldn’t have happened, and what needs to change to prevent it from happening again. If in this context there’s supposed to be something more important to discuss than any of that, then I have no clue what the fuck that could possibly be.

    Many other people have of course suffered quite different forms of rape, harassment, and so forth. (Speaking for myself again, I’ll bring up countless cases of verbal abuse that involved sexuality in one way or another, especially in childhood. Kids can be awfully brutal.)

    And how do I know anything about all of those other experiences, hotspurphd? Because I listen to people, honest and competent human beings, who know about their own lives better than I do and on occasion have surprising things to say. It’s not because I derived it from anything in a dictionary, or because I think my preconceptions are more important or more relevant than anything they can tell me about the real world.

  42. Saad says

  43. says

    So you terribly want to talk about the sexual part in secual assault, hotspurphd? Let’s do it.
    I will agree that for most men who sexually assault people there is a sexual pleasure in it, so lets look at it.
    As it has been noted, it’s not that these men, especially the high profile cases lack access to sex. They often have willing and consenting partners. And while I agree that it isn’t sex workers’ job to deal with the creeps so the rest of us don’t have to, they exist. If you take Weinstein, I guess the question “could you watch while I masturbate?” wouldn’t make it into a “22 strange things clients asked sex workers to do” list on Buzzfeed. So why do it to unwilling women?
    Or there was the one guy who groped me while passing me on a bike. How much physical pleasure can there have been derived from the contact of his hand with my fully clothed butt for about 1 second?
    So if this is what these men seek, what is the factor that turns them on? Oh, right, power. The fact that they are negating the other’s bodily autonomy, the fact that there is no consent, the very fact that this action is forced on the other and makes them a victim. The sexual part of sexual assault is all about violence and power as well, which makes every discussion that wants to make it about sex just flat out wrong.