I had an epiphany the other day. We were sitting on the lawn by the river, chuckling over the duck's antics and discussing the semantics of Sexual Violence. You see there's a sense that we don't all know what sexual violence means, or sexual assault, or sexual abuse for that matter - and there seemed to be pro's and con's to them all.
Sexual assault connotes a physical (ie leaving visible wounds) attack.
Sexual abuse connotes an ongoing (more than once) violation.
Sexual violence is too ambiguous or only depicts rape.
That last one was the break through for me. I regularly do Sexual Violence brainstorms with people trying to highlight the myriad ways that mostly women experience sexual violence every day. Generally the class get's "rape" right off, which I then explain to be specifically referring to unwanted/non-consensual penetration, and then there's inevitably a lull when I ask "what else?
Then the lightening bolt flashed. THIS is part of our job. This teaching that sexual violence is inclusive of ANY unwanted/non-consensual sexual act, that EVERY woman (and lots of men) has experienced some touch or comment that they did not want or ask for. It's not that we need to change the language, we need to share the language, and be really clear with what that language is describing. Sexual violence doesn't have to leave a bruise, but it always leaves a mark. I can remember - if not all the times, then how it felt - to walk down the street and have men make me feel unsafe. To have the guy at the bar not get the hint to remove his hand from my waist when I kept inching away. I remember the guys who tried to test my boundaries, see how far they could go before I would actually say "no". The guys who wouldn't pay attention to the signals before that.
It's not that I didn't know this before - that people don't think about these things all the time like I do, that people may not understand that sexual violence is more than just rape at first. I've been all along trying to teach people, show people, have these conversations. But it took me this long to realize that this is the JOB. It's frustrating that we can't assume that people know what sexual violence is, and that it's wrong, but I suppose that ignoring it can't be all that effective either.
So on my new flier, it looks like this:
"Sexual Violence is any sexual behavior that is unwanted or non-consensual. It can be physical, verbal, a gesture, or other communication including visual or electronic which is unwanted by the recipient or affected bystander. One type of sexual violence is rape and the CDC estimates that in the US 1/6 women and 1/33 men will experience rape or attempted rape during their lives, but when we consider all of the other ways that people experience and are impacted by sexual violence we see that rape is only one example of sexual violence. Every woman (and lots of men) has at some time been touched or solicited in a way that was unwanted and non-consensual."
*It's a work in progress so feel free to comment!