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How Not To Sexually Assault or Harass Someone

January 17, 2018

The ‘Me Too’ movement was started by Tarana Burke, a USA-based activist, in 2007.  It was when Alyssa Milano, a USA-based actor, tweeted Me Too as a hashtag that it gained traction in the media, and one cannot fail to have seen the newspaper reports, social media articles and publicity surrounding the hashtag and the testimonies of those who have experienced assault and/or harassment.

Myriad are the excuses/reasons/woe-is-me-I-didn’t-know posts and validating posts popping up from nowhere.  How dare we change the rules?!  They didn’t KNOW they were assaulting or harassing someone, it wasn’t thought of then.

Excuses don’t wash with me.  Racism used to be legal and encouraged, people didn’t know it was wrong then either, until it was (although some still don’t know but that’s a separate though intersecting blog, and specifically affected the #MeToo campaign as it didn’t get popularised until white people started doing so and what’s all that crap about anyway, black women are far more at risk statistically and we ignore their plight due to our white privilege…? I digress, as this could get very TL/DR).

So, let’s go through some of the excuses and I’ll explain why they are utter bullshit misconceived.  The following are paraphrased quotes unless otherwise indicated:

  • “Men don’t know where the line is anymore.”

Then listen to what is being said, listen to how behaviours have made people feel, note that the line is moving, and act accordingly.

  • “we (men) are afraid to hug women now.”

You mean you used to go up to random women and hug them without asking them if they wanted a hug?  This behaviour was never acceptable!  If you are afraid, just ask if you can hug them; they will either say yes or no.  However, if you are in a position of power over them (teacher, Professor, boss, Human Resources manager etc.) don’t hug them.  Ever.

  • “Regretting it after the fact doesn’t make it rape.” – this was a response made to someone who had been drugged and incapacitated.

Regret doesn’t make it rape.  Drugging and incapacitating someone, does.  Are you sure the story you are being told is about regret, because it may very well be about undue pressure and coercion given the context.

  • “(she) failed to say no clearly.”

Define ‘clearly’?  How clearly is clearly?  Do you mean that it has to be a loud, emphatic, vocalised ‘no’ or it doesn’t count? That is very problematic; what about women who cannot speak, or speak a different language, or who indicate ‘no’ through body language (freezing, pushing away, moving away, lack of reciprocation)?  You may not be hearing a ‘no’ but it is very possible one is being communicated.  It is your responsibility to ensure you are receiving a clear and enthusiastic ‘yes’.  That goes for everyone involved in a sexual encounter.

  • “(she) failed to remove herself from a situation that she admitted has happened to her repeatedly in the past yet she expected a different outcome”- this is in reference to incidents which were not with the same person.

Fear can be a very powerful immobiliser, as can shame and embarrassment.  The onus at the moment is on the victim to take responsibility for their actions.   What we are trying to do is to put the responsibility on both parties, on the instigator as well as the instigatee.  The same situation may occur, but if it is not with the same person is it really the same situation?

  • “(she) admits that she was vague in her responses.”

Then the correct response would be to ask for clarity and clarification, not press on ahead regardless on the off-chance she’s into it.  Whatever it is.

  • “(she) failed to take responsibility for her own actions and lack of action”.

As did the perpetrator.  This is victim-blaming 101.

  • “why did she go to his apartment on the first date if she was not interested in sex?”

Why wouldn’t she?  I truly don’t understand this one.  Entering into someone’s home is not consent to sexual activity of any kind.  You could wander into someone’s bedroom, sit on the bed and chat and STILL it would not be consent to any form of sexual activity.  Consent should not be implied, it must be overt.

  • “If I agree to go to a man’s home, or a hotel, or invite him to my home on a first date, I am fully aware that I am signalling that I am interested in sex.”

You may be signalling you are interested.  That does not mean everyone is signalling they are interested in sex, nor that you are unable to change your mind.  We are talking about guidelines as to how not to sexually assault or harass someone, and that means a basic assumption that consent must be clearly given, not signalled by agreeing to go to someone’s home, hotel or your own home.

  • “whatever happened to ‘stop or I’m going to knock you in your nuts?’”

The threat of physical violence against anyone who is already assaulting or harassing you is just as likely to escalate the situation as to get you out of it.  This is basically asking a person who may be terrified to threaten violence against the person who is terrifying them.  It puts the responsibility for stopping the behaviour on the victim, not the perpetrator.

  • “Is this really sexual assault? I can tell you this isn’t a case I’d bring to trial” – quote from a former US Prosecution Attorney.

Given that the vast majority of cases of rape or assault, or even harassment, are not reported, and even those which are tend not to be prosecuted due to the ‘he said/she said’ nature of events, questioning whether something would go to trial and then deeming it not to have happened simply because it would not go to trial is not an acceptable argument to me.  It’s behaviours we need to change, maybe then more might get prosecuted, or less assault/harassment might happen.

  • She previously “had engaged in consensual sex with the …”

Prior consent is not blanket consent.  There is no such thing.  This is how people are trapped into abusive relationships.  No can be said at any time, and must be respected.

  • “if people really cared about the issue, they would call an outside investigator” – i.e. it should have been reported to the relevant authority or it is not assault/harassment.

See my response to the US Prosecution Attorney, above.

  • “a woman will turn down a man’s advances, purely to see if the man is interested enough to keep persuing (sic)” – direct quote.

Then it is the responsibility of the man not to pursue.  If the woman turns down a man, that is the decision and the statement that is to be respected.  If she didn’t mean it, that’s her responsibility and her loss.  Assume the turning down of advances is the truth.  That way you definitely won’t assault/harass or even rape someone.

  • Anyone who has posted or hashtagged ‘Not All Men’.

Yes, we know.  That’s not the point, because Yes, All Women.  Don’t be that person.  That person is part of the problem.  Be a part of the solution.

A recent story concerning a US-American comedian, sums the situation up quite succinctly, in my opinion: “(him) It was fun meeting you last night.” “Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me”. (She) responded. “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances.” She explains why she is telling him how she felt: “I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home.” “I’m so sad to hear this,” he responded. “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.””

Hopefully he has learned from this, and it seems he has.  Hopefully many will learn from this.  It is not an action that I believe should necessitate legal due process, but it is definitely a learning moment.

Many people may not realise they are hurting someone, such as the man who ‘liked’ the #MeToo facebook post of the person he had assaulted, and that is because we are socialised according to our gender with regard to expectations of sexual behaviour and attitudes.

The Independent quoted a study called Violence & Gender (Sarah R. Edwards, PhD, Kathryn A. Bradshaw, MA, and Verlin B. Hinsz, PhD, 2015) which “found multiple cases of men who did not think that rape was rape.  In their findings, 31.7 per cent of men also admitted that in a consequence-free situation they would force a woman to have sex.”  In their minds, forced to have sex does not equate to rape, nor does any non-penetrative act equate to sexual assault or harassment.  Just to make it clear, the question asked referred to ‘forced sex’, not merely ‘sex’.  If they don’t know what rape is, is it any surprise that they don’t know what sexual assault or harassment is?

We need to ensure that at all times informed, enthusiastic, updating consent is repeatedly obtained. Here’s a handy diagram you can print and keep with you, just in case:

I’m also providing this save, cut-out and keep card with regard to how not to rape.  Or, you could print it and put it up in your local bar, student union, pub, restaurant, library, halls of residence, anywhere where people meet:

Read.Learn.Live By.

Courtesy of, from where you can obtain posters/cards

I am not asking for the criminalisation of acts or the prosecution of those being named in various media outlets (well, not all of them, the acts described are myriad and some most definitely should be prosecuted).  I’m not asking for pillorying of people who may have assaulted or harassed people in the past, without knowing.

I am making a plea for the teaching and use of informed, enthusiastic, updating consent by all parties.  If there is any doubt, discontinue your actions/words/intimations.  If you are at all unsure or confused, stop.  There is no excuse, nor should there be, for harassing/assaulting someone!  This applies to everyone and it’s time pleading ignorance was no longer an acceptable way of getting away with it.

If the action/words/intimations cause pain or hurt, then stop.  This is a re-education, past mistakes are in the past.  What is important now is how we choose to behave in the future.  #MeToo has shown how widespread and varied sexual misconduct can be.

Don’t choose a false sense of entitlement over the real possibility of causing pain.  You may make mistakes, but  learn from them, take responsibility for them and move forward being better, for all our sakes.


From → Ideology

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