August 3, 2011

Ranking the “Seriousness” of Sexual Assaults

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:34 pm by sacetalks

The other day I was speaking to a business owner about participating in “Work a Day for SACE”. I showed him one of the cards that people were handing out about the fundraiser/public awareness event. He quickly skimmed the back and then asked about the statistics (1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men): “So what ‘counts’ as sexual assault? I mean, are they counting like, just unwanted touching?”

I thought about this question for a moment. Given the conversation we had been having before, the context told me that he wasn’t asking to be flippant about the issue; he really wanted to know. This was my response:

“I can understand why sometimes people wonder if the so-called ‘less serious’ assaults should ‘count’ as much as what are considered ‘more serious’ assault. And perhaps, for some people, unwanted touch or an unwanted kiss is not a big deal and they may not consider those experiences a sexual assault. That said, would you still think those things are ‘no big deal’ if it was your daughter, or your mom?”

I remember struggling with the same issue when I first became aware of sexual violence and the definition of what constituted sexual assault. It seemed obvious that being sexually penetrated against one’s will was “way worse” than an unwanted kiss or touch. Right?

Well, except when it’s a kid. Then maybe it could be worse. And the younger the victim is, the worse it is… right?

Okay then. So what’s the equivalent of forced penetration on an adult female for a newborn baby to endure?

At this point this logic becomes absurd. The issue shouldn’t be about which cases of sexual assault are more or less serious than others. The real issue is that every single person has the right to be safe from ANY and ALL unwanted sexual contact. Unwanted touch shouldn’t just be a big deal when it’s your baby boy or your elderly grandmother. The very fact that we rank order sexual assault cases by “seriousness” is an indicator that we live in a culture that victimizes so many people that we have come to a place where we make sense of the world by describing victims as “lucky” if their experience didn’t include every single violation included in the definition of sexual assault or accompanied by significant physical injuries.

To engage in dismissing or minimizing survivors’ experiences supports a culture in which sexual assault is assumed to be inevitable and acceptable. And that is something worth fighting against, even if the battle happens inside our own heads.

By Lily Tsui

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