My dear friend, Teri Ciacchi and I had lunch recently and as we caught up on each other’s lives we got into a discussion about consent, sexual assault and rape. Both of us realized that there are many degrees to all of these and how we understand the nuances of the differences between, for example, violent stranger rape, domestic sexual assault and what I call frat house rape. They all are horrendous and yet they all come from different intents. Violet stranger rape is not about sex (no matter what anyone says) but about power and pain. They use sex as a weapon to hurt and maim. Domestic sexual assault while can be about power and pain is usually more about control and maintaining that control and sadly may even come from a misguided type of love or affection (that DOES NOT justify the assault). Finally frat house rape is more about opportunity and privilege and is probably the most “about sex” type of rape that occurs and generally, sadly has alcohol and drugs involved.
Another type of assault is one we see frequently in the BDSM and greater sex positive culture. It’s what Teri calls a crime of enthusiasm. Again, this has a lot to do with intent. I see numerous claims of sexual assault or ignoring consent, that when looked closely at were more about an over enthusiastic partner who got caught up in the moment than intent to hurt or cause pain. Someone without intent to ignore consent but who does. These people may not even realize that they violated someones consent and the person who was violated may not even realize that it happened until a day or so later (this is not to be confused with what I call “regret rape” which is when a person feels guilty that they had consensual sex with someone and calls it assault …not super common but it does happen). This is becoming more and more prevalent in the communities I live in and I’m still trying to figure out what we can do to prevent this.
While we’ll never prevent violent stranger rape from happening,( since in my experience and opinion these perpetrators are mentally and psychologically ill and their intent is not sex, but physical harm) we can work toward preventing domestic sexual assault, frat house rape and crimes of enthusiasm.
One way to begin dealing with the other three is to start educating our kids about sexuality and consent as early as possible. Which means as soon as you can talk to them. I know someone expecting their first baby who plans to always ask before diapering and bathing so that their child becomes used to being asked before being touched. We need to allow our children their own agency (I’m not talking about sexual agency but personal agency). When, for example, Grandma asks for a kiss or a hug and the child says “no” then we need to be okay with them to not kiss or hug Grandma. This is about allowing them to have a say in who touches them. And we need to create a culture that does not equate sex and relationships (like marriage) with ownership. Our children need to know that they do not own or control anyone other than themselves.
We need to encourage our youth (and everyone) to speak up when they see something that doesn’t seem right, such as an overly intoxicated person being drug away by less intoxicated individuals at frat parties or elsewhere.
We also need to look at intent and use that as one of the indicators on how to deal with issues when they do arise. We need to be willing to work with both sides in creating opportunities for the perpetrators to make amends and clean things up and not automatically call for black listing in our communities. Especially when it’s a crime of enthusiasm. Compassion along with education will go a lot further than punitive measures.
Let’s work towards changing the conversation and creating possibilities for our youth and for our communities so that someday sexual assault and crimes of enthusiasm are rare or even non-existent.