Understanding modern sexual assault
There seems to be a collective understanding that rape is something that happens to women who walk alone late at night through abandoned city streets and dark alleyways. The assailant is a stranger who overpowers the helpless victim and she ends up conceding as a means of survival. End of story. What we have seen since the emergence of #MeToo, Grace Tame, Brigette Higgins and Chanel Contos is that sexual assault and rape is horrifyingly more prevalent than we could have ever imagined, and that the perpetrators are not sewer monsters or dumpster dwellers, they are normal boys and men; fathers, brothers, teachers, colleagues, uncles, community members and friends.
While this uprising has surfaced a lot of collective pain and trauma, there is great opportunity here for a social and cultural paradigmatic shift away from gender based violence. Firstly, we need to understand how it happens in the real world. Drawing on the thousands of testimonials that have resulted from the Chanel Contos petition, a clear pattern of behaviour can be identified.
1. Inebriation – There is some kind of encouragement to get the victim drunk or to loosen their inhibitions. This is especially prominent if the victim and assailant aren’t very familiar with one another.
2. Isolation – The perpetrator will lead the victim away from the party, club, group, friends or peers. They might go outside, walk to a park, go into a bedroom or toilet; some place with privacy (maybe even locked doors). This allows them more control over the situation.
3. Manipulation – With no prying eyes, the perpetrator will often start to beg, pressure, complain, or give ultimatums. Even not taking no for an answer and repeatedly asking for something is a very common tactic. Wearing down an individual or guilt-tripping them into an action is common. There are many accounts of people in relationships who experience this with their partners also.
4. Coercion – This is the final step when everything else has failed so far. Defined as persuasion by force or threat, coercion can have many ugly faces. Perpetrators may become aggressive, violent, threatening, threaten to blackmail you, or physically force you to do something against your will. While it may be hard to spot, it is very clear how coercion makes you feel. If you feel pressured, forced, in danger, unsafe, trapped, stuck, as though you have no other options than to be obedient, there is a great chance you are being coerced to do something against your will.
What we need is a new paradigm; we need a new narrative, early and on-going education around consent, respect and boundaries, agreed and universal definitions of sexual assault and rape, and an active culture that interrupts, questions and challenges sexist and violent attitudes, beliefs, speech and behaviour. Together, we can help one another to make this collective change.