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31 Responses

  1. DragonBreath
    DragonBreath September 30, 2013 at 9:17 pm |

    Ouch
    My daughter and I can relate to what you are saying. My daughter was molested by a family member. Her mother blew her off so while her mother and I were separated she told me. We were/are still not looked at in favorable eyes by some family members because well she was lying ,making it up, it was an accident, said member goes to church every Sunday etc. While in counseling I discovered what covert emotional incest is. Many people just say oh that is just all in your head but like you say tell that to that ickyness you are feeling. My daughter and I were lucky to find counselors who were qualified to help us and didn’t oh its no big deal.

  2. Red
    Red September 30, 2013 at 11:45 pm |

    It happened to me, too. I told her it was okay to kiss me and then her hands were elsewhere and it all was happening and I stared at the ceiling tried to count to a hundred, then backwards from a hundred. She called me a “pillow princess” afterwards because I had been so unenthusiastic throughout it happening.

  3. PeterGM
    PeterGM October 1, 2013 at 8:25 am |

    I think part of the reaction is because many people, perhaps close to -all- people will have experienced nonconsensual sexual touching, often without having been traumatized by it.

    So they end up thinking it’s no big deal – because to them it wasn’t. But every situation is different, and every person is different, so it’s entirely wrong to assume that experiencing something is no big deal for everyone, just because it wasn’t for them.

    I’ve been touched sexually without prior consent perhaps a dozen times. For example when dancing on a dance-floor I’ve had women deliberately grab my ass, or in one or two-three cases my penis. I’m not talking about women I was dancing with, but women who happened to dance close to me on a crowded dancefloor, but which had zero interaction with me prior to the grabbing. I expect women who like to dance on crowded dancefloors will experience the same thing a lot more often.

    I was annoyed at this, but not traumatized. Probably because I didn’t feel the situation, or the women, treathening, and they all refrained from making further advances when I didn’t respond.

    I agree that such behaviour is definitively sexual assault. It should stop. And yes, it’s very common.

    I think though, that it’s understandable that some might feel we’re making a big deal out of a detail, they might be thinking, everyone experiences that, but only some are traumatized by it, so surely the problem is with those people and they’re just being oversensitive.

    I don’t think so. I also think that more people are traumatized by such experiences than those who say so. In other words, this behaviour causes a lot more actual real life suffering than we tend to believe.

    1. TomSims
      TomSims October 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm |

      “I think part of the reaction is because many people, perhaps close to -all- people will have experienced nonconsensual sexual touching, often without having been traumatized by it.”

      I agree and I think it’s fair to say people react differently to like events. When I was a little boy, my Dad told to always be considerate of others.

  4. zaebos
    zaebos October 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |

    I’d like to add that another thing people need to stop doing is dissecting events and point out just how oh nonthreatening it really was. People really don’t need that shit.

    1. Ashley
      Ashley October 1, 2013 at 10:55 am |

      Exactly. No one besides the person who was assaulted gets to decide how the experience actually went down or how she should feel about it.

  5. TimmyTwinkles
    TimmyTwinkles October 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |

    I think as a society we need to ask ourselves why so many men get off on unwanted touching/grabbing/fondling/etc. Frankly, I just dont get it. I love to do these things, but only when the woman WANTS me too. Thats where I get my sexual gratification; knowing that she’s enjoying it just as I am. But as a man, I do my best to not just judge silently. You make a rape joke or brag about copping a questionable feel around me, youre ass is gonna get called out. Men that do these things arent men, they’re little boys with some very serious problems. And they need to be called out by other men, as well as women.

    1. TimmyTwinkles
      TimmyTwinkles October 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |

      *your, thats embarassing

    2. Andie
      Andie October 1, 2013 at 11:21 am |

      In my experience, little boys usually behave better than men. We need “hands to yourself” to extend past kindergarten.

      1. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles October 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |

        Touche

      2. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
        The Kittehs' Unpaid Help October 1, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

        I used exactly those words (“Keep your hands to yourself”) to a man who put his hand on my back many years ago, the creepy BiL of a friend. He was all wounded afterward and wanted an apology – “Nobody’s spoken to me that way since my ex-wife!” Yeah, not hard to figure why she was your ex, slimeball.

        I should add that it didn’t strike me as sexual assault, but it was skin-crawling because he was an obnoxious, foul-mouthed, sexist creep. If he’d been a friend I wouldn’t have minded. The phrase just reminded me of this, so apologies if this constitutes a derail.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin October 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm |

    My experiences with sexual assault are in my childhood.

    Most of my own abuse, at least that which I remember, was non-penetrative. Every time a major child molestation case like the Jerry Sandusky one is covered extensively by the media, I take note of how the abuse took place. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I would wager that most sexual assaults against children are probably non-penetrative.

    For every truly sadistic abuser who keeps his victims locked away in his own residence for years, there are always more who try to groom a child. That’s what happened to me. My boundaries were slowly violated more and more, to the point that I didn’t see it as wrong. There was some discomfort on my part, sure, but nothing like that which we define as rape and trauma.

    I wish I remembered more, but I assume my mind must have its own reasons for blocking out memories. What really helped me get over some of it was EMDR therapy. It’s expensive, but an unquiet mind like mine is now more at peace, less anxious, and less fearful.

  7. EG
    EG October 1, 2013 at 9:32 pm |

    In case it’s not clear to anyone, nonconsensual sexual touching is sexual assault. Whether one is touching another with or without clothing, whether one is touching another’s genitals or any other part of their body—in any and every circumstance, it will never not be sexual assault.

    This…doesn’t work for me. I’ve had my ass grabbed. I didn’t like it. But it felt nothing like sexual assault as I’ve heard/read it described by survivors. It had nothing like the far-reaching effects that sexual assaults have had on the survivors I know. It had very little effect on me at all. The fifteen-year-old kid who smacked my ass as he rode by on a bike seven years ago…I was flustered and angry and humiliated…but I didn’t feel sexually assaulted. The friend who ran his finger up my spine when he wanted my attention…I didn’t like it. It felt creepy. But I didn’t feel sexually assaulted. I didn’t feel unsafe. My consensual sexual experiences have been far more traumatic.

    Anyway, I don’t think this works. I don’t think we get to say in one breath, “it’s sexual assault if it feels like sexual assault to the target/survivor/victim,” and in the next “this is always sexual assault.” What about my feelings that I wasn’t assaulted–not because I “deserved it” or the dude “had the right” to do what he did or I “owed” him anything–but because I didn’t feel assaulted? What about my right to define my experiences? Do those matter only when someone does feel that they’ve been sexually assaulted?

    Can we make room for sexual trauma that isn’t sexual assault? It’s my consensual experiences that have been the most traumatic to me, not because I couldn’t really give consent or I didn’t really give consent (I could and I did), but because I gave consent to sexual activities to somebody who did not have my best interests at heart and who used me and then treated me like shit. That wasn’t assault. But I literally used to have invasive flashbacks. I dissociated during the experiences and had a very hard time with any sexual contact for years afterwards. That felt like trauma to me.

    1. TimmyTwinkles
      TimmyTwinkles October 1, 2013 at 11:38 pm |

      This makes alot of sense. Obviously it’s wrong to deny the experience of someone who is a victim of non-penetrative sexual assault by telling them it wasnt REALLY assault, or some other bullshit. But at the same time it doesnt do to turn around and try to define everyone’s experience by saying that if X happened to you, then you’re a victim of Y. Seems like the ideal would be to define one’s own experience while giving others the space to do the same.

    2. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve October 2, 2013 at 12:02 am |

      This…doesn’t work for me. I’ve had my ass grabbed. I didn’t like it. But it felt nothing like sexual assault as I’ve heard/read it described by survivors. It had nothing like the far-reaching effects that sexual assaults have had on the survivors I know. It had very little effect on me at all. The fifteen-year-old kid who smacked my ass as he rode by on a bike seven years ago…I was flustered and angry and humiliated…but I didn’t feel sexually assaulted. The friend who ran his finger up my spine when he wanted my attention…I didn’t like it. It felt creepy. But I didn’t feel sexually assaulted. I didn’t feel unsafe.

      The OP didn’t define what ‘non-consensual sexual touching’ means, so perhaps she’s talking about some sort of crotch grabbing or breast grabbing or something that goes beyond what you describe (ass grab and back fingering,) but is not “penetrative or oral.”

      1. Fat Steve
        Fat Steve October 2, 2013 at 12:02 am |

        ugh…screwed up my block quotes…and I’ve been so good at no doing that lately…sorry mods :( #embarrassed

        [mod elves feeling generous - leave out a bowl of milk for us tonight ;) ]

      2. EG
        EG October 2, 2013 at 12:19 am |

        But that’s a serious problem with what she’s saying, then. “Sexual touching” can mean any number of things. Anyway, I do think she would include what I describe because of these lines:

        Molestation is forcing any unwanted sexual behavior on another person, regardless of age….Whether one is touching another with or without clothing, whether one is touching another’s genitals or any other part of their body—in any and every circumstance, it will never not be sexual assault.

        It would be hard to argue that this doesn’t include the experiences I describe.

        I’m also not a fan of “molestation is forcing any unwanted sexual behavior on someone.” Does that include someone dancing lewdly at a club when I’d rather not see them do that? What if they make eye contact and dance lewdly specifically at me? What if it’s a teenage couple making out in front of me on the subway? I mean, I’d rather not see it, but I wouldn’t call that “molestation.” “Behavior” covers even a wider spectrum than “touching.”

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve October 2, 2013 at 1:41 am |

          But that’s a serious problem with what she’s saying, then. “Sexual touching” can mean any number of things. Anyway, I do think she would include what I describe because of these lines:

          Molestation is forcing any unwanted sexual behavior on another person, regardless of age….Whether one is touching another with or without clothing, whether one is touching another’s genitals or any other part of their body—in any and every circumstance, it will never not be sexual assault.

          It would be hard to argue that this doesn’t include the experiences I describe.

          I’m also not a fan of “molestation is forcing any unwanted sexual behavior on someone.” Does that include someone dancing lewdly at a club when I’d rather not see them do that? What if they make eye contact and dance lewdly specifically at me? What if it’s a teenage couple making out in front of me on the subway? I mean, I’d rather not see it, but I wouldn’t call that “molestation.” “Behavior” covers even a wider spectrum than “touching.”

          I would agree if the OP were talking about police and prosecutors, but she’s talking about counselors, family, friends, and those people should treat your feelings as paramount.

        2. EG
          EG October 2, 2013 at 1:52 am |

          Except she’s also making universal pronouncements about these things “never not being sexual assault.” That means she’s using her experiences to define other people’s as well. And that’s the problem.

        3. tigtog
          tigtog October 2, 2013 at 2:08 am | *

          Seems to me that there’s a large disconnect between what meets the legal definition of sexual assault and how people process their own experiences of what meets the legal definition of sexual assault. To me the OP is correct to label the behaviour she describes as meeting the legal definition of sexual assault, and note that even the professionals who are supposed to know this prefer to position unwanted sexual touching as ‘not really’ sexual assault even though it meets the legal definition.

          People do this with legal definition vs personal experience of behaviours all the time. It’s straighforward theft-theft when a stranger steals money from your wallet, but when it’s your sibling or your offspring or your partner? It takes a LOT for people to actually call the cops on behaviour that transparently meets the requirements for being charged with committing theft when they have an emotional connection with the perpetrator.

          People are not required to ring the cops on every behaviour they experience which breaches a law. But if/when they do take that step, it sucks pretty hard when the professionals who are supposed to enforce the law and/or offer counseling to victims of crime fail to treat the breach with seriousness, and it really sucks when one’s friends/family don’t want to even admit that the law has even been breached.

        4. EG
          EG October 2, 2013 at 2:27 am |

          People do this with legal definition vs personal experience of behaviours all the time.

          I’m starting to feel frustrated, like I’m reading a section of the OP that nobody else can see.

          In case it’s not clear to anyone, nonconsensual sexual touching is sexual assault. Whether one is touching another with or without clothing, whether one is touching another’s genitals or any other part of their body—in any and every circumstance, it will never not be sexual assault.

          Molestation is forcing any unwanted sexual behavior on another person, regardless of age.

          I’m not disputing the OP’s definition of her experiences. I’m not disputing that it completely sucks that her counselors, family, and friends have not respected those experiences. I’m disputing the universalizing statements above that seek to legitimate her experiences by defining those of other people, including mine, by her yardstick and reactions. So Steve is telling me that it’s OK because she’s not using strict legal definitions, but personal ones, and tigtog is telling me that it’s OK because she is using strict legal definitions, and people let their nearest and dearest get away with what would be crimes by strict legal definitions anyway.

          What I am saying is that it is not OK for her to make these universalizing statements that define my experiences in ways that are fundamentally incorrect. It is no more OK for her to do so than it was for her friends, family, and counselors to do so.

    3. Hermione Stranger
      Hermione Stranger October 2, 2013 at 1:19 am |

      It seems like the very purpose of having words like “molestation” and “sexual violence” is to acknowledge that there’s sexual trauma that doesn’t qualify as “sexual assault”. (And, I assume that “sexual assault” is being used synonymously with “rape” here, but perhaps I shouldn’t.)

      1. EG
        EG October 2, 2013 at 1:28 am |

        My understanding is that in many usages, particularly legal, “rape” refers to sexual assault that involves penetration, while “sexual assault” covers other forms of sexual assault.

        Neither “molestation” nor “sexual violence” gets at what I’m talking about, though, as they both involve lack of consent and the latter explicitly involves violence.

        There seems to be this false equation that trauma only = absence of consent, and that the presence of consent means that there isn’t any patriarchy-inflicted trauma, and that’s just not my experience at all.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune October 2, 2013 at 9:24 am |

          Just wanted to say I think your comments are bloody brilliant here, EG. I’ve experienced molestation that didn’t do a thing to me beyond piss me off, and much “milder” stuff that still haunts me. So yeah. I get what you’re saying.

  8. rox
    rox October 3, 2013 at 7:29 am |

    Hmmm. It’s a good conversation here. I think one problem is the equation of sexual assault as innately traumatic. What if sexual assault literally IS the forcing of unwanted sexual contact, wheras the trauma or lack thereof is the part that is personal?

    What I mean is, from the point of view of the attacker, forcing unwanted sexual contact should be assault right? I mean… what else is the definition?

    EG I’m curious what your definition is of sexual assault if it’s not forced unwanted sexual contact? I guess if want to layer it in “degrees” perhaps a first attempt at sexual contact that is easily rejected that includes touch might be considered harrasment rather than assault, whereas contact that persists after attempts to escape would be considered assault?

    It’s a pretty big deal that we know what assault is. I mean if we in feminist communities don’t even know what assault is, how can we teach people not to assault?

    1. EG
      EG October 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm |

      I don’t have an ironclad definition right now. But that doesn’t make the problems with what the OP wrote go away. It’s not just about the lack of trauma–it’s about me not feeling assaulted as they were happening, not hurt, not in any danger, not injured, not any feeling I would associate with assault, sexual or otherwise. Either those feelings matter or they don’t. If they matter, then no, OP doesn’t get to universalize those definitions of assault. If they don’t, then other people’s feelings are dismissable as well in the name of universal definitions.

      And it’s not just about familiarity with people, either. I’ve had men in bars put their hand on my thigh. And I didn’t want it. And sometimes I removed that hand and put it back on their own person. At no point did I feel assaulted.

  9. Sam
    Sam October 4, 2013 at 7:40 am |

    Trigger warning. Some people have compared sexual assault to being slapped on the ass, or a quick grope on the dance floor. Some people enjoy it. Some don’t. But that’s not anything like the kind of sexual assault I experienced. My experiences were more like –

    Don’t undress me. Don’t force me to touch you there. Don’t lick me like I’m your prey. Don’t use your body like a trap to hold me still, while your hand explores, while I shiver, waiting for you to judge me for the sin of my involuntary reactions…

    Please, don’t go to the trouble… I have already judged myself. Aren’t my tears proof enough of my innocence? Am I only my body to you?

    “You’re too easy to be worth raping.”

    Someone once said.

    But those words alone felt like being penetrated with a cold knife…

    And they remind me now, of my failure to protect myself…

    _________________

    Did it feel just like the rape that happened a few days after? No. But it felt like the beginning of one.

  10. In the News… (Sept 28 – Oct 4) | Toward Healing & Justice

    [...] blog post serves as a good reminder that if what happens is nonconsensual sexual touching, it’s sexual [...]

  11. Anon
    Anon October 4, 2013 at 7:45 pm |

    TW: I think this is the first article I’ve read that comes close to describing what happened to me. It was nothing that could be prosecuted, there were so many “grey area” issues for the police/court/even friends (boyfriend, started consensual, alcohol involved, pressure not physical force) but I had 2 years of flashbacks and sobbing fits and misery from it, and didn’t even realise until months in what had actually happened and that I could call it assault. Because he knew what he was doing, he knew I wouldn’t consent sober because I had said ‘no’ god knows how many times. It was deliberate and it hurt me, and if that’s not assault, then what the hell is?! But I also had the feelings of ‘I’m lucky it wasn’t rape’ and ‘does this count?’ ‘am I overreacting’ and ‘it was my fault anyway’ to contend with until I was actually brave enough to admit that what he did was wrong. Which I did in quite a spectacular style, quite drunk and sobbing on my new boyfriend, collapsed in the gutter, my first year of uni. I don’t remember getting there, I don’t remember getting home, but I remember feeling such a huge release of anger when I finally let everything out.
    Thank you, whoever you are, for making me feel like I’m not weak to react like I did, and I’m not the only one to feel this way about what happened.

  12. someone
    someone October 10, 2013 at 1:42 am |

    this comment is not intended to respond directly or exclusively to anyone. seriously. just vomiting out ideas based on this thread and OP.

    the place where I live, we call it sexual assault and that’s all. even on the news, you don’t know whether someone was groped or penetrated or kissed or what. they use sexual assault as the primary descriptor. so it seems perfectly intuitive to me that all non-consensual sexual contact is assault, whether you’re traumatized or not. it’s simply about the fact that you didn’t want it.

    which is useful because it erases a whole layer of greyness that primary functions to separate and cast survivors into a sea of doubtful, uncertain, paralyzing muck while their perpetrators neatly exit stage right. so to me, what counts as assault is pretty cut and dry: almost everything counts. even if you didn’t give that assault a second thought. just like it’s still sexual harassment for your boss to send you a dick pic even if you don’t particularly mind dick pics. (why am I talking about dick pics, jesus christ)

    but “survivor” – in the specific, intensely personal, subjective and mottled purple and green way I mean it – is a little different.

    to me, it means there was something that threatened you in some deep-seated emotional or physical place, something you had to not merely forget or brush off or push aside but survive. for me, that’s where trauma comes in. (you don’t have experience trauma to say you’re a survivor, but you won’t be the kind of survivor I’m currently talking about, which is fine.)

    the frustrating thing is, trauma never seems to be enough.

    an incredible percentage of traumatized survivors feel like they still can’t participate in survivor discussions because they don’t meet the gold standard in some way. (I didn’t say no, my body was aroused, I have mixed feelings about it, I’m still friends with my rapist, it wasn’t violent, I let it happen because I was too insecure to say no, it was sort of my fault, it was just penetrating my mouth, I said no because I was embarrassed and I actually wanted to say yes and they ignored my “no” anyway so does that count, it was just grabbing the outside of my body, my rapist wasn’t a man, etc etc etc.)

    as a survivor, speaking only for myself, I do not need to know how much or in what ways you deviate from the gold standard. it does not matter to me. who I connect with and can relate to, as a survivor, are other people who were victimized by and/or surviving a sexual trauma. there are no rules for what will traumatize you or what’s allowed to “count”. the thing that still gives me nightmares and makes me cry and disassociate after sex might very well be another woman’s “meh” sexual assault, if she counts it as non-consensual at all. I really don’t know or care.

    survivors have such wildly diverse experiences that any supposedly singular shared experience, barring trauma, is illusory anyway. boys sexually traumatized by parents. women of color sexually traumatized by military men. college girls sexually traumatized by their boyfriends right in their dorm rooms. sex workers sexually traumatized by johns. queer rape. corrective rape of trans women. people penetrated, grabbed, rubbed, choked. it’s a terrible kaleidoscope of violence and no two perspectives are the same. even amongst the gold standards. most survivors don’t even agree on things, like the role of the law, or police, or punishments, or healing. we’re heterogeneous as hell.

    and so policing the traumas that “count” doesn’t make sense to me or help me at all. if some sneaky or insensitive person is trying to falsely identify as a survivor, and some rigorous system of legitimacy weeds them out, I am still just as traumatized and alone as I was before. I gain nothing, except a tense narrow-eyed atmosphere of authenticity-policing. one that could turn on me, if I’m not gold enough.

    if you understand right down in your bones what it means to survive, if you share my terror of both experiencing more violence and my grim commitment to never become violent myself, I want you with me. I want us to look out for each other. it doesn’t matter to me how or where you were touched.

    from my own experience as a survivor, I fight uphill to hold onto my faith – by which I mean the belief in something I can’t technically prove – that I was assaulted. sometimes I still think I’m just hollowly convincing myself, despite the subsequent nightmares, the disassociation, the bouts of crying, the fear and the sadness and the way that sex has become an act that’s instantly steeped in grey, grey melancholy the moment my mind falls off whatever ledge it was standing precariously on when two seconds before when touch felt good.

    despite all this sometimes I doubt myself.

    it is a fundamentally fracturing experience to have your body and psyche mired in trauma while your mind is wavering on whether those wounds are legitimate. it’s like bleeding out of yawning bullet holes and you aren’t entirely confident they’re real. you want to scream for help, hail a cab, rush to a hospital – but you might be wrong, and wrong in a way that makes you so small, mean, manipulative and selfish.

    a lot of bystanders, too, will advise that you’re wrong. in case your doubts weren’t piling on like pancakes already.

    I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, except that we survivors need to hold on to our narratives, tender and fraught as they feel, and watch out for each other. it’s a terrible room to find yourself in, but better here than locked outside pounding on the door.

    there is room for us all.

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