If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you have heard many women who have been sexually assaulted speaking out publicly. If you are familiar with the #METOO thread, you know that nearly 1.5 million women have acknowledged that they have been victims of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. This should not be a surprise, as research has indicated this prevalence for a long time. Dr. Mary Koss completed a study at Kent State in the 1990’s that showed almost one third of American women, by the time they reach age 25, will have experienced rape, or attempted rape. What often goes unspoken is the number of men—likely millions, who are sexually assaulting women. Some of these men who sexually disrespect women walk into our BIP classes each week. Sexual respect is a topic BIP programs can't afford to ignore.
Recently, we asked some our participants how they had first learned about sex. Here is a brief list of responses:
- Sexually abused by a female babysitter
- I guess I just figured it out
- Watching father's pornography with my older brother.
- Raped by my coach
- Raped by my older brother
- Huddling with my grade school friends at recess looking at torn out magazine foldouts.
- Foster mother began to sleep with me on a regular basis.
- HBO movies
- Playboy channel
- Sexually abused by my step-father
- My mom had many boyfriends. I saw too much when I was young.
It is rare for participants to report having "the talk" with parents, mentors or other significant adults. It is even more rare for the conversation to include consent, respect, and boundaries.
It is remarkable to listen as men begin to consider, often for the first time, that their behavior was abusive, disrespectful and cruel. For many, this had never crossed their mind previously.
The topic of sexual respect is an essential component of a batterer intervention program. When we approach this subject in our classes, we brainstorm a list of behaviors that would be considered sexually disrespectful (see photo). When the participants begin to pause, reflect, and realize that they have used many of the behaviors included in the list, the emotional energy in the room shifts. It is remarkable to listen as men begin to consider, often for the first time, that their behavior was abusive, disrespectful and cruel. For many, this had never crossed their mind previously.
If our boys continue learning about sex as conquest and self-satisfaction from objectifying or traumatic sources, it will remain unreasonable to expect them to grow up and think about sex within a context of consent and respect.
When we consider the definition of cruelty as "the blatant disregard for another", it is easy to see that sexual disrespect in any form is always cruel. The participants in our classes can recognize this very quickly when they are asked to identify a behavior on the board that takes the interest of the other person into consideration. There is not one.
Sadly, the famous names that have recently reached the headlines through the voices of those who have been victimized are a tiny tip of the iceberg. If our boys continue learning about sex as conquest and self-satisfaction from objectifying or traumatic sources, it will remain unreasonable to expect them to grow up and think about sex within a context of consent and respect.