Mar 242011

Uh, this is a post about a sexual assault conference, so read with caution if that kind of thing might be triggering for ya.

I’m at a conference hosted by the federal government called “Title IX and sexual assault: changing the paradigm.” As a faculty member from the Harvard Law School mentioned at lunch, it’s remarkable that the federal government is even using the idea of “changing the paradigm.”

What’s striking to me is that their “new paradigm” is the paradigm in which I was trained in during my original training as a prevention educator and crisis hotline volunteer. In 1996.


It’s stuff like:

* Most rapes involve two people who know each other “acquaintance rape,” not a stranger
* Rape is not a “miscommunication” or an accident
* Women aren’t to blame for their assault

Well, it’s the difference between the prevention/counseling/crisis response side and the law enforcement/legal side. I was talking about the conference with the student who’s dogsitting for me while I’m away, and she said, “I wonder how many times you’re gonna hear the word ‘victim’ in the next two days?” She also suggested I make bets about how many times they’d use “rape” and whoever is farthest away buys the drinks that night.

Well. It has absolutely been a day of “victim” and “rape;” I lost count long ago.

(For reference for those who don’t do this work: the preference is “survivor,” as being more empowering, and “sexual assault,” as being both more inclusive of this range of violent crimes and also usually feeling less triggering.)

It has also been a day of Men-Rape-Women. The keynote was about perpetrators – men perpetrators – as sexual predators. It was an excellent talk, actually, but I spent the whole time recognizing how frustrated my peer educators would be with it. It was, on the one hand, a talk that helped us understand something like 90-95% of sexual assaults. And on the other hand, it described only ONE gender configuration: man as predator, woman as victim. When of course we know that men can be assault and women can be perpetrators, and that doesn’t even enter the realm of non-normative gender.

In fairness, women do represent a very, very small proportion of offenders – possibly because they’re much less likely to use sex as a weapon, but also possibly because the people they assault are less likely to report or their behavior is less likely to be identified as assault. That, combined with the fact that women, as usual, vary more than men, makes research difficult.

So the “new paradigm” of sexual assault is that a small number of men (around 5%) victimize women and women aren’t to blame. Both of those things are, in their way, good. But it’s 2011, people.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days tromping through the radical Everglades of queerness, both sexual and gender, and now here I am, plonked squarely into the mainstream, where the closest they’ve come to mentioning anything other than men-rape-women was the mention that 1 in 16 men experience an assault or attempted assault (compared with 1 in 5 women). It’s an important dose of reality, I’ll tell ya, to hear the mainstream language of sexual violence.