Recently I read an article that was published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, written in 1997. From time to time, I like to review how far we’ve come in the understanding of causal links to rape/sexual assault. I cannot tell you how grateful I am as a survivor and therapist, supervisor and teacher, for the gains and public accountability to safely speak about experiences of rape, incest and sexual assault. We still have a long ways to go, and what I would like to argue to you today, are the endemic factors contributing to rape and sexual abuse stated in the title of this article.
Back in 1997, Dryden, an academic lawyer and his peers, tried to catalogue the differences between the feminist perspective of rape being a tool of control and oppression against people (as a symptom of a patriarchal toxic masculine dominant narrative), and the perspective of evolutionary psychologist theories, which at the time, still clung to the old song of rape and sexual assault being connected in some way to legitimate sexual desire.
As a counsellor, I can see both perspectives, and each one, respectively, lends itself to its pathway to “resolution.” Endings to the survivor’s mixture of fear, rage, distrust and societal double-binds, and endings to resolve the sexual and emotional immaturity, deficits in interpersonal communication and male supremacy that exist within the offender.
When working with a rapist/sexual assault offender, assisting them in decoupling their ideas of successful relationship through rape, and separating their neural pathways of pleasure response chemicals through the act of rape (or having been raised watching rape simulations), the defence of and even pride-taking in rape-culture, requires me to recognize there is some kind of sexual thrill and gratification associated with the act of rape.
However, I do not believe this is legitimate sexual desire, but a dysfunctional result of toxic and abusive early life experiences. Toxic masculinity has officially been linked to poor mental health outcomes by the American Psychological Association in 2019, negatively impacting boys, girls, non-binary people, and the families they later form (Psychology of Men and Masculinity, online first publication, 2018).
I have treated people who have been conditioned to find the act of dominance, bullying and exploitation gratifying, by providing psychosocial training to connect them with authentic forms of communication via intimacy-building skills. The basic communication skills they lack can be generated through teaching, practicing and evaluating nonviolent question asking, active listening techniques, mentalization exercises (the precursor to empathy), and of course, the tracing back of how their neural pathways first fired and wired violence and sexual fulfillment together.
People who do not have access to quality educational or diverse cultural influences are often limited in their understanding of healthy sexual dynamics. They remain sexually immature, and feel entitled to sexual intercourse. This immaturity can make raping sheep seem like an hilarious thing that “just happens” outside of the proximity of rape-culture.
In reality, toxic masculinity’s entitlement to sex-on-demand extends sadly to animals as well. Domesticated animals are often far more containable and controllable for the non consensual penetration some people find so thrilling, funny, or “harmless.”
I found an article written last year reporting on three men who raped their farm animals, which included nine horses, many dogs, a cow and a goat, and then videotaped these crimes (NY Daily News, April 23, 2019).
These men manipulated a teenager to help them abuse the animals, covertly sexually abusing him also, and later, this boy had the courage to report them. They were charged with animal sexual assault and sent to jail. The societal costs of this kind of microaggression (laughing at sexual assault) against survivors of sexual assault (be they animal or human), are many.
So here’s how I help the survivors: I validate that the above experience of living in a culture where sexual assault is funny to a large segment of the population, is traumatizing.
I acknowledge that rape and sexual assault is motivated to control another person because in order for somebody that sexually abuses another person to continue doing what they’re doing, they have to care more about their own feelings, thoughts, experiences, sensations, than the other person. Without the basic communication skills to ask repeatedly if somebody is interested in sex, nor the ability to read and understand nonverbal cues let alone accept a changed mind, rape is a tool of control.
It is never the survivor’s fault.
Expecting the survivor to take responsibility for the offender’s sexual and emotional immaturity, lack of interpersonal communication skills, and belief in a patriarchally organized and enforced system of sexual relations, is unreasonable and fundamentally ludicrous.
Help me end this madness by calling out and embarrassing anyone who still clings to the old ways. It’s not funny, it’s dangerous.
The only way this lethargy is going to end is for those still enamoured with sexual ignorance to lose friends and have less influence over people.