Monday, April 30, 2018


When I'm working out on the ergometer at the gym, I watch one of my favourite quiz shows. It's been on televison for years, it's British and not on television here in Canada so that means there are thousands of episodes that I've not seen. I enjoy watching the program and find it just engrossing enough to take my attention away from the demands of the machine.

Yesterday I watched an episode where, after the answer to a question was given, some filler information about the person mentioned, a golfer, was given. They stated that the golfer made complaints about the fact that when he went back to the club house women would pinch his ass, he made a complaint about this finding the behaviour intrusive. Then the host and others make jokes about, "What, he didn't like it?"

I gasped.

And immediately remembered.

A man with an intellectual disability was referred to me because he had aggressively pushed a woman with a disability away from him. She had been bruised by the ensuing fall and the staff were very concerned about her safety. He was considered much more disabled than she and the thought was that he might need to be moved because of the danger he posed.

In the investigation it was discovered that this woman was sneaking out of her room at night and sexually assaulting this man. She knew that he would not have the ability to report her. She knew that he was vulnerable to her ability to get into his room undetected. She had used considerable force, in one case breaking two of his ribs with her knees. The staff were aware of this, but it didn't come up until well into the assessment. They hadn't thought it relevant. But then, they hadn't thought of it as assault either. In fact, they joked about it.

When asked about this mans skills regarding abuse prevention and reporting, the staff laughed and said, and this is a direct quote, "I think we just need to teach him how to smoke afterwards."

It was funny to them.


Of course I don't approve of his use of force to push the woman away, but I also don't approve of sexual assault no matter the gender of the individual assaulted. What's difficult about that to understand?

In the end I don't think I ever convinced the staff that a crime had been committed against the man who was clearly not consenting to the sexual touch and behaviour of the woman who forced herself on him. I don't think they ever really understood what they were condoning.

We did stop the assaults.

His aggression stopped the moment he felt safe.

We worked at teaching him ways to keep himself safe, we taught him abuse prevention skills.

They refused to refer her to the offender clinic stating that I had over-reacted to her behaviour. I don't think I did then, I still don't think I did now. I think she was poorly served, she had a right to treatment, she had a right to be taken seriously.

But then, on a game show, where a man was mocked for not 'liking' unwanted touch, I'm not sure that we are anywhere near understanding what sexual assault is and the roll that power plays and the way power can shift.

We all have power.

We all can abuse it.

End of story. 

I can still hear people clapping and laughing at the jokes made about the man, his butt and unwanted touch.

Can you hear the sound of my head shaking with confusion?


Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

In some institutions for people with disabilities, there is a history of sterilizing (and perhaps committing abortion on, if she is pregnant) women with disabilities as a response to their being raped by staff. This, in the mind of staff, "solves" the problem of rape because now there will be no (longer) pregnancy as a result of rape. Meanwhile, nothing is done to stop the rapes. And the fully informed consent of the women are never sought -- they may be falsely told they need surgery for something unrelated, when the surgery actually being done on her is sterilization.

There is still, unfortunately, a very long history in many cultures of condoning rapes of all kinds against all victims. Even when a community finally changes cultural norms just barely enough to acknowledge that rape is a bad thing that needs to be stopped, certain ideas and attitudes that elevate certain individuals to true "personhood" status (i.e., recognized as a human being, a person, with certain innate rights that should never be violated) while perceiving other people as being something less than human beings leads a community to take some rapes and assaults less seriously than other assaults. For example, a person may be dehumanized because of their disability, so assaults on a disabled person may not be taken as seriously as assaults on a non-disabled person. Then, too, there are heavily gendered ideas about sexual assault. A man is supposed to be always wanting sex and sexual contact, and therefore "cannot be assaulted"--because he is assumed to consent by default. Statutory rape, for at least some people, is seen as terrible when committed on an underage girl. But some of the same people who attempt to protect girls from statutory rape don't take it seriously when it's done with an underage boy. The same experience viewed as negative when it is a girl who is manipulated into sex is viewed as positive when it is a boy manipulated into sex.

All of this being a part of what many feminists call "rape culture".

Andrea S.

Deb said...

Often, people laugh when confronted with a subject they do not want to think too deeply about, or to mask emotional reactions. I recently attended a community theater performance of a musical called Spring Awakening, written in the 1890s. It deals with developing teenage sexual awareness, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, physical/sexual abuse and suicide. While there were some comedic moments in the opening scenes, the play quickly darkened. After the performance, many cast members expressed dismay at the amount of audience laughter, not just at the beginning but throughout the entire performance. Sitting in the audience, it was obvious that this was not humorous laughter - there was considerable tension and discomfort. I watched men surreptitiously wiping their eyes and then forcing laughter (apparently it is still generally unacceptable for a man to cry in public) and women averting their eyes and pretending to read the program during particiularly emotional scenes.

Rather than costuming the entire cast in period dress, the director of the play had many of the ensemble dressed as modern high school students, emphasizing the universality of these issues. Ironically, a major theme of the play is the devastating effects of refusal to acknowledge and talk about issues that make us uncomfortable, and it was disheartening to realize how little that has changed in over a hundred years.

clairesmum said...

We are incredibly conflicted and ashamed about sexuality - our own and everyone else's!
The awful justifications/rationalizations/rude comments that come out of the mouths of adults is appalling.
Sometimes I think that the '7 deadly sins' that I learned in Catholic catechism class are more important than I wanted to believe in my younger decades.....