America’s long overdue reckoning with sexual assault culture

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report on the sexual assault investigation findings against Governor Cuomo last week have had me reflecting on my own experiences, and thinking about the culture of sexual assault on a broader scale. This is not an isolated incident, and it is far past time for us to come to terms with that.

Sexual assault is largely viewed as something that occurs in isolated incidents- certain environments, like bars, clubs, or more likely at certain times, i.e. late at night. I had the same vision of it when I was younger.

This perception is not only grossly inaccurate, but problematic because it implies that due to these sometimes “necessary” conditions, sexual assault is something that can be prevented, avoided by victims. This view has often manifested itself as the “well, why would she be dressed like that if she didn’t want it?” narrative.

As I got older, I started to understand that sexual assault was not only not isolated to certain demographics, environments, etc. but was way more pervasive than I could have ever imagined.

The types of attitudes and behavior that breed abusers is deeply embedded in certain aspects of culture, systemically enabled by centuries-old misogynistic perceptions of women. We are emotional, we are irrational, we are power-hungry, we are incapable of autonomy over our sexual relationships.

In many ways, these perceptions of women have fueled arguments to justify their abuse. They have created narratives of women as compulsive liars, led solely by emotion rather than reason.

Over time, these perceptions of women have placed the presumption of innocence even heavier on perpetrators, carefully and intentionally articulating to young men time and time again,

boys will be boys.

I couldn’t understand my first experiences because of the perpetrators. My friends, my teacher. I remember thinking it was so misplaced and because of that, I was obviously completely overreacting. And I was fortunate enough to not suffer nearly as much as some.

But then I think to myself that my own perception of my experiences may itself be a product of years of gaslighting. I am quick to identify that in others, yet fail to recognize it in myself.

A huge takeaway from this that I think men, and society as a whole, need to come to terms with is that SO many women have normalized or downplayed predatory behavior because of how often we experience it.

In the grocery store, at school, at work, at home. And dissociating from the reality of the pervasiveness of abuse has only contributed to the environment we are living in today.

Once we are all able to understand how many people- women, men, and LGBTQIA+ alike- have experienced assault, and continue to on a daily basis, we can finally come to terms with a comprehensive way to address it.

Until then, we are left with dwindling possibilities for accountability under a justice system born out of gross inequity, where archaic legislation continuously renders itself useless in the pursuit of justice for its most vulnerable constituents.

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