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“Wait…THAT’s What Assault Looks Like?”

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April 18, 2014

One of those funny things that’s sometimes forgotten about being young is that you’ll pretty much take what you see at face value. Not that we don’t question the world around us, but if something is happening all around young people, every weekend, and people call it hooking up or they call it dancing or they call it flirting, it’s pretty easy to simply believe them.

So when I was 18 and dancing with a boy at that party and he moved quickly to put his hands up my skirt without even showing me his face, I thought that’s just what happened when you “accepted” (read: didn’t reject) a dance partner. When at age 19 a guy I worked with got me alone and asked for “just one touch,” then grabbed my boobs (hard) and ran off, I thought that maybe that was his way of flirting with me. And at age 20 when I smiled at a guy and he followed me home, harassing me for my number, I thought that maybe he just really thought I was pretty enough to fight for.

The point is, young people are very likely to assume that the normalized forms of assault and harassment that happen around us all the time are okay simply because they’re common. A study by Heather R. Hlavka to be published in the next issue of Gender and Society entitled “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse” simply confirms what I’ve already known for a while. Young women (and young people) don’t report sexual assault and harassment because they simply do not know that what they are experiencing (no matter how uncomfortable) is anything less than normal.

For many young people, assault and harassment simply become a normal part of their everyday lives. Hlavka writes “They had few available safe spaces; girls were harassed and assaulted at parties, in school, on the playground, on buses, and in cars. Overwhelmingly described as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘guys do’ or tolerating what ‘just happens,’ young women’s sexual desire and consent are largely absent. Sex was understood as something done to them.”

The normalization of assault and harassment is simply one piece of the complicated puzzle around the dearth of reporting compared to the prevalence of assault. Victim blaming, humiliating reporting processes, and social stigma also play an important role. But this normalization is incredibly important.

It took me years of studying feminist theory at a privileged liberal arts college to realize that the experiences I’ve had in life don’t have to be normal and I don’t have to accept them. Not every young person will get the same opportunity. That’s why it’s up to us, as a generation, to challenge the norms of assault that constantly surround us and to educate ALL young people about the power they have over their bodies and the lines that they should both respect and draw for themselves.

 

This post is a part of a series in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
R
ead the rest here

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