Tag Archives: rape

4 ways Trump’s “locker room talk” leads to campus sexual assault

Unsafe On Any Campus?Video tapes of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump demeaning women and bragging about sexually assaulting them led to a firestorm on social media. For his part, Trump apologized while deflecting responsibility for the full weight of his actions by dismissing the banter as “locker room talk.” The fact Trump is so casual in his willingness to brag about sexual assault is deeply troubling because it fails to recognize how it contributes to a toxic environment on high school and college campus. Locker room talk like that exchanges captured on the audio table enables, abets, and sustains attitudes the promote campus sexual assault and rape.

This is how the New York Times summed up the banter among Trump, the male host of Access Hollywood, and the other men in the vehicle:

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

Is this harmless banter, just playful back and forth between men?

I would have been more dismissive of the effects five years ago, before I started coaching self-defense to women at FSU. I would have thought the language was distasteful, disrespectful, and offensive, but I would not have put much stock in the banter among men as directly harmful. I would also have been wrong. Research now shows that 18-20% of women will report experiencing the kinds of sexual assault Trump brags about by the time they graduate from college (and the share is higher for non-college students). 

Ample research has shown that fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, and certain cohorts of students hold general attitudes that diminish and objectivize women the way Trump did in his comments. For a few examples, see the study by Bannon, Brosi and Foubert on sorority and fraternity men’s attitudes in the Journal of student Affairs Research and Practice; the study by Chad Menning on perceptions of personal safety and risk at these parties in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence; and an analysis of fraternity party structure that produces these results by Brandon Harris and Dorothy Schmalz in the journal Deviant BehaviorWhile the question of whether our campuses are characterized by a widespread and deeply embedded rape culture is open to question, certain institutions and subgroups clearly do.

Thus, I now think differently. My perspective evolved because of the women I coach, the stories I’ve been privileged to learn about from sexual assault survivors, and a careful reading of research on young-adult behavior and human sexuality.

But what is still missing in the public outrage over Trump’s talk and his weak and shallow response is a clearer understanding of how this banter supports and sustains a rape culture, whether widespread or contained within smaller sub-groups.

Below are four ways “locker room talk” promotes misogyny and thus abets sexual assault on campuses.

1. Locker boom talk robs women of agency.

The narrative in this type of talk mocks the idea that women have any legitimate ability to prevent an attack on their body and human dignity. In other words, women cannot, should not, or do not, act on their own, with agency. The tone also promotes the idea that this weakness should be exploited regardless of their victim’s desires or preferences. It’s an attitude that is opposite the values taught in most Western societies—that those unable to defend themselves should be protected. The idea that a woman could, or should, object to these assaults, or say “no,” is dismissed, undermined, and pushed by perpetrators outside the boundaries of tolerable behavior or response, even when this behavior is highly offensive and even traumatizing. The banter is framed solely in the context of men taking what they want, regardless of the desires, preferences, or concerns of their target. This is what is meant by locker room talk “objectifying” women.  Indeed, Trump laments that fact he could not actually force a women to have sex with him, as if it’s he was denied a legitimate claim. But this is just the first layer of misogyny.

2. Locker Room Banter forces women to play victim.

Because the narrative is set up to give men power, and to marginalize resistance by the target of the assault, women are forced to play victim. They must accept the injury without comment or resistance because that is their “place.” The talk de-legitimizes self-defense, retaliation against the harm inflicted, or efforts to seek justice by equalizing the balance of power. In fact, the behavior implicitly rejects that idea that a harm has been created by the victims, and efforts to search for redress or rebalancing of these relationships is therefore illegitimate. Thus, Trump gloats about how he can kiss women on the lips, or grab them between their legs, and they will simply take it without objecting or defending themselves.

3. Locker Room Banter deflects responsibility for bad behavior and the harm created.

Talk that victimizes and objectifies others reinforces attitudes about a natural order of supremacy between men over women. Trump’s words and banter establishes a male-dominated paternalism that allows him and others to ignore responsibility for any bad behavior and outcomes from their actions. This dominance forged in private, giving it a privileged status among equals that is separated from public behavior and accountability. “Boys will be boys” attitudes essentially absolves them of responsibility for their actions and the consequences for their victims, and these are the attitudes agreed to by the group or tribe. Women have to just “get over it” and accept that this is what men do. This separates thoughts from actions as if it were okay to think about hurting people as long as someone’s doesn’t act on it, or isn’t caught performing the act. (But of course Trump is bragging about acts he claims he perpetrated.) Thus, the men in the trailer react positively to Trump’s claims of repeated attempts and successes in assaulting the women he comes in contact with. 

4. Locker Room Banter perpetuates victimization and harmful behavior among offenders.  

Cognitive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy has shown that thoughts and behaviors are intertwined, and one cannot separate them easily. One way of looking at this is that if someone habitually and routinely objectifies other people, their behavior begins to track with those thoughts and is patterned by those prejudices. Thus, words become actions. Locker room talk normalizes the behavior being described, thus perpetuating actions that further diminish, objectify, and harm women (or others that are the target of the attacks). Again, this is clear in the audio tape by the reaction from the other men, who seem encouraged by Trump’s self-described success and admiration for his ability to use his privilege to continue his assaults without consequence. 

In Unsafe On Any Campus?, I argue that the respect for individual human dignity must form the core of a holistic and comprehensive approach to sexual assault on college campuses. The locker room banter used by Donald Trump, and accepted by the other men in the trailer, flies in the face of that concept by completely ignoring and belittling the value of the women he has targeted with his assaults. The fact Donald Trump does not seem to understand this, and in fact boasts of how he intentionally assaults the dignity of women by using the privileges bestowed on him by wealth and celebrity, is a dramatic illustration of why sexual assault continues to be a significant problem on college campuses in and society more generally.

Here is also a short interview I provided to the Capitol News Service on October 11, 2016, explaining some of these thoughts.

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College rape and the power of words on a bathroom door

These messages formed a multi-day conversation on the effects of college rape on young women

These messages formed a multi-day conversation on the effects of college rape on young women

I still remember the day my business manager came into my office and said “you have to see what’s on the women’s bathroom door.”  What followed changed the course of my life, personally and professionally.*

Written in permanent black marker was a heartbreaking question: “How do you get over being raped?”

Having someone ask the question in person is wrenching enough, but for a young woman to feel the desperation acutely enough to use the anonymity and randomness of a stall door was worse. We were in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, a far cry from any victim support services or law enforcement. For Ruth, a campus rape survivor, the question was rattling enough.

Even for those like me, who had not experienced that kind of soul-tearing assault, could feel the pain, confusion, and emptiness implied in the words and act.

But what happened over the following days was more extraordinary. Other women responded, spontaneously, sincerely, and constructively. Based on writing styles, ink colors and consistency, I estimate that between 14 and 18 women contributed to what became a conversation across the entire door.

At first, women provided information about institutional support: the FSU police department, office of the victim advocate, and emergency numbers were listed. Then, the conversation turned to the human tragedy.

A spontaneous response to a rape victim's query on how to get over being raped.

A spontaneous response to a rape victim’s query on how to get over being raped.

In this anonymous, sterile, empty physical space, women provided heartfelt personal support and counsel. “I was raped, as well,” a new contributor to the discussion testified. “Just know you’re not alone sweetheart.” Another inked in elegant handwriting:“Your value and dignity as a woman are unchanged” followed by a heart symbol (emphasis by original author).

And the support kept coming,

  •         “be strong”
  •         “Remember, its (sic) not your fault. You re (sic) perfect, you are worthy. You are beautiful inside and out. Never forget, your sisters are here for you.”
  •         “This does not define you. Look to the future, allow yourself hope and ambition. Set goals, you are amazing.” (heart symbol)

And they still encouraged her to call the police—“Sisters help each other. Making that call is scary”

A rape victim's response to her supporters on the bathroom stall door

A rape victim’s response to her supporters on the bathroom stall door

In a powerful statement about to the ability of humans to connect through personal tragedy, the initial victim responded: “You guys are so nice to me. Thank you for that.”

Remarkably, the maintenance and cleaning staff at FSU let the conversation flow and did not clean the door for days (perhaps weeks). Perhaps they sensed the importance of the conversation for the woman who asked the question, the women who provided support to her and other survivors, and for raising awareness about the pervasiveness of the problem and the desperation of women caught in its vortex.

I don’t know if the young woman sought counseling, or took advantage of the university’s counseling services, or ever met the other dozen or so women that provided support to her.

The effect on me, however, was powerful. These brave, anonymous women allowed themselves to become vulnerable, confessing their own soul wrenching experiences while providing unsolicited, spontaneous support for their sisters. No other event showed how important sexual assault and rape were as events that shaped campus culture and the experiences of women on campus.

Prior to this, I had born witness to individual survivor stories. These were personal relationships. As a social scientist and public policy analysis, they were anecdotes. Now they were no longer anecdotes. I saw a pattern. This conversation convinced me that this issue needed a voice that could raise awareness about its depth, grounded in the emotional experiences of survivors, and think through the hard problems of coming up with a solution even if they were controversial.

A woman's spontaneous encouragement to a rape survivor's testimony

A woman’s spontaneous encouragement to a rape survivor’s testimony

I don’t know if I am that voice, but the product of my personal revolve to address this problem on college campuses and wrestle with the public policy implications led to blogging and eventually writing Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It. The book’s cover incorporates some of the photos of this conversation taken by Ruth, and used with permission, to provide testimony on the emotional toll sexual assault and rape take on young men and women on our campuses.

I want to give a shout out to Judy Williams Kirk for suggesting I figure out a way to incorporate these testimonies into the cover and to Gina B Smith for her provocative and heartfelt cover design.

Read Ruth’s discussion of this event on her blog, Reclaiming Lost Voices.

Read more about Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It.

Unsafe On Any Campus?

Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It

Buy the book at Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. (Contact me at sam@srstaley.com or Southern Yellow Pine Publishing for larger order discounts of 5+ and 25+. Pre-orders can be purchased with a $3 discount using the coupon code READ.

*Note, an earlier version of this article misidentified Ruth Krug as the woman who brought the messages to my attention. In fact, my business manager, Judy Kirk, alerted both of us to the words. Ruth, a campus rape survivor, worked for me at the time, and she was the one who chronicled the conversation through photos each day as the contributions lengthened.  

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Unsafe on Any Campus? set for July 28th release

Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It

Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It

Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It is set for official release on July 28, 2016, at a location yet to be determined. Books are on sale now for pre-order, including a $3 off discount when purchasing from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing and using the coupon code READ.

This book is an unsparing, uncompromising and unflinching look at today’s campus environments and examines why they pose significant risks to men and women for sexual assault. Ruth Krug, a campus rape survivor who also writes the Forward to the book, says it signals “a turning point in how we address rape and sexual assault in college and university environments.”

The release event is planned to be more than just a book release. We will have experts on campus sexual assault to answer questions and discuss the problem and what colleges and universities are doing to prevent it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1.  Campus Rape and the Soul of College
Chapter 2.  Sex, Rape and Human Dignity
Chapter 3.  Sexual Assault and the Failure of Civil Society
Chapter 4. Sexual Assault, Predatory Rape, and Campus Culture
Chapter 5. Experts Talk About Sexual Assault on College Campuses
Chapter 6. Moving Forward: Changing Culture
Chapter 7.  Personal Trauma as the Starting Point
Chapter 8. The Path Forward: A Trauma-Centered Approach
Chapter 9. The Reluctant Education of an Anti-Campus Rape Crusader

Read more about the book at campusninjaselfdefense.com.

Read some of my recent blog posts on campus sexual assault at the Independence Institute blog The Beacon:

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A car accident, a broken ankle, and the torn souls of rape survivors

My 1973 Volkswagen Squareback was totaled in a 1983 car accident and was very similar to this one.

My 1973 Volkswagen Squareback was totaled in a 1983 car accident and was very similar to this one.

I remember three things, snapshots really, from the event that would shape the rest of my life in the early morning hours of frosty February day in 1983.

The first was opening my eyes to blackness. At first I thought I was blind. After a few moments, I realized I was looking up at the vinyl back seat of my volkswagon squareback. I must have said something because I heard my good friend Bill’s voice say: “It’ll be okay, an ambulance is coming.”

The second snapshot wasn’t a snapshot at all. I don’t remember seeing the inside of the ambulance, or the question which must have been “How bad is it?” All I remember is the paramedic–I assumed it was a paramedic because it wasn’t Bill’s voice–say, “You’re lucky to be alive.”

I remember the visual of the third snapshot. I was on a gurney rolling down a hallway in a hospital. I began to shake and cry uncontrollably. Or so I thought. A nurse said, “We’ve got a crier here.” Anger snapped me out of crying. But that’s it.  I don’t remember anything else from that day.

Friends and family filled in the rest. The surgeon spent four of the six hours in surgery trying to close up the gaping hole that was the left side of my face. The doctors had to pick out individual shards of glass and asphalt with tweezers, and then figure out how they were going to graft enough skin from somewhere else on my body to sew me up. Every nerve was exposed, but, for the grace of God, none were severed. We still don’t know how I kept my left eye because half of my eyebrow was stripped off and gravel was burrowed deep around the socket. The first few days after the surgery were agony, not so much in pain–medications kept that at bay–as extreme, turbulent discomfort.

The entire episode from the car crash to surgery must have taken hours, but I remember snippets of minutes. My body and brain were shutting down, a natural, defensive state of shock triggered by an extreme loss of blood and physical trauma.

Flash forward 20 years. I am running a loop in a 200-acre wooded wildlife preserve. Just past my turnaround–a mile and three quarters from home–a numbing pain shoots up from my foot as I feel the turn of my ankle on an unseen rock. I hobble out of the woods after crossing two streams using a branch as a makeshift crutch. My dog, on a leash, was no help.

Someone asks me if I heard a “pop”. I say “no,” so we conclude that I sprained my ankle. I Bu Profen and ice packs control the swelling and reduce the pain. Three weeks later, my ankle still hurts, but I’m on a ski trip with my friend Karl in Telluride, Colorado. A “skiers ski area,” I am on the black diamonds. While skiing Giant Steps, a double-black diamond, pain from my ankle keeps me from descending more than a couple dozen feet at a time through the moguls. I am embarrassed. I am a better skier than this. But I listen to the barking ankle, and  I bail on the next run, letting Karl ski the black diamond as our last run of the day while I suck up the pain and take the easier blue trails down to the base.

When I return home, I finally visit the orthopedic doctor. A skier, he examines my ankle and asks if I heard a “pop” when I injured the ankle. Again, I say “no.” He orders the x-ray anyway.

When he returns, he gives me the news: I had broken my ankle on the run in the woods. I look at him in disbelief. “Is it a hairline fracture?”

He slaps the x-ray up on a monitor and points to the bones of my foot. “No, it was a clean break.”

He’s right, of course. Even I can see the thick straight line that represents the break in my ankle.

I was lucky. The bone broke but snapped back into near perfect alignment. That’s why I was able to walk out of the woods. It started to heal, but skiing put too much pressure on the break. My ski boots were stiff and tight, acting as a cast to hold the bones in place, but if I had been snowboarding the ankle would have re-broken and the damage far more severe than the first time.

The point to the car accident story is that my body, doing what it does naturally, shut out much of the trauma I was experiencing. I have monstrous gaps in memory on the day of the accident even though I must have been conscious a fair amount of the time.

The point of the broken ankle story is I did not hear a snap. I should have heard a snap. The break was complete and clean. But I didn’t.

In other words, your body and mind does many things to protect you when you experience trauma. Sometimes, it blots out entire memories.

Perhaps it’s these experiences, and my reflection on them, that gave me the courage to step way outside my comfort zone and write my new book Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It. I understood trauma in a personal way, so when rape survivors began sharing their stories their memories didn’t have to be complete for me to put the pieces together and recognize the truth of their experience. 

WomanisolatedOne of the most damaging and significant criticisms leveled at men and women who claim they have been assaulted or raped is that their memories are incomplete, and dots between events don’t connect well. Incomplete or uncertain knowledge is one of the primary reasons why rape cases don’t go to court unless significant physical evidence can support the victim’s story. Unless the victim can present an ironclad chronicle of events, the case falls apart, particularly when they are faced with an (untraumatized) accuser who can present a complete, consistent case. It shouldn’t be surprising that only about 10 percent of rape cases end in a conviction on the rape charge.

Total recall of a traumatic event is an unreasonable expectation for human beings. The difference between my traumas and those of a rape survivor lie in the physical evidence, not the truth of the trauma. I still literally carry the scars of my car accident–they become bright red when my body is very hot or cold. I can show people the x-ray of my broken ankle.

What does a rape survivor show? How do you see the scars of a shattered soul? (Hint: Don’t judge and listen to their story.)

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Game of Thrones and rape as a plot device

By SR Staley

A virtual firestorm of debate erupted last month over a rape scene in the popular HBO show “Game of Thrones,” a long-running series based on George R.R. Martin‘s weighty fantasy novels “A Song of Fire and Ice.” I haven’t seen the specific episode, or the scene, but the controversy appears to be over a creative decision by the producers & writers at HBO to make a rape scene between two characters a central event out of a minor one in the books.  Martin has responded on his blog by noting that creative differences between film, television, and books have a long history. This, of course, is not controversial and we’ve blogged on these differences before (see here , here, and here).GameofThronesCast

What is more controversial, or at least worth discussing further, is the role that sexual violence and rape play in storytelling. Martin is quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying “I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.”

Does the pursuit of drama and conflict justify using rape and sexual violence as a plot device? Is rape just a plot device? I’ve struggled with this very question because my novels often deal with sexual violence in some form or another. Systemic rape during slavery is an essential part of the backstory for Isabella in The Pirate of Panther Bayand a motivator for her drive for personal freedom as a pirate. The existential threat to Maria in Renegade is the use of sexual violence and rape to destroy her, physically and emotionally. So, I am very careful to think about how sexual violence and rape figure into the story line and development of my characters. At first blush, I found Martin’s comments flippant and remarkably insensitive.

Of course, rape and sexual violence work as plot devices only to the extent they cause conflict. Ironically, in the value system of Game of Thrones (and most societies before the Enlightenment and emergence of humanism), rape and sexual violence were “normal,” or at least insufficiently deviant to create the conflict that propels story. The fact that readers and viewers are responding to the rape scene in disbelief, anger, and horror because of its depravity is a sign of social and cultural progress. So, in the sense of creating conflict among contemporary readers, rape and sexual violence can be an effective plot device.

But, good stories need more than plot devices. The plot points must move the story and characters forward. This appears to be the essence of the objections to the rape scene in the episode in Season Five of Game of Thrones. On the one hand, rape and sexual violence is a normal part of the story and plot lines. Martin correctly reminds us that his stories are intended portray a medieval world accurately. But this show is not a documentary; it’s a narrative story. The creative question is: Do these scenes move the story and characters forward? Or are they devices used merely to hook viewers through shock?

If they move the characters and stories forward, then rape (and misogyny) serve a creative purpose and are justifiable in the context of the story and storytelling. The decision should not just be about drama and conflict; it should be about story. The writer’s role is to ensure plot points move the characters down the right paths for the story, whether they move into darkness or into light. I can only hope the writers of Game of Thrones have thought through the plot implications, and the system rape and sexual violence isn’t just a plot device to hook viewers through shock.

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