In his Letter to the Editor, Jacob Meacham raises some serious points about where the main focus should be when seeking to explain, understand and prevent sexual assault. As a community, we are all asking the same questions with the current wave of stranger assaults that are being perpetrated against our loved ones and our community. It should be pointed out that rape and sexual assault are crimes that disproportionately affect women. It is also slowly becoming increasingly accepted that these crimes affect the men in our lives. Unfortunately, we as a community, men and women, are less ready to deal with that reality, and are less ready to challenge that status quo. I think that Meacham was getting at this point. I also think that he was feeling defensive and that is something I also understand, something I think there is room for. There is a significant room for growth in our conversation about sexual assault and how it affects every member of our community.
Everyone can agree that we need to focus on all potential perpetrators of sexual assault. Unfortunately, as the previous Letter to the Editor erroneously assumes, there isn’t a generic profile for a perpetrator, while there are characteristics that are similar across the range of perpetrators. Many studies confirm, “men are more likely to commit sexual violence in communities where sexual violence goes unpunished,” perpetrators often use alcohol as a tool to facilitate sexual assault, almost 10 percent of men in anonymous surveys indicate they have engaged in behavior that meets the legal definition of rape, and 84 percent, of the same men, did not consider their behaviors to be illegal. The next logical step would be to teach what consent, sexual assault and rape are and that non-consensual behaviors will not be tolerated in our community. I am not advising against people taking their safety into their own hands, but rather that they should not have to. We as a community cannot continue to focus solely on the method of protecting oneself.
The CDC sponsored National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey states that one in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape in their lifetime. If we are going to accept sociopathy as a significant and contributing factor to being a perpetrator of rape we must also ask the question: why are women disproportionately selected as the victims of their violence? Sociopaths must understand the power dynamics inherent in the situation; recognize women as culturally, socially, and sometimes, physically vulnerable; consider that our culture will often put the blame on the victim for being out and alone too late at night. Sociopaths do not enact violence against socially powerful individuals, such as authority figures, in anywhere near the same rates.
There is no nice way to say this; masculinity, in all its healthy forms, also has a destructive and often extremely violent side. While some might not agree, we cannot ignore this fact any longer. Men are victims of homicide and non-sexual assault more frequently than women and I have never heard this attributed to some widespread psychological illness, besides, perhaps masculinity itself. We expect men to be violent. We insult them and their manhood if they don’t physically deal with certain problems. Nowhere do we urge or promote the same for women. Due to the way women are portrayed in our popular forms of media and cultural narratives about power, words and phrases like defenseless, helpless, or in need of male protection take prominence. With this in mind, it seems the natural order for some women to experience violence and victimization at the hands of the crazed, sociopathic men who live in the shadows of our communities. Women are targeted for sexual violence by men who are trying to prove or claim their masculinity.
This is why we see sexual assaults being perpetrated by all types of men. Usually these men are charming, socially-adept and relatively well-regarded. I cannot discount the fact that sociopaths constitute a proportion of perpetrators. As Psychology Today writer Seth Meyers states in his discussion of sociopathy, this disorder is characterized by a “sense of entitlement”. The entitlement breeds anger and resentful feelings underneath an “often-charming exterior…[which] fuels their sense they have the right to act out in whichever way they happen to choose…” While sociopathy is obviously a relatively rare condition, the behaviors that characterize it are related to entitlement. Entitlement is one of the leading causes to sexual assault, perpetrated against men and women.
When a person feels entitled to someone else’s body, to have their needs met at the expense of a partner, to indulge unreciprocated urges, is a problem. I don’t think this could definitively be called sociopathy, perhaps entitled behavior. These are the reasons why it is important to teach consent and create a culture that will tolerate nothing less. Campaigns like “Consent Turns Me On” not only teach what is sexy about consent (because there’s a lot) but it:
1.) teaches individuals that people cannot consent if they are intoxicated and do not know what is going on,
2.) states to those who take advantage of these situations this behavior is not and will not be accepted,
3.) declares unequivocally that pressuring someone into a sexual act or behavior they are uncomfortable with is unacceptable, e.g. if they get a “YES” for oral sex, it does not necessarily give permission for other types of touching.
–Will Louis Wytias-Sobel