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Non-Violent Sexual Assaults? September 2, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Politics.
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m pleased to bring you this guest post from blogger Kaitlin. Kaitlin is a queer feminist from Burnaby, BC. She holds a degree in Political Science, and blogs about anti-oppression, politics, and social justice. She can normally be found at Equality Kitten, but is honoured to be contributing this guest post today to one of her favourite blogs.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu

According to recently released statistics, overall crime in Vancouver is down 7.5 percent. Rates are down in all categories except sexual assault, which is up a staggering 21%. According to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, aggravated sexual assaults are up 600%, from a single reported case last year to seven this year. Overall, 303 sexual assaults have been reported in Vancouver so far this year, up from 246 in the same period last year.

At a press conference with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Jim Chu explained that many of the reported sexual assaults were gropings, or “non-violent sexual assaults.” This is what caught my eye – since when is groping not considered a form of violence? Unless consensual, groping is an attack on a person’s bodily integrity. As with other forms of sexual assault, groping can cause emotional and psychological harm to the victim. The possible impacts of non-consensual groping can be life-long, and should never be minimized.

It concerns me greatly that the magnitude of groping is being downplayed by the media. Sexual assault is never okay. Implying that groping is somehow less bad than rape contributes to the all too widespread impression that it is not a serious crime, that people who commit this form of sexual assault are somehow less culpable, or that victims aren’t seriously wounded by the experience. These kinds of sentiments just contribute to rape culture, and it horrifies me that the fact that gropings are so common in Vancouver is somehow being used to temper the announcement about sexual assault statistics.

Now, admittedly, it is possible that these sobering statistics do illustrate possible progress: there is a chance that reporting rates have increased. This would certainly be very good news, as it’s known that many women feel too ashamed to report sexual assaults to the police. However, I fear that reports like this, casting groping as non-violent, could serve to counteract any progress of this sort.

Jim Chu attributes the rise in sexual assaults partly to the growing popularity of Granville Street. However, he also admitted that incidents of groping were up across the city. While alcohol can, and does, contribute to sexual assaults, the true culprit is a culture that downplays sexual assault, as is happening right now. If we accept Chief Chu’s assertion that the majority of sexual assaults in Vancouver last year were non-violent, then we risk making groping okay. So, I’m going to call him out: there is no such thing as a non-violent sexual assault.



1. Observer - September 2, 2010

As someone who advocates equality, I find it odd that, when you mention reporting rates, you specify/single out women as the victims, silently naming men as the perpetrators.

What about men as victims? Surely it occurs less frequently then to women, and is reported at an even more reduced rate, but it still happens: Men are assaulted and victimized too.

This omission strikes me as a different type of victimization: The implicit statement (through omission) of men as constantly being attackers and women victims.

That seems like an insult to both genders.

Kaitlin Burnett - September 2, 2010

I really appreciate Observer’s comments: I try to keep blog posts of this nature as gender neutral as possible, but at the same time I don’t want to fake my evidence. I say that “it’s known that many women feel too ashamed to report sexual assaults to the police” because there are many studies to back up the claim. I find very few studies addressing the issue of men and sexual assault (with the exception of child sexual abuse, which is not related to this post), and absolutely no studies addressing non-gendered people and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, that’s probably the exact same response I would have had to that sentence.

2. Carla - September 2, 2010

Of course all sexual assault is bad, doesn’t matter if its against men or women. and everyone who feels victimized should come forward, but I didn’t really read into it that she was saying only women are victims. Women are most of the victims of sexual assault, which doesn’t mean we ignore sexual assault against men…but we also can’t ignore that theres a gender dimension and more women are impacted than men.

3. Non-Violent Sexual Assaults? « Equality Kitten - September 2, 2010

[…] in Vancouver for one of my favourite blogs, Gender Focus. You can find my original blog post here, and I’m going to shamelessly plug it. After all, it’s my first guest post anywhere! […]

4. Roo - September 2, 2010

I think the term Non Violent Sexual assaults has been taken a bit out of context. It would appear to me that the police are simply using that as a means of differentiating between a crime when brute force or weapons have been used and no actual penetration occurs, and a crime when someone is physically harmed in the process of the attack. No where does is say that the police consider it to be “less bad” than rape nor are they using it as a term to insinuate the event itself causes less harm or emotional damage than rape.

I do however agree with you that in general the public is under the widespread impression that being fondled or interfered with is not as traumatic as rape, which many studies have shown otherwise.

As far as it being something that is intentionally “downplayed” by the media or police I doubt that’s true. As someone who works in the media it’s amazing all the things people think we’re secretly downplaying or blowing up. Most “media”, weather right or wrong, is simply a reflection of a large portion of the populations perception of current events.

5. abgirl - September 24, 2010

Hang on a second…I have been groped/fondled without my consent, and I know women who have been raped. My experience was nowhere near as damaging as the women who were raped. It was “less bad”. It generally DOES cause less emotional damage. And it’s frankly an insult to rape victims and to me to act as if I can’t handle one incident of someone touching my private parts without my consent and to act as if my life should be ruined forever because of it. To me that reinforces a sexist idea that I, as a woman, am a delicate flower who cannot handle being touched without my consent and will be rendered unable to move on with my life if my “bodily integrity” is in any way interfered with. It was not a pleasant experience to be groped, to be sure, but what I experienced is fundamentally very different from having another person violently force themselves upon you. To compare the two is to downplay rape.

I should point out that groping as a function of continuing sexual abuse, particularly by a trusted person, is quite a different animal and different from what I experienced and I would never downplay the effects of that kind of sexual abuse. But I refuse to bow to the notion that a guy grabbing my breasts and putting his hands down my pants one time is supposed to be as bad as someone threatening me with violence or drugging me and raping me just because both are without my consent.

Now, there is a central issue that both “non-violent sexual assault” and rape speak to. The men (yes, I’m indicating men as the general perpetrators of rape) who are willing to grope are often also the men who are willing to rape, I’m sure, and the issue is the same: the attitude that women are sexual objects and their consent is not required for sexual activity, or other sexist attitudes. Neither are OK. But to me it’s insulting to victims or real, violent rape to indicate that they are on the same level as someone who has been groped.

Kaitlin Burnett - September 24, 2010

I think I should have been a bit more clear – I’m not saying that being groped is the same as being raped, but I don’t believe that committing one form of sexual assault is “less bad” committing another. I know that response depends a lot on the person, so one person can have a far more sever reaction to being groped than another might to being raped, but on principle I agree with you. However, the perpetrators are equally guilty, and should not be treated that because they haven’t penetrated the victim they are “less bad” than someone who has. All that kind of mentality does is to reinforce rape culture.

6. jarrahpenguin - September 24, 2010

Yeah, I don’t think the two are the same thing but since they are both on a continuum of sexual assault, for me the big problem is calling gropings “non-violent”.

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