How not to talk about sexual assault

22 December 2017

How not to talk about sexual assault

Hi! Are you a society grappling at long last with a systemic fault line in your culture? Are you trying to form a hot take about how to go about it? Well, here are a few pointers to show you what to avoid.

DON’T blame the victim

I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.

– Mayim Bialik, 13 October 2017

We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it’s awful to say we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.

– Angela Lansbury, 28 November 2017

To see it here in our own country is very difficult, but I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?

– Donna Karen, 10 October 2017

It has been consistently debunked that assaults happen primarily because of anything the victim does. Accept that sexual assault happens because people in positions of trust or power abuse it because they can. Understand that blaming someone for what happened to them is one of the worst things you can do for their recovery.

Reflect on the fact that, in large part, the problem is what we view as provocative or suggestive. Plenty of cultures consider nudity and female breasts to be  nonsexual – we don’t. Understand that if a teacher views a 13 year old’s skirt as suggestive, the problem is with them, not the girl.

DON’T support the offender

I don’t know Louis C.K.. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he — I just think that we have to kind of start delineating between what these behaviors are.

– Matt Damon, 14 December 2017

The whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved. Tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up… You also don’t want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.

– Woody Allen, 15 October 2017

I feel very bad for Harvey Weinstein right now. I don’t think it’s right what’s going on. He’s never harmed me or done anything to me. We’ve done several movies together. And so I think everyone needs to stop. I think it’s wrong. So stand up.

– Lindsay Lohan, 19 October 2017

Remember that the suffering that any offender, outed in the public light and reputation shattered, is minuscule in comparison their victims.

Understand that actions have consequences – and that sometimes, the consequences are condemnation.

Remember that treating an offender as an object of sympathy detracts from the severity of their offence, and removes the agency from their crimes. Remember that there are victims here – and the person that made them is not one of them.

DON’T categorise assault

You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?

– Matt Damon, 19 December 2017

Acknowledge that assaults and harassment may occur in different ways. Unwanted flirting is different from rape, and should be punished accordingly.

Consider what categorising types of assaults into levels of offences does in regards to our treatment of them. What are the implications? Will offences deemed to be ‘smaller’ be treated less seriously? Ask yourself: would I be fine with being continually harassed, so long as it wasn’t rape? Would I view it as less serious, not as equally unacceptable?

Accept that behaviour of this nature should be unacceptable in all circumstances, and a holistic and unified approach is needed to deal with the root cause. Understand that comments like this do not help.

DON’T distract from the issue

As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.

– Kevin Spacey, 30 October 2017

For a start I’m an Asperger’s person, and I have a lot of other failings that are genetic… I suffer from a terrible problem with that. Not seeing. No-one can understand how you can’t see it, but you don’t.

– Don Burke, 28 November 2017

Admitting culpability should be a moment of repentance, not sympathy.

Understand that no condition or attribute of a character forces them to sexually assault or harrass someone. Cast a wary eye to apologies that draw sympathy to the offender.

DON’T attack the accuser

They’re not only untrue, but they have no evidence to support them.

– Roy Moore, 17 November 2017

This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous.

– Al Franken, 6 December 2017

He thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward, but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course. In this case, the president has denied any of these allegations.

– Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 11 December 2017

Only 3% of rape accusations made to police end up being false. (Deviances in statistics usually depend on the definition of what an accusation is). The vast majority of them are not. Understand that more accusers add credibility to the accusation.

Look at the articles that break the news. Review their sourcing. Understand that allegations in major publications (like the Washington Post) are vetted (and spurious allegations discarded.)

Imagine the courage it takes to subject yourself to as much public attention and media coverage as an accuser. Consider if you are doing justice to someone’s experience by discarding it outright.

DON’T focus on the wrong people

We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is there are a whole shit load of guys — the preponderance of men I’ve worked with — who don’t do this kind of thing and whose lives aren’t going to be affected.

– Matt Damon, 19 December 2017

Acknowledge the existence of cases where the roles are reversed, but remember that the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are women.

Look into the stats about women experiencing assault, harassment and abuse in their lives. Understand that how women are treated is a more systemic issue than you might be able to understand.

Accept that acting as if a problem isn’t widespread or as bad as it is doesn’t make it go away. Consider: where should the focus lie the most to stop the problem?

As previously mentioned, remember that we need a new standard, and the first step starts within. Acknowledge that some things you might think are acceptable might not be. Cast a thought to what consequences your actions might have.

Thanks for dropping in. Take your time, and let it all sink in. With any luck, as the new year rolls around, so too will change — for the better.


If you or anyone you know are struggling with an experience of sexual assault or harassment, OPMG encourages you to contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 555 677. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000. There is always help available.