Deconstructing Sexual Assault

Content Warnings: Discussion of sexual assault and discussion of mental health issues.

Just watched The Hunting Ground the other day.

I am so inspired by the people, especially the women, who were a part of this project. I am so humbled by the strength of all the survivors who came forward, and so thankful to all the survivors who were a part of the project even if they never appeared on camera.

To survivors everywhere, you are loved. I believe you. I want to support you in any way that I can.

I am angry. Which is not particularly unusual for me. I am trying to wrap my head around the causes of rape and sexual assault. Fundamentally it is not a crime that makes sense to me. Sexual assault takes away a person’s sense of self. It alters their view of the world in a deep and personal way. It does not make sense how one human can perpetrate such a crime against another. It does not make sense how some people do not see this as a violent crime. Or how some people are “confused” about what is and what isn’t sexual assault.

I would like to interview sexual assailants to figure out what happens in their heads. Though according to the lead psychological researcher on the matter, David Lisak, there is no one psychological profile for rapists.

Here is a list of common motivations, though. The purpose of this is to help fight these factors. Every individual is responsible for their actions, but if we can figure out the commonalities we can start to deconstruct them and decrease their future influence.

This is to those who may have or may again assault someone because they “didn’t know”. This is to crush the idea of “ignorance” as an excuse for sexual violence. This is to deconstruct the “blurred lines” and “gray area” surrounding a lot of the sex people seem to be having in high school, college and beyond.

Confusion is not an excuse for committing a crime. Confusion is not an excuse for taking away someone’s sense of self. Even if the legal system in our country seems to believe it, I don’t believe it, and I will do everything in my power to ensure justice.

So without ado, here’s a list of what might be contributing to sexual assault:

Toxic masculinity

Unless you’re living in some strange alternate reality where humans have been replaced by genderless candy canes (which, let’s be honest, I’d love to join you in), you may be aware that the world has been suffering under the yoke of toxic masculinity since… forever. It is present in our must every interaction, internalized, and at this point self-perpetuating. But not impossible to dismantle.

By toxic masculinity I mean the idea that men are (and should be) superior to women. The idea that men are and should be (must be) stronger, more intelligent, and less capable of emotions. The idea that men be hard, muscular, large, loud, confident, and violent. The idea that men must make more money and have more sex and carry more guns. The idea that this has been “coded for in the genes”.

I’m a biology major, and I may not know much, but I can tell you that this is absolute idiocy.

At the core of toxic masculinity is fear. Fear, ultimately, of death. If men are big enough and loud enough and “smart” enough and “logical” enough, we are told, then they will not die. If men can dominate women and anything “feminine”, then they will not die. If men have large enough penises, then they will not die.

Here’s the thing: everyone dies.

I’m a biology major, and I may not know much, but I can tell you that this is absolutely true.

But what exactly about toxic masculinity drives men to sexually assault women or other men? You know other than the whole need to dominate and degrade anything feminine thing…

Toxic masculinity contributes:

Emphasis on Violence

To be male in America, we are told over and over and over again, is to be violent. The ideal way to settle things is by fists not words. If you have seen a movie in the past century you will know what I mean. Manliness has been equated with the ability to overpower others. This expresses itself in many ways: manspreading (the process by which a man takes up more physical space than is necessary), mansplaining (the process by which a man takes up more verbal and intellectual space than is necessary), and, of course, sexual assault.

(Aside: A fun game to play if you want to see manspreading in action- as you’re walking down the sidewalk and you see a male approaching, do not move out of his way. Continue walking in your set trajectory. The looks of confusion and anger on the male face are priceless. Men are accustomed to women making room for them. They get all flustered when we don’t. It’s cute.)

Probably any bizarre men’s rights activist who somehow stumbled on this site will get angry and say that manspreading and mansplaining and the like aren’t actually forms of violence. False. Violence is about force. Men who push themselves into other people’s lives physically or verbally are enacting violence.

They have been told that they should do this by society. They do this when they sexually assault people.

Emphasis on lack of empathy

How men live with themselves after committing assault is also due in part to what they have decided to believe about their maleness. I do not like to talk about suicide lightly. It is something that has impacted my life very deeply and very personally. (Feel free to check out this blogpost for more details.) That is why I am so pissed off at the fact that many, if not most, survivors of sexual assault experience periods of severe depression, including suicidal ideation. Many commit suicide.

Has there ever been a case when an assailant committed suicide? Ever?

This is because toxic masculinity tells men not to feel what others might be feeling. They are told not to empathize, that empathy is weak and feminine rather than courageous and human. If men could for even the briefest moment understand what life is like as a woman, they would never commit sexual harassment of any kind again. But they shy away from that looming cliff edge, because if they understood the depth of what has been happening and is still happening to women, they might not be able to handle it.

So the assailant doesn’t feel for their victim. They shut them out. Dehumanize them. Treat them like a receptacle for whatever bullshit the assailant is trying to run away from, rather than a person with a life and emotions.

Emphasis on lack of communication

Then, of course, there is the lack of communication. Men, we are told, don’t talk. Talking is for women. Women talk. If a man does talk it is always “logical” and “rational” and “very very important” so we should all sit up and take note. (See above discussion of mansplaining.)

For a man to talk during or before engaging in sexual activity, that would be like… crazy.

Or required.

Communication is a keystone of healthy sex. It is not antithetical to it. If a woman wanted a silent partner, she’d get a vibrator. It would be safer for her.

Sex at its best is about the togetherness of humans in the metaphorical or actual creation of new life. Even if not at its best, it is about pleasure. Both of these goals require communication between partners.

It is when people fail to communicate, or when they stop listening to their partner, or never bother to ask in the first place, that sexual assault finds its foothold. If you cannot carry out a conversation with your partner, you should not be having sex with your partner.


This is not completely separate from the toxic masculinity bullet point, but it deserves its own place.

Entitlement is necessary for sexual assault to occur. When someone is raised to believe they have a right to everything, this eventually comes to include someone else’s body.

There are many types of entitlement that may come into play.

Economic Entitlement

Sad truth, a lot of the sexual assault that occurs on college campuses are carried out by the wealthy. This is partially because there is still a perpetuation of the wealthier getting wealthier through the higher education grist mill, but it is also because many who were raised with money believe that they are entitled to the world and that if they make a mistake their money will protect them.

And in the capitalist society in which we live, they are often supported in this belief. When a student files a complaint against an assailant, they are often provided with a pro bono lawyer responsible for their case. Most wealthy assailants will use their family lawyer who has resources and who can postpone the case. The longer a case drags on the more difficult it is for the complainant to continue it.

Think of the amount of effort it takes to re-live a trauma over and over again. Many survivors want to put the case behind them, and a drawn out complicated complaint process makes this difficult if not impossible.

Racial Entitlement

Probably not surprising to anyone, the amount of assailants who are straight white males is… predominant. The number of survivors who are POC is also predominant. Does it shock any of us that racial entitlement is at play alongside these gender dynamics?

It shouldn’t.

We are a country built on the back of a violent racial hierarchy devoted to continuing itself through any means necessary. Ideas of racial superiority still live on and enact themselves in the same ways they always have.

If you never want to sleep at night ever again read “At the Dark End of the Street” a discussion of the sexual assault women of color have been enduring since the founding of the United States.

Other Forms of Entitlement

“The Hunting Ground” did a fantastic job of pointing out the other intersections of privilege that go into many college assaults. This includes the existence and power of fraternities and the undeniable might of college sports. (Another book to read “Missoula” by Jon Krakauer.) When (primarily) young men are told that they have a right to special treatment over and over and over, when they are told that they will be supported no matter what they do as long as they pledge the right house or continue to play well, are we surprised that these same young men are the ones perpetrating the most assaults?

Again, this is not an excuse. It is simply pointing out another area that requires assessment.

If we distance ourselves from our capitalist, racist, violence-obsessed roots, we are working towards a reality that doesn’t include rape.


At the end of the day, a rapist may be motivated by all of these factors, but they are still a rapist. If you coerce a person, through emotional or physical intimidation OR through drugs or alcohol OR if you force yourself on another person OR if you do not have verbal and physical consent such that even your mother would tell you, yes, honey, go ahead, then you are a rapist.

I am done tacitly supporting sexual assailants. I am not okay with people who claim they did not know that what they did was wrong. Guess what, your fucking knew, your victim has to live with what you did for the rest of their life.

I am done with people explaining that everyone makes mistakes. This is not a Miley Cyrus song, this is people’s lives and emotional well-being. Raping someone is not a “mistake”. Assaulting someone is not a “mistake”.

I am done with people who defend assailants. Oh no, they’re suffering from the consequences of their actions? Someone give them a sucker. If we are choosing to be part of a society, then people need to be held responsible for what they do.

In conclusion, rapists may be motivated by many factors, and we need to examine how we are intentionally or tacitly supporting these factors, but ultimately YOU are responsible for what YOU do. And I am done putting up with bullshit.

 Final Note: I would like to acknowledge that I’ve been using a lot of gendered language. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by male-bodied individuals against female-bodied individuals. But I want to point out that sexual assault and violence occurs against men and is perpetrated by women as well. Here are some statistics about rape in America: 1 in 6 women will be raped, 1 in 33 men will be raped, 1 in 4 transgender men and women will be raped. LET’S END THIS.


4 thoughts on “Deconstructing Sexual Assault

  1. Pingback: 2016: A Year in Review | What All The Kids Are Doing

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  3. The scary thing is just how accepted a harmful standard of masculinity is. I was trying to find a fun picture to tease my mom for “being all grown up and learning how to use emojis.” Google decided I needed a page full of results from the Washington Post and New York Times explaining how men shouldn’t use emojis or should use them extremely carefully, because hinting at having emotions is an existential threat for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, toxic masculinity is so harmful to everyone across all genders. I’m sorry you have to put up with this, Jay. I’m proud of you and your beautiful emotions and beautiful flowing hair!


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