As part of writing non-consent and gender degradation erotica in a responsible manner, each month I present a Reality Check article, touching base with safe, respectful, equitable behaviour in kink, in relationships, and in the world generally.
Okay, so the Reality Check is late this month because I’ve tried to write something for the column about four times, and each time I ended up doing a long meandering intro about safety in dating and in kink.
And eventually I realised I’m going to want to do that intro for a LOT of different topics. And while it’s probably worth saying multiple times, it was going to be far more practical to write it once, and link back to it repeatedly in future.
So let’s talk about the risk of intimate and sexual violence.
I’m using this term to capture the range of unacceptable and (usually) criminal violations that can occur in the context of relationships and dating. So we’re talking rape, molestation, drink spiking, coerced consent, harassment, stalking, domestic violence, confinement, doxing, criminal controlling behaviour, unauthorised taking and distribution of intimate images, threats, intimidatory behaviour, and the whole range of activity in that space.
As I’ve said before – I write non-consent erotica fiction, but real life isn’t a fantasy. None of this acceptable. None of it is sexy. Most of it is punishable by imprisonment. It’s far too prevalent, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to actively combat that.
And in discussing this, we really can’t do it in an honest way without talking about who the victims are and who the perpetrators are.
Who is at risk?
You are – whoever you may be. No one is immune from the possibility of dating someone dangerous, from something going wrong, from being abused, assaulted, or having your boundaries violated. Whatever your background, gender, age, or experience, you need to take the risk of abuse seriously.
That said, it’s also worth acknowledging some context – and we’re talking here about societal averages, not saying this is the case for every person.
Intimate violence and sexual assault is gendered
- Adult women are at greater risk of intimate and sexual violence than adult men.
- Adult men are more likely to perpetrate intimate and sexual violence than women.
- Intimate and sexual violence perpetrated by men has a higher physical impact, is more likely to permanently damage or kill, is more likely to involve the use of a weapon, is likely to last for longer, is more likely to be repeated, and is more likely to eventually escalate to murder.
- Because of systemic inequities in financial status, employment, housing security, parenting responsibility, policing, and attitudes towards sex, the impact of similar levels of abuse is likely to be greater on a woman than a man, she will be less able to avoid and escape it, and the cost of reporting it will be higher.
Men are victims too, and women are perpetrators too
- None of the points above should be taken to mean that men are not victims of intimate and sexual violence, or that women cannot be perpetrators.
- There are many men who are victims. The crimes against them are not less serious because they are men.
- Men are *not* somehow inherently able to defend themselves just because they are men.
- Men *can* be raped. The nature of sexual assault is to do with intimate violation and power. It doesn’t require the penetration of any particular orifice. Beyond that, arousal isn’t consent, and having an erection isn’t consent.
- In the same way that our culture around gender roles creates unique vulnerabilities and impacts on women, it can also mean that men may have trouble recognising they have been assaulted, unwilling to identify as a victim or seek help, have difficulty talking about it, and be reluctant to report it to authorities – and that’s a problem that it’s everyone’s responsibility to tackle.
- Likewise, women absolutely can be, and are, perpetrators. Women can be just as bad at respecting boundaries and seeking consent, and just as abusive and controlling, in relationships with men, women, or any gender.
There are other high-risk groups
- Trans people, and particularly trans women, are incredibly at risk. There’s a lot that could be said about the mix of factors that cause this, but it’s not okay and it’s got to stop, people.
- Younger people are at high risk as they’re less likely to have secure transport, finances and accommodation; less likely to have the skills to identify danger; and more likely to be on the wrong end of an imbalance in power, authority and social standing.
- Older people can be at high risk for the reasons that older people generally can be at high risk in society.
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can be at higher risk because they may face barriers to clear communication, possibly less supporting and sex-positive communities, have cultural norms that make it difficult to clearly identify and confront abusive behaviour, and may be reluctant to report abuse because of fears around racism in authorities, complications in their immigration status, and/or cultural inhibition.
- Gay and bisexual men have a complicated risk profile that’s beyond the scope of this article but are at higher risk than men generally.
None of the above is about demonising gender
- Yes, men are more commonly the perpetrators of intimate and sexual violence, but no, that’s not because men are just awful, or they’re naturally rapists, or they can’t help themselves.
- It’s because most men alive today – myself included – were raised in a culture that taught absolutely terrible lessons about boundaries, dating, respect, consent, gender relations, anger, and managing emotions.
- Even today we get films that depict a woman saying “no” as an invitation to pursue and court her. We get shows that depict a man’s violent jealousy as excusable because it shows how much he really loves her. We get romantic comedies where no one ever really has a decent communication and the problem is solved by a grand romantic gesture rather than two people talking like adults. And no, good relationships and respectful courtship don’t inherently make boring films, and maybe in a future article I’ll talk about a few timeless classics that show how to do it right.
- Strong men aim to improve themselves. If you want a better body, you exercise, you go jogging, you hit the gym, you eat healthy. If you want a better wardrobe, you put in the time and effort to find something that fits you and looks good, and you pay what it costs to get it right. If you want a better job, you go get a degree and/or you work your ass off in your current one. Good relationships aren’t going to just fall into your lap and miraculously work just because you’re passionate enough. You need to do work – just like the gym, just like your career. Strong men put in work to unlearn the toxic bullshit from their childhood and develop real skills in consent, respect, and confident boundary-aware flirtation. And, trust me, it pays off.
- And for people who aren’t men – yes, you need to do the work too. Consent and respect are everyone’s job, and you shouldn’t think that just because you’re not a dude that you’re naturally perfect at it or not at risk of getting it wrong.
What can we do about it?
When I started writing this article, it was originally going to be sensible safety precautions for fun, safe hookups, and it’s likely I’ll return to that idea for a subsequent Reality Check.
But at a broader level, I want to suggest three key ways to address sexual and intimate violence long-term:
1) Believe victims.
You’re not the police and you’re not a court. You don’t have to sit back and go, “The charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt” – and that’s because you don’t have the power to investigate it fairly, nor the power to imprison anyone based on that finding.
You should also know that:
- The strong evidence is that the overwhelming majority of witnesses are truthful; and
- You, personally, are terrible at assessing the truthfulness of sexual assault claims, for a range of reasons that could be their own article, no matter who you personally are or what your personal or professional background is.
Your job is to believe and support the victim, and take sensible steps to protect them, and other people, from the risk of further harm. Often mitigating risk will involve some impact on the social life, memberships or employment status of the accused. That sucks for them if they’re innocent, but (a) it’s not actually all that hard to not be accused of sexual assault, falsely or otherwise, if you have a strong understanding and respect for boundaries and consent, so even the innocent people here are generally not people who have been following best practice, and (b) some inconvenience to an innocent person is reasonable in protecting other innocent people against serious harm.
2) Fight for gender equity.
A huge part of intimate and sexual violence comes directly from gender inequity. Women are more vulnerable to assault because of a range of systemic inequities. Men are more likely to commit it because of toxic gender roles learned from childhood. Trans people are at increased risk because of insecurities and complexes around gender, gender roles and sexuality.
A world where women have the same financial, sexual and domestic opportunities as men, and where men aren’t raised to see violating boundaries and controlling behaviour as masculine, is a world that’s safer for everyone – and a safer world is one where everyone has greater freedom and opportunity for hot, kinky sex.
People are trying to talk to you about this subject. Women are trying to explain how harassment and the risk of sexual violence is the daily background noise of their life. Men are trying to tell you that most of them don’t want to be the creepy guy or the abusive guy, but they’re terrified of being demonised if they try to do better but are less than 100% successful. Experts are trying to tell you a range of reasons why an opinion based on nothing but your life experience and intuitive understanding may not be giving you the whole picture.
Sit back and listen to them. You don’t need to argue. Everyone has a lot of emotions in this space, and part of the message that needs to be conveyed is just *hearing* those emotions. I don’t for a minute mean to suggest a literal equivalence between a person who’s scared and insecure about change versus a person who’s been sexually assaulted, but the best progress is going to occur from taking the time to go, “Wow, that’s been really shit for you, and as a fellow human I wish you didn’t have to go through it.” Just hear their emotions.
For victims, and particularly women, the anger is part of the message. They’re entitled to be angry. They’re entitled to be furious that sexual assault is still so common – we’ve had a long time to fix it. They’re not obliged to give out awards to people for raping them slightly less often than last year. Everyone is entitled to full safety and respect for their boundaries, and anything less than that is unacceptable.
But at the same time, change is a journey – no one goes to bed one night as a knuckle-dragging caveman and wakes up the next morning as a woke, nuanced master of consent. And journeys are hard, and they’re scary, and this is a really tough time for a lot of people right now just in terms of managing household expenses, employment, health and family, without going on a journey of self-improvement as well. That doesn’t mean it’s not everyone’s inescapable obligation to take that journey – but we can recognise that it takes personal effort and commitment.
Thanks for reading
That’s all I’ve got on this subject. Please keep enjoying my fucked-up erotica – and please keep practising positive, enthusiastic consent and respect for boundaries in real life.
If you’ve got topics you’d like to see me address in future Reality Check articles, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org