An Amer­i­can pas­time

Sex­ual as­sault is an all too com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence for girls and women in the United States

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Kar­sonya Wise White­head Kar­sonya Wise White­head (ke­white­head@loy­ola.edu; Twit­ter: @kayewhite­head) is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and African and African Amer­i­can stud­ies at Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land and the au­thor of “Letters to My Black S

It all be­gan with one sim­ple tweet. Writer Kelly Ox­ford, af­ter lis­ten­ing to in­ter­views about the “locker room” and sex­ual as­sault took to Twit­ter and shared — for the first time — the story of how she was sex­u­ally as­saulted on a city bus when she was 12 years old. She then asked women to tweet their first as­sault. Within hours, hundreds and then thou­sands of women took to Twit­ter to share their sto­ries us­ing the hash­tag #NotOkay. Within three days, over 30 mil­lion peo­ple had read or con­trib­uted to this thread, mov­ing the con­ver­sa­tion be­yond so­cial me­dia and mak­ing a dis­turb­ing fact abun­dantly clear: Sex­ual as­sault is as Amer­i­can as base­ball and ap­ple pie.

Women and girls shared that they had been as­saulted when they were 5 or 9 or 19. It hap­pened whether they were sin­gle, in a re­la­tion­ship or mar­ried. For some, they had mul­ti­ple sto­ries to share of be­ing fon­dled or groped, touched or han­dled; stalked or grabbed. They shared sto­ries of men forc­ing kisses on them or pin­ning them against walls, of un­cles who made them sit on their laps or teach­ers who stared at their chests. Some of the tweets read like short sto­ries with pain, guilt, shame and re­gret poured out 140 char­ac­ters at a time. Some con­trib­u­tors used their real names; some cre­ated fake ac­counts to re­main anony­mous. Some stated that they had al­ready shared their sto­ries with their fam­i­lies, but many said that they had never re­ported them be­fore. Some were re­lated to their abusers: their fa­thers and un­cles and broth­ers. Some went to church and school with them: their priests and teach­ers and dea­cons. Some sat in class­rooms with them or went on dates with them or lived in the same build­ing with them. Many were just name­less and face­less men and boys in the crowd who found an op­por­tu­nity and took it.

When peo­ple started ques­tion­ing why women did not re­port their as­saults, a sub­se­quent hash­tag, #WhyWomenDon­tRe­port, was cre­ated and in the space of a few hours, thou­sands of women re­sponded in sim­i­lar fash­ion: shame, fear, em­bar­rass­ment, con­fu­sion, hu­mil­i­a­tion, self-ha­tred and a lack of trust that the sys­tem will work and hold their abusers ac­count­able. It be­came painfully clear that there re­ally is a “locker room,” and it is within this space that men and boys are led to be­lieve that they can sex­u­ally as­sault a woman or girl with­out any fear that they will be held ac­count­able.

The con­ver­sa­tion was not about Don­ald Trump. It did not start with him. We have been talk­ing about sex­ual as­sault, rape and con­sent for a long time, along with daily forms of mi­cro-sex­ual ag­gres­sions, from inappropriate touch­ing to sex­ual in­nu­en­does and jokes. We must now face the hard truth that the cul­ture has not changed and that these rapists, these of­fend­ers, are our sons, our hus­bands, our fa­thers, our col­leagues, our elected of­fi­cials. It is within this en­vi­ron­ment that this tweet, once in­tro­duced, em­pow­ered women and girls to tell their sto­ries. And if we do not change now, then we are com­plicit and we are help­ing to main­tain an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­ages and re­wards male vi­o­lence, hy­per-sex­u­al­ity, and the degra­da­tion and si­lenc­ing of women and girls. And so we must: Agree to no longer ac­cept vi­o­lent mas­culin­ity and vic­tim blam­ing as the norm;

De­sign cur­ricu­lum that teaches young girls and boys about what it means to ask for and give on­go­ing ar­dent con­sent;

Or­ga­nize af­ter-school pro­grams and classes to teach young boys and girls howto treat each other as hu­man be­ings, re­spect­ing both their bod­ies and their space;

Put more coun­selors in place to sup­port and en­cour­age women and girls to re­port sex­ual as­saults;

And start a cam­paign to force the me­dia to change the sex­ist and sex­ual na­ture of ad­ver­tis­ing.

This is how we change our cul­ture. We com­mit to hold­ing our­selves and our fam­ily and friends ac­count­able. We lend our voices, bend our priv­i­lege and work to­gether to un­ravel this thread so that we can do bet­ter and be bet­ter.

RINGO H.W. CHIU/AP

Sum­mer Zer­vos, right, a for­mer con­tes­tant on "The Ap­pren­tice" reads a state­ment de­scrib­ing how Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump made un­wanted sex­ual con­tact with her at a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel in 2007.

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