Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gender and Sexual Violence

Before I get into the "meat" of this post, I want start with a quick Biology/Sociology lesson: "Sex" is a biological term that refers to the bits you were born with (penis, vagina or intersexed). "Gender" is a sociological term that refers to identity. Check this out for a useful (and pretty awesome) visual definition.

Okay so...when folks talk about sexual violence its common to use the pronoun "she" for the victim/survivor and "he" for the perpetrator(s). This is not without understandable reason. After all, the majority of survivors are women and the vast majority of perpetrators (98-99%) are men. (It is important to note that while most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators). But despite the statistics, I think our use of gendered pronouns (in general and in terms of sexual violence) warrants some examination.

Previous posts have discussed barriers to "coming out" as a rape survivor. The fear of not being believed or of being blamed are two barriers that can impact survivors of all genders. But for survivors who aren't women, common myths and misconceptions make it even harder to come forward.

For example, some folks believe that a man will be "turned gay" if he is raped by another man, despite the fact that there is zero scientific evidence which supports that theory. And plenty of folks believe that it's not even possible for men to be raped (even though 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused or assaulted before their 18th birthdays and that 1 in 10-33 men will be sexually assaulted within their lifetime).

For transgendered people the barriers to coming out as a survivor can be even greater. (Transgender is a new term to lots of folks. In short, it describes folks whose biological sex is not "in line" with their gender, as it is traditionally understood. If you're unfamiliar or would like more information please check out these sites). In addition to dealing with myths about rape, transfolk have to deal with prejudices against their very identity. Medical staff, legal officials nor the general population are given sufficient training about the specific needs of trangendered people. As a result, trans survivors may be met with misunderstanding, or worse, blatant bigotry when they seek support.

Since it's arguably harder for people who aren't both biological females and sociological women to come out as survivors, I think our movement needs to go out of it's way to give men and trans survivors more of a voice.

We, as a movement, have tended toward using language that indicates 1) only women get raped and 2) only two genders exist. In doing so, we are effectively erasing the experiences of many survivors. So let's cut it out already!

I propose we change the way we talk about rape. First of all, don't assume all survivors are female (or that all perpetrators are male). And when you talk about gender (in terms of sexual assault, or in general), change your language slightly to say things like "all genders" instead of "both genders." Of course, this is just a start. There is much more work to be done before trans and male survivors will have ready access to the support they deserve. But I've learned to appreciate "baby steps." So let's have at it!

Thanks to the very fabulous Cat for your help with this post (you really are VERY fabulous)!

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