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The Sexual Violence Culture and How It Empowers Abuse

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Much of my life has been about the fight against sexual abuse, first on a personal level, and then as an advocate for those who have been touched by its profound misery. My advocacy has taken many forms but is mostly based on doing what sexual abusers hate the most. I talk about it because I have learned that doing so is the most immediate and effective way to unempower abusers. We do hear a lot more about it these days in the press but it is unclear as to whether that translates to victims feeling more empowered to tell. And you can't help but wonder whether we just hear more about it these days and it has always been lurking under the surface of society or if it just happens a lot more these days than in the past.

A recent study about Normalizing Sexual Violence found that young girls believe they have to "take" the sexual harassment they face every day in the halls of their schools based on the "boys will be boys" theory. Even other girls don't support those who may choose to "tell" about unwanted sexually based contact because of the social consequences. So if we believe that our sexual abuse and violence problem is systemic in our culture, this study would suggest that we are just digging in and getting more entrenched in the attitude of acceptance of sexual victimization of women.

My own experience informs my opinion about the impact of certain cultures on the likelihood that sexual abuse and violence will thrive. I was raised as a Catholic military brat. The fighter pilot mentality was recently on display in the case of Captain Gregory McWherter who was relieved of his duties based on accusations of tolerating sexual harassment and promoting a sexually charged work environment while in charge of the Navy Blue Angels acrobatic flight team.

And then there is the case of Brigadier General Bryan Roberts who met with a female member of Congress and shortly thereafter wrote e-mails to two other generals about how "smoking hot" she was and how he was sorry for the delay in his response but was busy masturbating multiple times after their meeting. One of the generals responded with a demand for proof of her hotness.

And now we are facing the consequences of women in the military serving in mostly male units and the growing numbers of cases of sexual harassment and assault, many that were never reported and mishandled. Years ago I wondered silently to myself why no one seemed to understand that this was going to be the consequences of equality in the military. Having been raised on bases all over the world, and remembering the lessons I was taught, this was absolutely and tragically foreseeable.

And not much needs to be said about growing up Catholic and where that ultimately led. The Catholic priest from our neighborhood parish who christened my younger son is now in exile in Ireland avoiding prosecution for sexual abuse. My hero is my uncle, a hard core Irish Catholic union leader from Boston who, upon learning of what the Catholic priests had been up to, refused to put another dollar in the collection plate to help pay for their legal defense. He stood up for the kids.

Heck, I know you probably won't read the links provided in this blog. So if you don't have time, or don't have the interest, maybe you will get the point anyway. Sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace, in the military, on the street and in the home is one of the most important issues of our time. And even those who know me will probably say under their breath, "there she goes writing about rape and sexual abuse again." It's bad enough that we live in times such as these and that sometimes it feels like my entire gender is under siege around the globe. And then we hear that our little girls think it is normal behavior and don't want the repercussions of reporting it. That was what made this day different for me. And brought me back to the blog. So I guess the least of my problems is that people get tired of me talking and writing about this. What should I do? Stay silent? What should we do?