Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Euphemisms of Sexual Assault

Assaulted, but apparently hesitant to say so.

I only know who Sarah Hyland is because of one of those sidebar links next to an unrelated, very cute and charming video shared by a Facebook friend. The linked article says she’s an actress in a popular television series in which, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, she plays a naïve and gullible minor. Wikipedia calls her character “the stereotypical ditzy teenage girl.”
More important to me than all this, for multiple reasons, is that she was, according to the report, “inappropriately grabbed” by an “overzealous fan.”
The article is by “an Associate Editor (who is) still in awe that she gets to write about and interview pop stars for a living.” If you were to Google the incident, you would find a fuller portrayal of the event than is expressed even in the further details within the article itself. You’d also likely find that Sarah Hyland has a boyfriend, Matt Prokop, who chose to be clearer about the “inappropriate touch” by “a fan” than Hyland apparently felt she could be in her missive to the Twitterverse. I might have refrained from some of his language—but I think I would have expressed an all-too-similar sentiment in the heat of the moment. (Though I would have suggested it occur while the attacker was under Hospice care, of course.)
Knows what assault is, and says so.
Appropriately, the 29-year-old adult male who assaulted an actress portraying an especially vulnerable minor was not killed, but merely arrested. The actress was shaken sufficiently to cancel the remainder of her appearance. The boyfriend was clear regarding his impressions of the assault as well as his intentions toward the attacker.
So, what’s not clear here? To illustrate that, let me digress for just a moment.
Without including any identifying details, let me say that I have, on several occasions, with multiple clients/counselees/parishioners, been asked to offer my opinion on whether the sexual assault they had experienced was, in fact, something other than “inappropriate” at the hands of someone who had become “overzealous.” My perception has been, in each case, that there really was no question in the mind of the person who had been assaulted about what they had experienced. What was unclear, however, was whether anyone, anywhere, at any time would give them permission to say aloud: I was raped.
(Re-reading that last sentence aloud, shouting at the top of your lungs whenever you see italics, may approximate my tone. While typing it, I feared momentarily for the structural integrity of my laptop.)
So, perhaps having cleared that up, there is one thing that remains unclear to me.
Uncertain what assault is, or at least whether to say so.
How does a young and admittedly awestruck “Associate Editor” remember more carefully that she is not only writing about human beings, but that she is writing to human beings? I hope that others who have influence in her life may help her toward this. Because, in fact, not only is she writing to just any human beings, she is writing to primarily young, impressionable human beings, some of whom, quite clearly, already struggle to hope that someone, somewhere, and soon will give them permission to say:
I was not “inappropriately touched” by someone who became “overzealous.” I was assaulted by an attacker, and it was wrong.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Bill, thank you for saying something so needed to be said and heard. In counseling I cannot tell you how many times the women have wondered if they have made more of the situation and the "incidents" than they should have. Upon reporting to a relative of mine about the molestation of a very young girl in the family, the response was, "well, she wasn't raped was she?" As if that is the only violation that requires intervention and deserves outrage. Yes, we need to yell out and I thank you for starting the chorus. Your sister from another mister, Laurie Mulkey

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thank you, Laurie, for the encouragement. Whenever we minimize the impact of "only ______" (whatever acts fail to meet our standards for an "inappropriate touch"), we further marginalize those who experience it--objectifying them once again. In some families, of course, there is no one to ask, "Why would it be wrong only if she were raped?" Keep yelling.

At the end of the play "Until Someone Wakes Up," a teenage girl's story (the play comprises actual narratives, dialogue, and journals of those who have been on the receiving end and a few on the perpetrating end) includes the haunting description that, while being raped in her own home by a neighborhood friend, she remembers having tried very hard to be quiet, so as not to wake anyone else in the house. The narrative and, if I remember correctly, even the play ends with her declaration that if anything like that ever happens again, she will not stay quiet, but will yell and scream "until someone wakes up."

I was able to assist SAVA (Sexual Assault Victims' Advocates), in Fort Collins, Colorado when they helped to produce the play for performances in the local school district, at Colorado State University and, I believe, a number of other venues. I occasionally look it up online to see if there are any productions currently scheduled. It's unsettling, and counselors should be on hand at any performance. But it seems to have been extraordinary in its effects.

Thanks again, Laurie. Your brother from another mother.

Unknown said...

Yes and yes!

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