We’ve heard the word “groping” a lot in the news lately, probably more than we ever wanted to. The textbook definition of groping is: “to reach about uncertainly; feel one’s way; search blindly or uncertainly.”
The context in which we’ve recently heard this word doesn’t really match this academic version, and there’s a reason for this. When you combine the word “grope” with the idea of unwanted sexual advances on another person, it suddenly loses its innocence.
Many questions have been raised about the women who, in the last month, have reported being groped by one of our current presidential candidates. “Why?” people ask, “didn’t they come forward sooner? Why didn’t they report this when it happened?”
Retro-advice is cheap. The truth is that many women, perhaps even most women, are accustomed to being groped. Some are good at shutting it down before it happens, others are good at shutting it down once it begins. Other women may feel intimidated, overwhelmed, or even confused about what the proper response is. Unfortunately, not all women are raised to respect their rights.
Just to be clear, unwanted sexual advances and/or harassment are illegal. Women who feel they’ve been subjected to unwanted kissing or groping or touching can exercise the option of reporting the event to the police. The fact that so few women exercise this option is because:
It’s so common that it doesn’t seem like it’s against the law.
It’s too embarrassing
I didn’t think it was that serious
I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything
Here are the accurate responses to those reactions:
Yes, it is common – so common that many if not most women do not realize that unwanted sexual advances constitute sexual assault. It’s against the law.
Yes. It is embarrassing. It’s so embarrassing that men often assume women won’t report it. The kind of man who would sexually assault a woman is probably also the kind of man who thinks he’s “entitled” and who’s banking on you keeping your mouth shut.
You may not think it’s serious, but it is. It’s very serious. Unwanted sexual contact is one of several elements that constitute a violent culture in which an estimated 25 percent of women are victims of sexual assault and/or rape. It’s probably safe to assume that this will continue for as long as men believe they can get away with it. Men who behave this way will joke about it, dismiss it as “guy talk” or “locker room talk,” even admit it and brag about it out loud on a microphone and face no legal consequences.
If you didn’t know what to do, that’s understandable. Unwanted sexual contact with men is so prevalent that women take it for granted as a messy and unpleasant part of our culture. Each woman needs to evaluate her circumstances and make her own decision about what to do when she’s been sexually assaulted. This is not a one-size-fits-all moment. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that your silence only contributes to the problem.
What Are My Options?
First, understand the definition of sexual assault: Any type of sexual activity, including rape, that you do not agree to.
If you’re in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. If you’re worried about your safety, including just getting to your car in the parking lot, reach out to someone you can trust. Make a phone call. Ask for help.
Remember that whatever happened to you, it is NOT your fault. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t let anyone else blame you either.
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673. They will connect you with a local assault counseling service provider.
Call the police and report the crime. If you’re at the police station, it helps to keep the following things in mind:
You have a right to privacy. Sexual assault is a personal issue. You shouldn’t have to answer questions in a public place.
You may have to wait a while. This isn’t unusual.
Take a break. Get up and walk around, get a snack or a drink of water. Call a trusted friend who can join you and provide support.
If you feel you’re being ignored or not getting the appropriate attention, you can go “up the chain.” Ask to speak to a supervisor. Call the sexual assault hotline and ask to have a support professional join you at the station.
Remember that, due to the nature of the issue, questions may be uncomfortable or seem intrusive.
You may be asked the same question several times.
What Can Parents Do?
The survey I’m working on as part of The Clark Project involves the Virgin Sexual Experience. I’ve surveyed women regarding their first sexual experience and am entering the data into a crosstabs. This will allow me to look at demographic trends and to collect descriptive statistics on each woman’s individual experience. One of my early findings – not a surprise – is that none of the young women I spoke to reported approaching a parent for information on the subject of sex. Everyone’s interested in it, but almost no one wants to talk about it with their child or with their parent.
When it comes to sexual assault we need to talk to our sons and daughters. Make certain they know that the definition of sexual assault, and emphasize that it’s illegal. Insist that your children, whatever gender, understand what their rights and boundaries are, and teach them to respect those boundaries.
Finally, please feel free to email me (EdithAClark@gmail.com) if you have specific questions regarding sexual assault. If I can’t help you myself, I will certainly be able to refer you to someone who can.
October 17th, 2016
How’s this for an interesting topic? VIRGIN SEX: Advice & Guidance From Women Who’ve Been There, Done That.
The virgin sexual experience is a super-sensitive, super-interesting, and highly personal topic, but if readers think my interest has anything to do with pornography or a prurient curiosity about the private lives of young people, they’re wrong. Keep in mind that my background is in public health, survey design, and data analysis. And, as far as I can tell, there has never been a legitimate survey of the feelings, attitudes, concerns, and problems women experience when they’re considering having their first sexual experience. My interest is in accumulating information on virgin sexual experiences by designing and conducting a survey, then reporting the results in the form of a small book intended specifically as a helpful guide for women who are considering having their first sexual experience.
More than fifteen years ago it became clear to me that there’s a shortage of information available to young girls on the subject of virgin sex. Truthfully, it’s almost non-existent. There are sex education programs, yes, and some of them are certainly informative and effective. Nearly all of the programs I’m acquainted with follow a biologic model: This is where the uterus is. It’s the size and shape of a pear. This is a picture of the male sexual organ. The opening to the vagina is located in back of a woman’s urethra, in between the labia,…etc., etc., etc. Simply stated, this is a biologic model.
While information about the biology of sex is important and should be available to all adolescents, I don’t believe it goes far enough. Sex can be a very emotional experience; and in order to make respectful and responsible decisions about your own sexual experience, it’s important to take ALL of your concerns into account. In spite of that, little attention is paid, even by many professional health educators, to the social aspects of sexual encounters. That should change, and the faster it changes, the better.
Question: What do I mean by the social aspects of sexual encounters?
Answer: The social aspects could be informally described as the questions that typically loom largest in the minds of young women who are considering having their first sexual experience. Take it from me, though there may be a few women out there who are wondering where their vagina is located, the truth is they’re much likelier to be wondering about the following questions:
Am I doing this for the right reasons?
What are the right reasons?
Where exactly is it going to take place?
Is it going to hurt?
Will it change my relationship with my boyfriend?
Am I about to make a mistake?
Am I going to regret this?
Is there a chance I could get pregnant?
These questions include both biologic and social issues, and though these are important and sometimes disturbing issues to wrestle with, most young people are entirely on their own when it comes to getting good information. No one — not one woman — reported going to a parent for answers to their personal questions about first-time sex. Among the women I’ve surveyed in my pilot project, a few relied on one or two close friends for information. Still, details were either shallow or completely lacking. And there’s a reason for this, isn’t there? No one has more than one virgin sexual experience. When we answer questions about our own experience, we have very little information to draw on.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
I designed a 45-question survey and administered it confidentially as a pilot to a sample of 27 women varying in age from 65 years old to 18 years old. Survey respondents were asked a variety of questions, including what they would tell their virgin sex partners if they could say anything they wanted, where the experience took place, whether they regretted their decision, and what they would do differently if they had it to do over again. The results were amazing — sometimes sad, sometimes happy, and occasionally downright funny, every woman’s experience was unique. Nearly all respondents seemed to enjoy answering the questions and found the interview interesting and thought-provoking.
My objective is to continue surveying women, collecting confidential information on their personal stories, then analyzing the data and publishing it. I’d like to produce a handbook that will serve as a source of information and advice to young women who are considering having their first sexual experience. And as for the boys, no worries. I haven’t forgotten about them. I want to do the same thing for the males of our species, but since I’m a woman I’m planning to start by interviewing other women. Once I’ve accumulated information on women and prepared it for publication, I hope to turn my attention toward men.
If you’re interested in being a part of a mini-sample, I’d love to hear from you. Send me a note at EdithAClark@gmail.com and answer this question: “What advice about the virgin sexual experience would you give to a younger version of yourself.” I’ll summarize the answers and send them out to all respondents. Confidentiality is guaranteed and, for the record, my own response would be to make sure you had a private room with a lock on the door.
For information on the preliminary results I’ve collected among women who responded to the full survey, please read next week’s blog, or email me at EdithAClark@gmail.com for periodic updates on this project. And if you or a friend wish to answer the questions on my confidential questionnaire, I’d be happy to administer it to you either by Skype or on the telephone. Email me and we can set up an appointment.
Until then, my sincere thanks to the wonderful women who’ve already responded to my survey. You’re helping to blaze the trail for a healthier and better-informed approach to sex education.