By Whitney Akers, See the Triumph Contributor
What would you think or say if I claimed that a married or partnered individual can be raped by their spouse or partner? Many people balk at this statement, but it is true. If sex is not consensual, if sex is against someone’s want or will, regardless of relationship status, this is rape. Sexual violence can and does occur within intimate partner relationships. Just because you may be in an intimate and committed relationship, you are not granted unconditional access to your partner without their consent, nor are they granted unconditional access to you without yours. Regardless of how deep your love may be, how long you have been together, and how sexual you have been throughout your life, your voice and body remain your own. Your deep love, commitment, and sexuality will only strengthen as you treasure your right to your body and your partner’s right to theirs.
We maintain the commitment to share a life with another person by honoring and respecting our honest voices, whether our voices are saying “yes” or “no” or stating parameters of sex (i.e. condom usage, verbal check-ins, safe and comfortable positions). Healthy communication about sex, needs, and boundaries can break the silence surrounding sexual violence within committed relationships and enrich a relationship’s safety, connection, and passion. Considering that open dialogue is counter to abuse, what can each of us do to increase and strengthen the openness of our conversations with loved ones?
Open communication with loved ones first requires openness with and trust of the self. When we are asked for sexual connection, let us first check-in with our minds, bodies, and hearts to explore if that type of connection is what the SELF desires in the moment. Know that your and your partner’s needs for connection are very real and deserving of honoring, and also know that if you do not want to have sex, that connection can be honored in many other ways that will still maintain your sense of self and safety. Validate the emotions you may have and empower yourself in refraining from ignoring your own needs.
After examining and claiming that internal voice, we can begin to have these conversations with others. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on empowering your voice by stating your needs aloud to enhance effective communication skills with loved ones.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Several years back, anti-sexual assault activists and sexuality educators began using the term enthusiastic consent to signify a shift from “no means no” to “yes means yes” (Gender Focus). Previously, most messaging aiming at preventing rape focused on the importance of saying “no” when someone wants sexual activity to stop, and the importance of the other person respecting that boundary.
Understanding when and why to honor a “no” remains critically important. I believe that this is one of the earliest sexual and intimate partner violence prevention messages we can teach to even very young children. As I’ve written elsewhere, as a parent, I've tried to teach this with my own children with tickling--whey they say, “Stop,” I point out how important it is to stop and respect whatever rules other people have about their own bodies. So, I believe that teaching respect for saying “no” is still a valuable and important message.
But, when I first heard about the principle of enthusiastic consent, I loved how it captures a real spirit of positive sexuality and respect and support for one’s partner when it comes to sexual activity. The principle of enthusiastic consent came to mind while I was going through some of our research data from the subsample of participants who had experienced sexual assault.
For example, one participant who I also cited in my post about revenge porn said, “I am powerless to keep him from doing what he pleases with the videos he took of me having sex without my knowledge or consent.” Although this woman may have been engaging in consensual sex with her partner, clearly his videotaping of those activities was not consensual.
Another participant said, “The truth was, it wasn't what I was wearing, what I said, or how I walked. There was no alcohol involved. I had a manipulative partner who wanted to put me down and wanted sex and he wouldn't take no for an answer.” It sounds as though this participant’s partner used relentless, manipulative coercion to wear down the participant until she felt unable to say no. Is that consent?
And finally, another survivor said, “[I have shame] that I put up with it for so long, for ignoring my intuition, for believing that I didn't deserve better, that it was my fault for not giving him the sex life he desired, for hurting myself sexually for him.” This quote implies that this participant’s partner shamed her into engaging in sexual activities that he wanted but that were painful to her.
Enthusiastic consent becomes very difficult to achieve within the context of an abusive relationship. Last month, we repinned the picture below on our Pinterest page:
When someone is being abused, they often are living in a state of fear of their partner, and abusive partners often control their partner’s every move and decisions. To be able to enthusiastically consent to sexual activity, a person needs to have freedom of choice. A context of power, control, and fear runs counter to that freedom of choice.
The principle of enthusiastic consent deserves wider attention in sexuality education programs and public awareness campaigns aimed at preventing sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Healthy relationships and healthy sexuality are free from coercion, shaming, and force. Moreover, they encompass enthusiastic, freely chosen, respectful consent for physical and emotional intimacy by both partners.
By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
In light of April being national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we at See The Triumph thought that it was important to discuss the way that sexual assault can be used as a form of abuse within intimate relationships. As discussed in some previous blogs, intimate partner violence (IPV) is complex and can occur within a relationship in numerous different ways. Typically when we think of partner violence we think of physical or emotional abuse--name calling, put downs, hitting, slapping, etc.--but, sexual abuse also may occur in abusive relationships.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence asserts that approximately 2.3 million people each year in the United States are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former partner. Sexual assault does not play a role in all abusive relationships; however, just because an abusive partner has not used this tactic yet, does not mean that he/she will not use it in the future. A common belief is that sexual assault ‘doesn’t count’ when individuals are in a committed relationship. The fact is that regardless of relationships status, unwanted sexual activity is sexual assault.
The term sexual assault seems pretty straight forward, but it can play out in intimate relationships in numerous different ways. Here are a few forms of sexual assault:
Sexual assault is not about passion, love or sexuality--it is about power and control.
Individuals who deal with sexual assault as part of IPV go through many different emotions, ranging from guilt to embarrassment. We all need to work together to end the stigma associated with both IPV and sexual assault. When we blame a victim or try to rationalize the situation that they were put in, we are perpetuating these stigmas. Even more so, we are telling the abusers that sexual assault is OK. It's important to recognize and discuss sexual assault awareness not only in April, but as much as possible. Remember: Sexual assault no matter your relationships status is illegal, and never OK.
By Girl on a Journey, See the Triumph Contributor
Introduction by See the Triumph Co-Founder, Christine Murray: Our blog post yesterday addressed sexual assault that occurs in intimate relationships. Today, we're bringing you a post from See the Triumph's anonymous blogger, "Girl on a Journey." This blog details her experience with being sexually assaulted within her marriage. It's a graphic story, so please consider that in deciding to read on. However, it's also the truth of one woman's harrowing experience with being sexually assaulted by the man she married. We appreciate "Girl on a Journey's" courage in sharing her story so that others may learn from her experiences.
How can someone you are married to sexually assault you? My abuser did and as it was with all of his abuse, it was my fault...what he was asking for was reasonable and expected. His most frequent terminology for our intimate life was that I was either being a “wife” or a “non-wife.” If I wanted to be his “wife,” I would not wear clothes to bed and have sex several times a day. If it was my time of the month, as a “wife” I should take care of his needs in other ways. If I didn’t want to be his “wife” then he would be happy to get sex elsewhere. It was my fault he had to obsessively look at naked pictures of women online because I wasn’t meeting his needs. It didn’t matter that we did have sex almost everyday, I was still not able to meet those needs.
I could never get it right. If during an argument I went to our bed to sleep, he would use his foot to shove me out of the bed or drag me out by my ankle, telling me it was his bed and that I didn’t belong there. If I chose to sleep on the couch, he would come out to the living room, reprimand me and tell me I use sex as a weapon and was sick in the head...I was being a “non-wife.”
He would pin me down and shove his penis in my face during an argument demanding immediate oral sex. He would grope me aggressively during arguments demanding immediate sex. If the kids were present he would threaten to pull my pants down and “do it” right there if I didn’t go with him to the bedroom.
He would force hugs and kisses on me seconds after he had pushed me to the ground or explained in length what a horrible person I am. I should always want to hug and kiss him, he is my husband right? Again, if I resisted, I was sick in the head and a “non-wife.” On the flip side, when I was pregnant with our second child, he withheld sex for almost a year as a punishment for being “non-compliant” once. I was expected to be a “wife” even if I had morning sickness and felt exhausted.
Of course there is always more to the story, those things will always live only inside of me. Some things are too weird and too embarrassing. How did it make me feel, how do I feel about it now? All I can tell you is I don’t know...confused and numb is the best I can do. The person that sexually assaulted me is someone I love and vowed to spend my life with...someone I willingly entered into an intimate relationship with. He is the father of my children and someone that I still see to exchange our children. He still tells me he loves me, and always greets me with open arms for that expected hug.
This is the part of my relationship that I had the hardest time opening up with, it's just so personal and horrible and hard to face.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Today’s post explores a very difficult issue, and I want to start by saying that this is a topic that parents and other adults should use discretion in discussing with young people, and some of the quotes today may present triggers for those with a history of trauma. So, please proceed to reading this post with those cautions in mind.
The original sample of our survey with intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors included 219 participants. Of these, 125 participants reported to us that they had experienced sexual abuse within their past abusive relationships. We can’t say that 57% of all survivors of IPV experience sexual assault due to the way we collected our data, as we can’t generalize that rate to others. However, the fact that the majority of participants in our research were abused sexually by their partners suggests that abusive dynamics often play out within couples’ sexual interactions when IPV is present. Today, I want to share with you some of the experiences that the participants in our research shared with us to provide examples of how sexual abuse may occur within the context of IPV.
But first, it’s important to note that even today, there are still people who fail to acknowledge that rape and sexual assault can occur within an established relationship, including marriage. This issue recently made the news when Richard Black from Virginia campaigned for a seat in Congress. During his previous time in the Virginia state legislature, Black “opposed making spousal rape a crime, citing the impossibility of convicting a husband accused of raping his wife ‘when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie, and so forth.’" Although Black has since dropped out of the race, this news brought to light the fact that some people still don’t recognize the existence or impact of sexual abuse within IPV.
The experiences of many survivors of intimate partner violence, including those who participated in our research, tell a different story. As one participant said, “Married or not, rape is rape.” The following participants’ quotes further demonstrate the different ways that sexual abuse and assault may occur as part of overall abusive dynamics:
As I wrote in another blog post earlier this month, relationship commitment does not grant free and unrestricted use of one’s partner’s body. I believe that the experiences of these participants demonstrate the need for ongoing recognition of the potential for sexual abuse within abusive intimate relationships. This recognition is needed in prevention initiatives, interventions, and community resources for survivors.
The issue of sexual abuse within intimate relationships is highly complex, and I suspect this complexity is part of what has kept it an under-recognized aspect of intimate partner violence. However, given what we know about the power and control dynamics that underlie abuse, it is not surprising that these dynamics play out in such an intimate and personal domain as the couple’s sexual relationship. Therefore, we must work to continue to bring more attention to this issue so that survivors can receive the support they need and to prevent further abuse.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve likely heard about “revenge porn,” which Wikipedia defines as “sexually explicit pictures, video or other media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual. Revenge porn is typically uploaded by ex-partners or hackers.”
Revenge porn is one of the many ways that technology can be used as a form of abuse within the context of a current or former intimate relationship. As it’s often depicted in the media, disgruntled former relationship partners take intimate photos and videos and share them publicly and widely through various channels--including web-sites devoted specifically to revenge porn. Those intimate materials may have been obtained voluntarily, such as when someone sends a photo to their partner, or involuntarily, such as if one partner videotaped the couple during sexual activity without knowledge and/or consent.
Professionals who work with people who’ve experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) know that IPV can occur between both current and former relationship partners. Revenge porn crosses the lines of both emotional abuse and sexual abuse. For example, consider the following definitions:
Therefore, revenge porn could be considered both a form of sexual abuse--because it involves forced or coerced sexual exploitation--and a form of emotional abuse, in that it is used to humiliate and control one’s partner. It is also a serious infringement of one’s privacy that can have many significant negative social and emotional effects for people who are targeted.
One of the participants in our research described the impact of revenge porn on her:
“I am powerless to keep him from doing what he pleases with the videos he took of me having sex without my knowledge or consent.”
This quote captures the sense of powerlessness and loss of control that may accompany being targeted for revenge porn. Sharing--publicly and spitefully--the most intimate details of one’s sexuality, sexual relationship, and private moments with one’s partner has no place in a healthy relationship. Technology allows that sharing to go far beyond one’s immediate social network and spread literally across the world in a matter of moments. Not only is this a violation of a person’s privacy, it also can lead to safety risks, in that it can lead to stalking, unwanted sexual advances, and harassment by others, including strangers. Some people who are targeted even go so far as to change their names to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, laws haven’t yet caught up to technology yet in the case of revenge porn. As Jill Filipovic said on The Guardian, “Right now, the law and our culture are both on the side of those who shame and humiliate women for sport, instead of those of us who just want to go about our normal lives.” Some actions are being taken to create laws to stop revenge porn, such as in Pennsylvania and Illinois. A bill may even see its way into the U.S. Congress. However, until the laws catch up, more actions will be needed at the individual, community, and national level to support people who are targeted, hold offenders accountable, and raise awareness of this important issue.
By Ashley Maier, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
As someone who has worked against sexual and domestic violence for over a decade, you might be surprised to hear me talking about sexual health. Or not. I remember vividly, a few years ago, the director of a local sexual assault organization asking me why I talk about sexual health so much. What does that have to do with sexual violence prevention? Well, I told her, a lot.
In any type of prevention work, we tend to talk about what we are against, what behavior we don’t want people to do. We don’t want you to make sexist jokes. We don’t want you to assault someone. But what do we want? That’s where sexual health, sometimes referred to as healthy sexuality, comes in. There is a growing recognition that if we are to counter harmful norms, those often unspoken standards for behavior that facilitate sexual violence, then we must replace them with positive norms. We talk about risk and protective factors – what factors increase (risk) or decrease (protective) the likelihood of sexual violence perpetration? We would only get half way to our goal if we focused solely on risk factors. We need both.
So just what is sexual health? While there are several definitions, I prefer to say that sexual health is the opposite of “all the bad stuff.” Official, I know. Sexual health of course involves the absence of violence and exploitation, and it is also something that is unique to each individual. Everyone has the right to experience their sexual life, sexual behaviors, the way they want to (as long as it’s all consensual). This includes not experiencing sexual behavior at all, if desired. It’s up to you and your partner(s).
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), as we work against sexual assault, let’s also work towards sexual health. Let’s create communities and environments where sexual violence cannot take root – communities that are healthy, safe and just. Sexual health lies at the root.
About Ashley: Ashley Maier serves as Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator as the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, primarily part of CALCASA’s prevention team. She has worked in the movement to end gendered violence for well over a decade. She began as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter in Illinois, served as a hospital-based advocate in St. Louis, coordinated community health/family violence training programs for pediatric residents in St. Louis and San Diego, and managed Oregon’s Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) grantees. Ashley is a contributing author to Lantern Book’s 2013 publication, Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and The Sexual Politics of Meat.
Because Not Being Rapists Is Not Enough: Men's Role in Ending Sexual Violence, Within and Outside of Intimate Partner Relationships
By Whitney Akers, See the Triumph Contributor
This video is a roaring call to action for men in the community to take part in ending sexual violence, choosing to respect boundaries and thus respect women. We live in a culture in which women are seen as objects, often objects for the taking by men. Historically and even in the present day, war tactics have included raping women as a means to power and dominance over a culture, a barbaric and oppressive cultural display of ownership. We know this is wrong. We know this is a blatant violation of human rights. So why is it that even though we are not in active battle, men are still raping women? And how is it possible that in intimate relationships, connections supposed to be built upon foundations of trust, respect, and compassion, women are still raped by partners as if partners were intruding armies aiming to disempower, conquer, silence, and own the women they “love”?
Many women in physically, emotionally, and sexually violent relationships have felt the paralyzing fear of being robbed of the self, the voice, and the fire within. We may even blame ourselves for our partner’s actions, even though we know we have no control over what another person chooses to do. We may carry the weight of appeasing our partner, acquiescing to their demands or pressure at the expense of our own safety.
As we watch this video, I want to take the challenge given to men and extend it to women. I want to challenge women to believe that men can “not be rapists”, believe that men have the power to stop themselves, believe that men have the ability to respect, honor and celebrate women. Once we believe this about men, we may start believing we deserve this treatment ourselves. We may hold the men around us to not higher, but to human standards, and we may know in our cores that we have the right to never be raped, never be pressured, and never be owned. In fact, we have the right to be respected as equal individuals, worthy of dignity, safety, and celebration. These men are claiming this. Can we?
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Every April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the national theme for this month in 2014 is “Healthy Sexuality & Young People.” In recognition of this month, we at See the Triumph are turning our attention to the theme of “Healthy Sexuality, Healthy Relationships.”
Throughout this month, stay connected with us for resources and blog posts that will address the following two main messages we’re focusing on:
First, sexuality is one of the most intimate parts of couples’ relationships. Because of this, it’s an aspect of relationships that leaves many people feeling vulnerable. Also, there’s a certain degree of trust and safety that’s needed for people to share the most intimate aspects of themselves with another person.
The connections between healthy sexuality and healthy relationships have been on my mind a lot lately, as I’ve been working on a book on sexuality counseling. Although most of my work focuses on intimate partner violence and other forms of family violence, I’ve had a secondary focus on sexuality that includes teaching a graduate-level course on the subject, as well as some research studies. The further I’ve gotten with the book, the more I see how closely sexuality and safety in relationships are related. These connections include the dynamics of sexual abuse, the potential for sexual assault within intimate relationships, and the impact impact of trauma on sexual decision-making.
Beyond those issues, I also think there are more subtle connections between sexuality and overall safety and health within relationships. In particular, I view sexuality as one of the domains in which power and control dynamics can play out in abusive relationships. We’ll explore these issues more throughout this month. However, for now, I want to emphasize that I view healthy sexuality as a critical component of an overall healthy relationship. This goes beyond actual sexual behaviors to include the ways that people communicate about sex and physical affection, how decisions about safety and sexual health are made, and partners’ sexual self-esteem.
Our second main message for this month stems from an ongoing need to recognize that sexual abuse can be a part of overall relationship abuse patterns. In my experience, sexual abuse seems to be more hidden and less recognized than physical abuse, and even emotional abuse, within intimate relationships.
Later this month, we’ll have a full blog post on what we learned about sexual abuse within intimate partner violence through the research that informed See the Triumph. A large percentage of our original sample faced sexual abuse, and many of them described serious sexual trauma at the hands of their abusers.
However, sexual abuse within intimate relationships is a difficult dimension of abuse to understand. It seems that more efforts are needed to make sure that people understand that relationship commitment does not grant free and unrestricted use of one’s partner’s body. One of the topics we’ll cover this month is enthusiastic consent. Ideas like enthusiastic consent underscore the importance of honoring each partner’s choices and rights within the sexual domain of their relationship.
Overall, our aim for this month is to explore the interconnections between healthy sexuality and healthy relationships. We hope you’ll share your ideas and resources on this topic with us throughout this month!