Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sexual Assault and the City

Sexual assault is one of the most serious crimes known to civil societies. It impacts upon those subjected to sexual assault in a most intimate fashion. It isn't limited to instances of rape. It can involve the unwanted and offensive touching by one person or more of another without consent. In most cases, these assaults are perpetrated by men against women. Yet, one can easily imagine circumstances where the opposite may also be the case. This is eminently possible when we consider that under a broad understanding of sexual assault, men can also be the object of sexual gratification of another. Given the predominant paradigm of male on female sexual assault, forms of popular culture do not treat the converse as worthy of serious discussion.

Where it is covered it may be constructed as legitimate conduct. During an episode of the once popular television series Sex and the City, the character Samantha Jones learns of a masseur who provides more than skilled massages but cunnilingus to select female patrons. Expected to be treated to such extra services, she schedules an appointment with this masseur. As the allotted hour winds its way closer and closer to its end, Samantha seeks to accelerate the process of her obtaining sexual gratification by grabbing the masseur's genitals. This is naturally intended to signal the masseur as to her sexual intentions. The scene transitions to the manager or owner of the spa berating Samantha for sexually touching one of her male employees. Clearly, the masseur takes exception to what Samantha does. Samantha responds by informing the manager/owner that the masseur has a history of satisfying female customers in a manner that exceeds the scope of his duties as a masseur. We learn further that the masseur's employment is terminated. Samantha's action goes unpunished, save for being banished from the spa and being dressed down by other women who were serviced by the terminated masseur.

What lesson(s) is to be learned from this? Clearly, where a man has a sexual history, this means that he must be expected to comply when advanced upon by another a woman to whom he has not yet given consent. Let us imagine Samantha is Samuel and the masseur is a masseuse who is known to provide fellatio to select clients. Would there be any doubt that if Samuel touched the genital area of the masseuse, this would be construed not only as a sexual assault on her person, and interference with her bodily integrity, but also an act worthy of arrest and prosecution? We would have little doubt that Samuel would deserve such treatment. Surely the masseuse would have been acting inappropriately by going beyond the scope of her employment with other clients, but it wouldn't justify her being sexually molested by Samuel. Sex and the City's treatment does just this when the male is the "victim" and one of its lead characters is a "sex offender". However, the victim's status as a victim is impugned and tainted because of his sexual history with other clients, the very type of attack that feminist scholars and activists rightfully criticized the legal system for allowing to be done to women.

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