Fools rush in where angels fear to tread: How low is the sexual abuse bar?


by Pete

Been giving this some thought.  Where is the bar set?   What do you define as sexual abuse?  Does it include verbal?  Leering?  Cat calls?

Let’s say it is physical.  Does it include a bum pinch?  An uncomfortable hug?

I’m not trying to trivialise it.  I can think of two occasions in my life I’ve had unwanted sexual attention.  Once physical, and once I was in a subordinate position and made to do something uncomfortable to me (not physical).

I can’t imagine ANY woman getting to the age of 40 who hasn’t been at the wrong end of someone at some stage.

But where do you draw the line?   How much is “just life” and what is really going too far?

I think two of the obvious tests to apply are 1) Did you file a police complaint? and 2) Did you make a public complaint?  But that is still completely inadequate.  I know of people who live a life with unreported rape as baggage.  So that won’t do.

The sexual abuse spectrum is such a wide one, and it can excessively taint those who are associated with it by observers assuming the worst.   I can’t say, hand on heart, that I’ve never made a comment with sexual overtones that the recipient found unwelcome.   My intent may not have been for that to happen, but the judgement lies with the receiver of the attention.

Similarly, I may have touched, hugged or held someone where the recipient has found it unwelcome and has inferred sexual intent without my knowledge.  Such people would then stand up, and similarly claim to have been sexually abused.

The bottom line is that of all the MPs and associated supporters who stood up the other day and claimed to have been sexually abused in some way, I have no problem believing they genuinely were and they genuinely feel unhappy about it.   But the danger is, of course, that an unwanted hug, a cat call and being spied on in the changing rooms are on the same ‘sexual abuse’ spectrum as grooming and rape.

There is part of me that wants the person to define what abuse they received, to see if it warrants sufficient sympathy or to judge whether the person just needs to harden up in a world where some level of sexually-charged events are simply unavoidable and the person needs to improve their coping skills.

But that’s a very slippery slope also.

In the end, it is the receiver of the sexually unwanted attention who sets the bar.  And that is different for different people.

The real problem in that case was the context in which the claims were made.  Under discussion, rapists and child molesters whom the Prime Minister claimed Labour and Greens were providing a level of support for.  In response, these people stood up and said, as victims of sexual abuse, they were deeply offended.

It is in that context that they have equated an unwanted hug, leering, cat calls, a bad date and a stalky ex-friend with someone raping a child.   It was all hanging in the air at that point.

It was a very unwise political stunt, because these people aired what was indeed a serious event (or events) in their lives that can not be trivialised or brushed aside or justified in any circumstances with the issue of deportation.   The ethical question of a doctor saving the life of a person who raped one of his children comes to mind.  At the most basic level, you help people.  That’s where human rights come in, and that’s where being a citizen of a country affords you assistance no matter what you may have done in your life up to that point.

In the end, Labour and Green party people had taken what was basically a politically-charged situation – the constant highlighting of SERCO related issues and the plight of Kiwis in Australia in general – and tied it to their personal experiences where they were sexually abused.    And by doing so, they used something that is highly serious, and beyond discussion as reprehensible and unwanted, and tied it to a political situation with NZ-born prisoners in Australia.

The two issues are not related, and allowing for the respect and sympathy I may have for any individual who has suffered serious sexual abuse, to use this as a political weapon to try and damage the reputation of a man is unacceptable.


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