On Sunday, BuzzFeed published a story in which actor Anthony Rapp described how Kevin Spacey, when he was 26, picked Rapp up, who was then 14, placed him on a bed and climbed on top of him. Spacey said he doesn’t remember the encounter. But, if it happened, he owed Rapp an apology for his “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
On Tuesday, authorities announced that three Dartmouth College professors were put on paid leave while a criminal investigation looks into their alleged sexual misconduct.
On Oct. 5, the New York Times first published allegations by several women of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact. Since then, more than 50 women have come forward to describe being sexually assaulted or harassed by him, prompting criminal investigations and the widespread social media campaign #MeToo. Weinstein denies the charges.
Wait another day, and there will be another high-profile case of alleged sexual assault.
CNN put together a list of nine men facing allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching after the Weinstein story, including actor Ben Affleck, George H.W. Bush, and celebrity chef John Besh. Then NPR executive Michael Oreskes resigned Wednesday following reports he had harassed at least three women. The same day, the Los Angeles Times reported six women accused film director Brett Ratner of sexual assault or misconduct. Then Dustin Hoffman apologized for allegedly sexually harassing a 17-year-old intern in 1985.
Most instances will never be publicized. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll of 1,832 people taken Oct. 20 to 24 found more than half of respondents, including two in every three women, said they had experienced an unwanted sexual encounter.
The larger question is why men assault.
Especially given the range of experiences shared through the #MeToo campaign, it can seem as if there’s no pattern. But researchers have pieced together a few recurring themes. It’s important to keep trying to understand what leads people to harm others for society to have a chance at stopping them.
The similarities have little to do with race, class or marital status, according to studies. Rather, it appears these men tend to start early, may associate with others who commit sexual violence and often deny that they have raped women even though they admit to non-consensual sex, the New York Times summed up in an Oct. 30 article on the subject.
It’s a pattern even found among men who have admitted keeping sex slaves in conflict zones: Though they may say they forced women to have sex, they don’t call it assault. They don’t believe they are the problem.
While acknowledging that men are responsible for their behavior, there are other risk factors among those who have committed sexual assault, such as heavy drinking, a perceived pressure to have sex, and a belief in “rape myths,” such as that no means yes, wrote Heather Murphy for the Times.
These men may also use “hostile language to describe women,” she wrote. They are less likely to assault women if they score high on measures of empathy. Meanwhile, “Narcissism seems to work in the other direction, magnifying odds that men will commit sexual assault and rape.”
Even though most perpetrators are men, most men will never sexually assault anyone. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t inadvertently contribute to a culture that treats women as inferior. Everyone has a responsibility to call out demeaning language and behavior toward women. So, speak out. Support women who speak out. Acknowledge the realities women face. Sexual assault thrives on denial.
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