When jokes are no longer sexy.

Author’s advisory: The following post contains references to child sexual abuse, sexual interference involving a minor, sexual assault and stalking—subjects some readers may find triggering or upsetting.

Social media allows people to connect with others. In my experience, this often allows for the free exchange of ideas, discussion of topics of mutual interest, the opportunity ask questions and receive answers, the chance to glean insights into subjects previously unexplored, and, yes, collaborations and friendships with like-minded people in the real world.

Unfortunately, as I expound in my post Trolls, tropes and antisocial media, there is also a seedy underbelly to social media: some are emboldened to behave in ways deemed largely offensive. The purpose of my post is not to speculate as to the reasons why but, rather, to expound the effects.

This is my open letter to “Gerry”, or @snowpounder, if you will.

It all started when, seeing an opportunity to make a clever pun, I quote tweeted something by Brendan P.

Nothing much there, right?

Cool! Another opportunity for this quick-witted punster!

I thought I’d been pretty clever here, and this is where it got weird.

Say what?

Ah, yes. The classic defenses: “I thought this would go sideways.” and “My brain is a refined taste.”

Refined? Refined?! You have got to be fucking kidding me. Refined as in have you been breathing too close to the Imperial Oil site and huffing gas again refined?

I try to call this out in a non-adversarial way.

Maybe I lost him at “puerile”; I dunno.

This last exchange was followed by my blocking him. This blog post serves as my “No Contact” statement, something a counsellor at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton advised me to consider drafting.

Wait. What? The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton?! Isn’t that a bit…?

Sensitive? Overreaction?

Gurl, please.

Let’s tease this apart.

An individual whom I have never met in real life has just insinuated that, if I am not already a sex worker, I should consider it so that he can live out some strange fantasy. When called on it, he uses the classic defenses, deflection and gaslighting of sociopaths and narcissists: “I was only joking!” and “That’s not even the worst of it; you should be grateful you were spared.” and “I’m wired to think this way; you just don’t appreciate the ‘gem’ that I am.”

Right.

What normal, self-aware, emotionally intelligent person makes the leap from an innocuous pun to webcam?

Creepy as f*ck.

Now consider that he admits himself he second-guessed whether to post it and did so anyway.

We need to establish a few things here.

  • I am married and have mentioned this on numerous occasions in my social media posts.
  • I am committed to my present monogamous relationship.
  • I am a survivor of sexual interference, sexual assault, stalking and physical violence.

Okay, that last bit’s unfortunate, but do you think perhaps that’s why you’re triggered?

Possibly, but let’s consider something more here. Even if I were

  • single, separated, divorced or widowed
  • celibate, promiscuous or polygamous
  • male, female or non-binary
  • bisexual, transsexual, asexual or pansexual
  • fortunate enough to never have known violence

I would still find this exchange offensive.

Social media may provide a glimpse into my life, my interests and my passions, but glimpse is not synonymous with peep show, bud! That someone would insinuate that I exist to be a commodity, an object or a tool to fulfill a perverse desire or fantasy negates all other facets of me as a whole person.

And there’s more. Much more.

I’m sure some of my readers have known harassment, interference, stalking or sexual assault. Even if they haven’t, most know that the harm of this preventable violence is significant and has long-lasting, widespread impacts on those who experience it (Lori Haskell and Melanie Randall, 2019).

When I was in high school, I participated in the Summer Youth Theatre program offered through Fort McMurray’s Keyano Theatre. It was there, during my second summer in the program, that one of the theatre technicians made comments, then advances, toward me. It culminated in his presenting me with his personal copy of The Joy of Sex, believing I had much to learn.

Unfortunate, but that’s what sometimes happens to girls at that age.

No. Stop.

While it’s true that women, girls, and gender-diverse people are at high risk of sexual violence, anybody can experience this violence, no matter their background, identity, or circumstance.

Let me say it a bit louder for the people in the back: anybody can experience this violence. That includes boys, men and non-binary folx.

In fact, I know some to whom this has happened, but I digress.

Chances are, those who grew up as I did in the 1970s and 1980s may remember “The Bicycle Man“, a two-part, very special, critically acclaimed episode of the American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. The linked Wikipedia article provides a thorough synopsis; I’ll let you read that at your leisure. Or, you can watch this clip, if you’re okay with a bit of strong language.

Most research suggests that 10 to 20 per cent of all males will experience some form of sexual abuse or sexual assault at some point in their lives. That translates into thousands of Canadian boys and men being abused each year.

According to 1in6 Project (2016), one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, cultural myths surrounding the sexual abuse and assault of boys and men represent serious obstacles to understanding and healing. It’s time to debunk those myths with facts.

Let’s revisit the summer theatre program. I was 17.

A minor.

As Arnold told Mr. Drummond in this particular episode of Diff’rent Strokes, I first told my neighbours as my parents were holidaying in another province. From then until my parents’ return, they watched over me and kept me from harm. Once my parents were back from their trip, I told them what had happened. I was fortunate that they believed me. Others came forward after I did, and the staffer was dismissed—without having molested me or any other child.

More than 11 million Canadians have been physically or sexually assaulted since the age of 15 (Statistics Canada).

This represents 39 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men 15 years of age and older in Canada, with the gender difference driven by a much higher prevalence of sexual assault among women than men (30 per cent versus 8 per cent).

Only a year later, I was to once again become part of that statistic.

My first-ever long-term boyfriend assaulted me in July, after we’d been dating since January. Every year, since 1988, the phrases Canada Day fireworks and fireworks on the Fourth of July have made me want to retch.

Although my aggressor came to me afterward and told me he realized what he’d done constituted rape, I, at 18, was confused. We were in a relationship. We were known to each other. We’d had relations. Even though I’d seen my family doctor and sustained a back injury, I did not report.

11 per cent of women have physical injury resulting from sexual assault

No, I could not participate in rehearsals again until a week or so before our actual run because of the injury to my back, but this couldn’t possibly be rape. And, even if it were, no one would believe me if I did go to the RCMP to register a complaint.

Only 1 to 2 per cent of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police

Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only six are reported to the police

Not knowing what to do, I sought out the help of a social worker through the Fort McMurray office of Family and Community Support Services. Among other asinine things she put forward, she intimated that I must have led him on somehow because we were, after all, in a relationship.

I was a mollycoddled, naive 18-year-old. Not knowing any better, I believed her. Fortunately, however, I’ve since learned that only one party is responsible for sexual violence: the perpetrator.

Blaming the person who is abused is victim-blaming. It’s unfair and dangerous. It can make people believe abuse is their fault and makes them less likely to seek help and report what happened (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 2016).

So I chose to get on with my life. Go on to post-secondary studies, where twice, I was the victim of stalking, my stalkers showing up outside my classes, my places of employment, my student residence, and one of them “helping himself”.

A majority of sexual assaults occur in a residence, or commercial establishment by someone known to the victim (Statistics Canada, 2014)

In the first instance (1990), I moved to another city. Problem solved. In the second (1992), I reported to Campus Security, omitting the part about sexual assault, and pushed the entire event out of my mind.

Based on the results of the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), almost two million Canadians aged 15 years and older—about 8 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men—reported being stalked in the preceding five years.

But “getting on with life” without the proper or adequate supports proved ineffective. My tendency to minimize or deny the experience as a way of coping, my tendency to isolate myself, although common among survivors of sexual violence, weren’t getting me anywhere very fast.

If you’re wondering about other impacts of sexual violence, they include

  • shock and anger
  • fear and anxiety
  • hyper-alertness and hypervigilance
  • irritability and anger
  • disrupted sleep
  • nightmares
  • rumination and other reliving responses
  • increased need for control
  • feelings of detachment
  • emotional constriction
  • feelings of betrayal
  • a sense of shame

And, let’s be honest: triggers exist everywhere.

I was heartbroken when Robin Camp, while still a judge, asked a rape complainant why she didn’t keep her knees together. Was this a joke? Did he, like “Gerry”, think it could go sideways and say it anyway?

In the 2014 case, [Camp] asked a 19-year-old woman: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

He also said, “pain and sex sometimes go together” and had referred to the complainant as “the accused,” court records show.

The woman alleged she was raped over a bathroom sink at a house party in Calgary.

My heart sank even further when the news reports claimed Mr. Camp had “learned from his mistakes” and announced that, following a public hearing on November 17, 2017, and careful consideration through a public hearing process, he was to be reinstated as a lawyer.

Yep.

And then there was the Christine Blasey Ford testimony and that whole Brett Kavanaugh thing.

It was then that I decided to seek help. What a journey that has proven to be! I advocated so long for other survivors of domestic and sexual violence, but I had failed, until then, to advocate for myself!

No more.

Do people still make distasteful comments or lewd jokes? Yep, and, until more of us call it and other forms of aggression and harassment out, it will continue.

So, let it be known, “Gerry”. You’ve been called out.

According to Statistics Canada, women (28%) were more likely than men (19%) to have taken measures such as blocking others online or deleting accounts in order to protect themselves from online harassment.

Congratulations, “Gerry”. Now that you can no longer read my posts, you can fill your time reading these resources instead.

Suggestions for Further Reading

The Facts about Sexual Assault and Harassment

Gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour in Canada, 2018: Initial findings from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces

Sexual Assault and Rape Statistics in Canada

Men and Sexual Assault

Police-reported sexual offences against children and youth in Canada, 2012

#MeToo Movement

Hollaback: Bystander Intervention Training

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