Not All Sexual Assaults Are Equal
A woman is dragged into an alleyway and raped. Toronto police call that sexual assault.
A stranger fondles a woman's breast on an elevator. Toronto police call that sexual assault.
A drunk frosh kid grabs another student's butt while dancing at a campus pub. Toronto police call that sexual assault.
Campus security at Ryerson University is on high alert after a “string of recent sexual assaults.” Make no mistake: At no time is it ever permissible for anyone to be violated in a sexual nature. But do we not run the risk of dulling the term “sexual assault” by using it as a catch-all for any uninvited sexual advances?
Under the current definition, I can say I've been “sexually assaulted” on Toronto streets by women, men — even a former boss. Although that last one was at work in plain view of all my other coworkers. I didn't run to HR to launch a suit.
I can only imagine how the victims of rape must feel when they hear news reports of sexual assaults of a relatively minor nature being lumped into the same category.
You have to wonder whether we're hearing about so many more sexual assaults these days because victims feel more comfortable about coming forward, or because we've so dramatically broadened the criteria. I would say it's the latter.
In an effort to collectively make a statement that we're no longer going to tolerate any form of violence against women, we've cheapened the definition. This began years ago when lawyers started using the word “assault” to include not only physical, but verbal and psychological forms of aggression. The word “abuse” has also become equally more prevalent in describing forms of victimization. Oh, and so has the word “victim” for that matter.
With these terms tossed around so liberally these days, have we not dampened their very intense meaning? And by doing so, is there not a chance that we'll all become desensitized to hearing them?
The solution here is not to discourage women from reporting any acts of uninvited sexual nature, but rather for police — and perhaps the media — to be more selective about how the acts are classified. When an athlete is sidelined, we're usually told why, and how long he or she is expected to be out of action.
We don't need to know the horrible details of how a woman was dragged, beaten and sexually violated. But surely there has to be a way to classify the severity of an assault as not to put a rape on par with a goosing.