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Jaclyn Friedman in Teen Vogue: Surviving Rape and Re-engaging in Sex

As a 50 year-old male, no, I’m not a regular Teen Vogue reader. Regardless, there are many things I love about celebrated feminist and writer Jaclyn Friedman’s Teen Vogue piece. The two principal ones are here:

1. The idea that survivors of sexual violence can use sex as a healing mechanism (or just that they can engage in it again when it feels right for them) is very important.

Within the narrow realm of the criminal justice response, investigators and prosecutors are still struggling with “what to do” when a victim of sexual violence reveals, pre-trial, that she engaged in sex sometime after the attack in question, at least when it seems somehow too close to the attack itself. This uneasiness is understandable due to the realities of how typical American jurors think and how juries decide cases, but it shouldn’t be. Prosecutors in particular need guidance of the type Friedman provides to figure out how to explain this to juries.

2. I’ve been saying for years (along with many others) that how a culture views sex has everything to do with how that culture responds to sexual violence. I’m not just talking about police and prosecutors. I’m talking about all of us- everyone. The prevailing western cultures are both products and precursors of the three major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three of these cultural systems view human sexuality as something that should be 1) male-centered in all respects, 2) cis-gender and heteronormative, and 3) strictly controlled, particularly as an adjunct to controlling the culturally accepted object of desire, the woman.

Friedman writes: “Sexual assault is, at its core, an assault on a person’s autonomy. It is an attempted negation of our sovereignty over our bodies and our humanity.”

The idea of a woman’s “sovereignty over her body” has been a cruel joke for time immemorial, because she’s been seen as a vessel for life, but not worthy of the honor that should accompany that circumstance. That honor has been denied her exactly because the idea of it threatens so much of the male myth of power, stewardship and godliness.

How can men be completely in control, after all, when they share shelter with these goddesses who bleed but do not die? Who bring forth life from swollen bellies and then feed it from their breasts?And, in related fashion, who can control many a man’s every emotion with a smile or a frown?

Men fear many things, women perhaps first among them. In the face of that fear, they seek to control women. Sometimes, that means rape. Often, that means murder.

Friedman’s piece addresses the former and not the latter. But in figurative terms, it’s sometimes very much the same.