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  • Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Could YOU spot sexual violence?


Sexual violence is a sexual behavior that someone commits or attempts to commit against a person who is not consenting, or who is for some reason not able to consent or is coerced in some way in to giving consent. This definition is paraphrased from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC. If you're not sure what constitutes consent, check here for an explanation.


There are many different ways that sexual violence can look. We can all pretty clearly identify rape and child molestation as forms of sexual victimization. Many of the other types of sexual violence are things we may not so easily identify as sexual violence.


I facilitate treatment groups for folks who have committed sexual offenses, and folks in my groups often have a hard time identifying that unwanted sexual behavior toward their partner is sexual victimization. In some states, unfortunately, “marital rape” is not against the law. Whether it’s against the law or not, it’s still sexual violence.


It can also be hard for folks to identify behaviors as sexual violence when they are committed against a male-identified person, such as when a person with a penis is forced or coerced into sexually penetrating someone. This type of victimization is more common that you’d think.


People can also struggle to identify the scenario of an adult woman being sexual with an underage boy as sexual victimization. This, too, is more common than you’d think. When we talk about their sexual histories, so many men in my groups describe this kind of scenario, and also describe that no one in their lives, including them, ever considered this behavior to be sexual violence.


Many types of unwanted sexual behaviors, including those that are coerced, or unwanted sexual comments or invitations, are ignored in a lot of environments, and we don’t always identify them as sexual violence. In many environments, these types of behaviors are unfortunately considered, “normal” and “acceptable,” and we’ll talk more in future blog posts about the kind of risk that creates for additional and more serious sexual violence.


I’m seeing more and more folks in my treatment groups for crimes involving technology. More and more folks are sexually harassing and/or stalking people online. More folks are consensually sharing sexual images with each other, which also means that more folks are sharing these private images with people for whom they are not intended.


People are using technology to watch and/or record others without them knowing or giving consent, and then either sharing those images/videos with others or using them for their own sexual purposes.


I had a very young gentleman (in his teens) in treatment who had conspired with his friends to make recordings of him being sexual with another one of their peers without that peer's consent. Their intent was to watch the video later and masturbate. None of the young men involved particularly thought this behavior was problematic until they got caught.


I met a woman a few years ago who found out well after the fact that her longtime partner had been recording their sexual encounters without her knowledge or consent for years. She only found out when he began sharing his recordings online, again without her consent or knowledge.


We have plenty of folks in treatment groups who have exposed their genitals and/or body to folks who had not consented, or who have masturbated in public because they find it sexually arousing to be viewed by others. It’s pretty common to have folks in group who have a longstanding pattern of sitting in their vehicles in public spaces in the hopes someone will see them, and folks who will actually lure people to their vehicles so that they are seen. It’s also not unusual for folks in my groups to have engaged in this behavior in their workplace. When caught, these folks generally say it was an “accident,” and that they did not intend for anyone to see them.


Finally, another type of sexual violence to have on our radar are scenarios where a person is exercising control over another person’s access to contraception, or is misrepresenting the use of contraception, such as in stealthing, where a person pretends they are wearing a condom when they actually are not, or when a person tampers with another person’s contraception.


There's plenty more to talk about when it comes to ways that sexual violence can manifest. Stay tuned for future blog posts to learn more. Also keep an eye open for an online course I am designing on this topic for the platform LearnSexTherapy.com, launching in September 2021.

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