How men can help prevent sexual assault
Sexual assault prevention is not just a woman’s problem; men have a key role in preventing sexual assaults on woman. This column will focus on a few of the issues surrounding date rape: coercion, entitlement and the mistaken belief that a man must be able to successfully seduce a woman if he is a real man.
The criminal law presumes that sexual activity is a choice and that all people, at all times, may choose not to be sexually active. Consent is defined in the Colorado Criminal Code as “cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will and with knowledge of the nature of the act.”
Having sex without consent is sexual assault. If the victim is under 15 years old and the actor is more than four years older, consent is irrelevant; it is sexual assault on a child.
The nature of the sexual touching or activity and the method used to overcome a person’s will define the seriousness of the crime. The effects of sexual assault are devastating to victims and can scar them emotionally for life.
Approximately 57 percent of all sexual assaults occur on a date. Many men still confuse seduction and coercion.
In times gone by, many men believed that overcoming a woman’s will by giving her drinks, making persistent advances, or simply physically sweeping her off her feet and carrying her off to bed was how real men seduced women. Part of our society still thinks all women want sex at all times; men just have to take control of the situation and the woman will follow his lead. Sadly, our culture has glorified coercive sexual behavior in films and cultural myth.
Every day, men put themselves in positions where they could be prosecuted for sexual assault. If a man has to resort to coercion to have sex with a woman, it is not consensual. It is a crime.
Some men feel entitled to sex. Some men in our society think that if they take a woman out for dinner and a movie, she owes him something. He somehow feels justified in coercing her into sex.
Even a situation where he takes her to his home and refuses to take her home until she has sex with him is coercive. If a woman complies with her date’s demand that she have sex with him so he will take her home, the sex is not consensual and he may be prosecuted for sexual assault.
How can men help prevent sexual assault?
First, critically examine your own beliefs about consensual sex and how a woman may really feel in a given situation. Understand and accept that sex without consent, even without physical force, is sexual assault.
Ask yourself if she really wants to have sex with you, or have you somehow overcome her freedom of choice. Think about your actions. Try to put yourself in the woman’s place. Ask yourself how your sister, wife, or mother might feel if someone did to them what you are contemplating doing to your date.
If there is any question about her willingness, stop what you are doing and wait until there is no question about her consent. This will not only prevent a sexual assault, it will also protect you from possible arrest and prosecution.
Second, don’t hesitate to speak up when other men say or do things that let you know they fail to understand the difference between consent and coercion.
Most men clearly understand that coerced sex is wrong. However, there are still a few who fail to understand the difference. When men confront other men about their misconceptions about consent, they are more likely to change their attitudes.
Ridding our society of these misconceptions will save women from the emotional trauma of sexual victimization, and save men the cost of prosecution and punishment.
Men can help prevent sexual assault. Simply examine your belief system, challenge any misconceptions you may discover in yourself, and show your date the respect you would like to receive. Then be man enough to confront other men who perpetuate these devastating myths.
Mac Myers is the district attorney for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
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