The West Virginia oral sex case and the seriousness of sexual assault against men

For days I have been mulling over the case in West Virginia where a woman allegedly wielded a knife to force her estranged husband and his friend to give her oral sex. I am ashamed to say that I initially responded to the story with nervous laughter and shock. I laughed because it was comical to read about the act of oral sex being talked about as if it was such a formal procedure. This business of a woman who “commenced to undress herself,” or a man who “declined said invitation” just threw me. I was shocked because my own stereotypes about men led me to wonder why two men couldn’t simply overpower this woman.

I’ll also admit that my feminism is often set on default to side with women. So I thought about the possibility of this woman being framed because of the stigma that surrounds performing oral sex on a woman.  I was reminded about data from the recent national sexual study which found that women and girls ages 14 – 39 are more likely to report that they had given a man oral sex in the past month than men in that same age group reported that they had given a woman oral sex.

Despite my initial thoughts, one thing is certain: sexual assault against men does exist, should be taken seriously, and we are missing an important opportunity to discuss it. These men are likely victims of sexual assault; laughter and giving the aggressor the benefit of the doubt was totally inappropriate. It is also important for feminists to consider how emphasis on unimportant details is being used to undermine the validity of this sexual assault incident, simply because the aggressor is a woman.

Jezebel’s coverage of the issue raised some of these issues for me. It could be my browser, but the dimensions of the aggressor’s picture almost dwarf the blog entry prompting the reader to focus more attention on what this woman looked like instead of the sexual assault that was committed. Additionally, much of the coverage of this issue has focused on the alleged smell of the woman’s vagina. The Jezebel piece mentions that Watson, one of the victims “understandably, declined to proceed any further” after learning about this woman’s smell. The Smoking Gun piece is even tagged with the label “horrible vaginal odor.” This emphasis on the smell of the woman’s vagina is not only inappropriate but it demonstrates how not serious they consider this to be. It’s not a crime, it’s a joke.

In the end, the struggle against sexual assault exposes something that men and women have in common. We are all struggling for the right to be believed, to be taken seriously when something happens to us. Although men don’t confront rape culture in the same way that women do, they still have a right to be heard and to have their complaints seen as valid instead of as humorous.

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