“Purity” Culture: Bad for Women, Worse for Survivors of Sexual Assault of BOTH sexes
Meen who are raped or sexually assaulted, however, find themselves similarly marginalized. While the feminist movement has done excellent work in creating space for survivors to report crimes and open up, American-style masculinity doesn’t leave a lot of room for understanding male victimization. Abstinence education routinely teaches young women that they need to control the brakes of sexual responsibility, putting a halt to the men who only know how to accelerate. There’s little recognition of male agency, much less encouragement of men and boys as anything but tough, aggressive and brutish. That has devastating consequences for men and boys who are sexually violated; there’s not much language that doesn’t feel emasculating.
The same churches that peddle purity don’t tend to think very highly of homosexuality; that homophobia, coupled with sexual shame, silences many boys and men who are assaulted by other men. For those who are assaulted by women, the broader cultural assumption that men always want sex puts up even more barriers to reporting and dealing with that abuse.
Purity culture hurts all of us, and it adds an extra level of shame to sexual assault. Smart is just one example. Imagine if the young woman from the Steubenville case lived in a world where consensual sex and sexual assault were understood as two very different things, with no grey area. Imagine if there weren’t anything shameful about consensual sex or being sexually assaulted, and that the latter were considered an awful violation - taking a good, healthy, mutually pleasurable activity and turning it into an act of violence. If Jane Doe from Steubenville lived in that world, the media would have told her story quite differently, if there even were a media narrative. No photos, no crude, jokey captions. Her own friends wouldn’t have testified against her at trial; they would have stepped in to stop the assault as it was happening.