Recent news media events remind us of the importance of establishing the most helpful directions for research and practice. For example, recent allegations of sexual assault in professional contexts have captured the attention of many professionals. In one instance, a university professor has identified himself as a “survivor of sexual violence” after an alleged incident of public groping in the elevator at a conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.
Likewise, recent legal manoeuvring by Brock Turner (whose light sentence in response to a sexual assault on the campus of Stanford University) sparked outrage has again made the news when his lawyers argued that his conviction should be overturned because his crimes involved sexual “outercourse” and not intercourse. Likewise, Bill Cosby has made the news by challenging his designation as a sexually violent predator in Pennsylvania and a registered sex offender. Likewise, a search of recent media accounts shows more instances of workplace sexual assault than can be described here.
As much as we applaud those who step forward in the wake of abuse and the media attention that keeps this topic alive in public discourse, we also believe it’s vital to keep in mind whose lack of privilege keeps them out of the media. As one example, it’s important to keep in mind that being groped in an elevator at a sexuality conference, while worthy of discussion, is not addressing the problem of more severe sexual violence that happens in many communities and rural areas every day. Brock Turner and Bill Cosby are easy media events; understanding the context of sexual violence for less privileged people is much more of a challenge.
Sadly, privileged and photogenic people often receive our attention more than the truly disadvantaged. This needs to change. Likewise, it is essential that our field actively seek out opportunities to conduct research and provide meaningful help where it is needed most. All too often, media accounts focusing on who did what to who overlook the more important questions of what we can do to stop these events from happening.
Those of us who study and provide treatment in the wake of sexual abuse would be wise to consider our own privilege, and how it focuses the lenses through which we view sexual abuse. Of course, even saying this risks appearances that we (the authors) are saying we are somehow “more enlightened than thou”, when we would include ourselves in this caution. All of our media have an opportunity to participate in dialog and debate these most difficult issues.