Naming Sexual Trauma
Naming Sexual Trauma
On the Political Necessity of Nuance in Rape and Sex Offender Discourses
This chapter considers the politics of naming sexual violence not simply as a categorical tool, but as a political tool. In other words, while naming has certain legal or social implications—by naming rape, victims can prosecute their rapists and then identify and seek treatment as a rape survivor—it also has certain political implications related to broader narratives of power, identity, morality, and consent. By tracing cultural panics about “sexting” and sex offending combined with women’s own often-ambivalent accounts of naming sexual violence, I argue a rather radical claim: Because sexual violence is so pervasive—where men internalize the perpetration of such violence as normal and women internalize sexual violence done to them as normal—categories of rape and sex offending obscure the pervasive qualities of perpetration and victimhood in the culture at large. The “rape victim” and the “sex offender” become categories of “Otherness”—often seen as outside the norm and outside of ourselves—that blur and erase the way many different iterations of sexual violence disrupt, traumatize, and circulate within women’s lives. As such, categories of “rape victim” and “sex offender” encourage a widespread failure to recognize, act upon, or become disturbed by the overwhelming numbers of women who experience some sort of sexual violence (“named” or not), and the overwhelming numbers of men who use violence in their “normal” and “everyday” sexual practices with women. Further, experiences outside these dichotomies—for example, sexual violence between women, men as rape victims, those who both perpetrate and are victimized by sexual violence—fall further and further out of focus.
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