How Sexual Assault Hurts the Health of the Nation

In the early ‘90s, I enrolled in a Women’s Studies course in nearby university. To do so at that time seemed almost like a silent act of revolution. I rarely ever mentioned it so I would not risk subjecting myself to the sexist and demeaning jokes, nasty eye-rolls or insults that seemed commonplace among those who discovered my secret. It was not the “bird” course most people claimed it was; on the contrary, it forever changed my life.

In one of the earliest lectures, one of the course’s professors handed out a paper that outlined the many forms of abuse. It was lengthy and, being quite young and uninformed in these matters, seemed quite shocking to me at the time. Of course, there were the seemingly well-understood forms of abuse like rape and physical assault, but it also listed other forms like verbal abuse and neglect. It shocked me because I found myself in the startling and awkward position of finding forms of abuse I had been subjected to on this list, even though I considered myself strong and independent and not a likely candidate for it. I discovered that abuse was never about the victim but the abuser and that anyone could be impacted by abuse.

This single sheet of paper in an unconventional, typically overlooked course at that time, caused me to re-examine my life from an independent, outsider’s lens as though I had temporarily stepped out of my body, out of years of social conditioning, to come to a new view of how I lived and how I would choose to live going forward. While not all forms of abuse are easily stoppable, I realized that I could become informed about abuse, speak out against it and perhaps most importantly, empower myself and others wherever possible.

In the spirit of empowerment and in light of the alarming news about sexual assault and rape allegations against Supreme Court Judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recent courageous testimony, it is important to understand abuse and its many guises.

I am well aware that men are also frequently the victims of sexual harassment and assault, which is equally tragic, but this article is intended to address toxic masculinity and its effects on women.

What is Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment?

According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Some of the allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh may seem obvious like holding a woman down and attempting to rape her, but many people don’t seem to realize that the allegations of his flinging his genitals into a woman’s face also constitutes sexual assault or that groping a person or grinding against someone also fits the definition of the criminal act.

Any type of penetration of a body part with an object or another body part without prior consent is sexual assault. Additionally, sexual assault is also any contact with breasts, buttocks, genitalia or intimate body parts without prior consent. Sexual assault can also involve exposure of a person’s genitals, breasts, buttocks or other intimate body parts without prior consent. Oh, and a person can withdraw consent at any time, even during sexual acts. And, whenever coercion is used or a person’s ability to consent to sex due to the influence of alcohol or drugs is compromised, proceeding becomes an act of violence and sexual assault against her.

But, what about sexual harassment? Many men, Donald Trump included, try to belittle the denigration of women by men by chalking it up to “locker room talk” and it may not constitute criminal activity, but sometimes this behavior does constitute sexual harassment. Equally important, it always contributes to a culture of degradation of women, frequently results in sexual harassment of women, and also contributes to the normalization of “rape culture”—something that should never be considered normal and effects both men and women.

Sexual harassment includes something known as “gender harassment” which includes: solicitation for sex, pornography in the workplace, obscene gestures, sexist comments or online harassment and bullying—all of which are tools used by some men to “keep women in their place” or subservient to them. While any woman may be harassed, women who are assertive, have non-traditional roles or jobs, or who have supervisory positions, often find themselves subjected to this unacceptable behavior.

The fact remains: even when it does not descend to the point of criminal activity, women are harmed by so-called “locker room talk” and it might surprise more than a few men that we’re not flesh-suits put on the planet for their pleasure. This form of sexual hostility disguised as joking and fun has the effect of trivializing sexual aggression and often leads to blaming or shaming the victim of harassment or assaults.

The Donald Trump Effect

Since the tape of Donald Trump’s admission of sexual assault against a woman was released, the one in which he stated:

“I moved on her like a bitch but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And, when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.”

When this tape become public in 2016, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) indicates that the organization has seen a shocking 33 percent increase in hotline calls reporting sexual harassment or sexual abuse. The National Sexual Assault Hotline had a 201% increase in calls during the Kavanaugh hearing on Thursday.

According to a study published in Personnel Psychology, 58 percent of women report having been sexually harassed in the workplace. That doesn’t include women who did not report sexual harassment or those that have been harassed by friends, acquaintances, landlords or other men.

How Sexual Violence and Aggression Destroys Health and Wellbeing

Research published in the medical journal Trauma, Violence, and Abuse shows that rape and sexual assault often have the effect of causing their victims long-term anxiety, depression, drug or alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suicidal thoughts or tendencies. While the long-term physical and emotional health effects of sexual harassment are rarely studied, I have personally witnessed similar effects.

While it might be convenient for some people to assume that I must be some man-hating feminist, I’m not. I simply hate the culture of abuse so many men (and some women) support, condone or promote. I have many excellent friendships, professional relationships with men and have been happily married to the most amazing man I’ve ever met for nearly 21 years. Not only is he wildly intelligent, confident and strong, he also happens to be the kindest and most caring person I know. We both proudly describe ourselves as feminists and will do so until women have full equality, including an end to violence against them.

While many people still inaccurately equate machismo and bravado as strength and confidence, they are neither masculine nor strong. Machismo and bravado are the tools of the bully and criminal who cowardly and artificially bolsters his weak self-worth at the expense of women, either through “locker room talk” or criminal actions like sexual harassment or assault. The time has come for these toxic men to self-reflect on their own shortcomings and failings as human beings and to find a way to correct these controlling and venomous behaviors, without doing so to the detriment of women.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, & Cooking.  Follow her work.



Lorrie O
Lorrie O2 months ago

KN.O.W. Not Ok, K. Just K.

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 months ago

@Mary B: Yes, Dianna D went to others who were falsely accused and said basically to wait for the evidence.

What is wrong with waiting for the eivdence

Mary B
Mary B4 months ago

FRANK HANLINE, What did Dianna D do for me to say what I said? The artical was about sexual harassment, and it was primarily coming up in response to Trump and Kavanaugh . 2 PEOPLE who exemplified WHAT the IDEA is in present time. SHE didn't want to stay in the present. She wanted to deflect attention onto other PEOPLE who had been accused of the same kind of thing. Your interpretation of what Dr. Ford said has been refuted so what this comes down to is what is or is not sexual harassment [ an idea ], but instead an issue of memory. And if YOU want to talk about
due process and innocent until proven guilty then we'll have to go to the professional right wing creeps on that. 20+ years of demonizing and propaganda against Hillary. Criminal Hillary, Crooked Hillary and bumper stickers screaming lock her up!" My issue with Dianna D is with the tactic of not acknowledging the PEOPLE who this was about . The IDEA is already well established in our culture.

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 months ago

@Mary B: What did Dianna D do for you to say that? I thought the thing is to attack the idea, not the person.

Can you tell us when Dr. Ford was attacked? She's given different dates and years. All of her first witnesses had no clue what she was going on about.

OBTW, I don't want Kavanaugh confirmed. His stances on too many things, such as the 4th Amendment and the "no sitting president can be indited" are factual.

What about "Due Process" and "Innocent until Proven Guilty"?

Or do we just get the rope out and start hanging based on allegations? You know, the "good old days"?

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 months ago

@ Ellen G: Not quite. "Toxic Feminity" is as real as "Toxic Masulinity". To ascribe to to an ideology where only one gender type can be Toxic is the epitome of sexism.

"Toxic Femininity" is the idea to drag everyone down and control them via shame, guilt and an explicit and implicit denial to "the tribe"

The Archetypes of masculinity are:
The Peasant Hero - Good Masculinity
The Tyrant - Toxic Masculinity

The female Archetypes are:
The Nurturing Mother - Good Femininity
The Devouring Mother - Toxic Femininity

Men and women are wonderful and monstrous in our own ways.

Mary B
Mary B4 months ago

DIANNA D go to the bottom of the page and READ THE RULES of this site. You ARE a right wing creep spewing word for word the SAME stuff right wing creeps always spew when they have nothing to add but their version that we we've heard before. You are intrusive, insulting and your only intention is to waste our time.We have other sources that read the body language and dysfunctional psychology of Kavanaugh and their assessment is far more astute than yours. You don't like being called names? Then respect OUR boundaries.

Suzanne L
Suzanne L4 months ago

There is still a long road ahead for equality and fairness.

Ellen G.
Ellen G.4 months ago

Very good article. "Toxic masculinity" by the way, can refer to the inner masculine in women as well as men's masculine archetype. The masculine in this sense is the rational, objective, logical mind that, when distorted and disempowered, turns to "power over," objectifying anyone considered "not masculine," i.e. women and "feminine" men, and rationalizing bad behavior. So the female-on-female bullying cited below by a few posters has to do with women who deny and denigrate their own inner feminine, the subjective, feeling, intuitive part of the whole Self. Both men and women have inner masculine and inner feminine energies in equal measure. The problem here is that the feminine has been subjugated for centuries and the masculine elevated. Women who practice female-on-female bullying drank the kool-aid of toxic masculinity.

Melanie St. Germaine

Thank you for sharing!

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 months ago

@Sylvia B: Also where does this:
"female-on-female bullying that is do entrenched in our society"
really come from?

Sounds like toxic femininity to me