[Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence/assault.]
Many people are still unclear about the nature of assault in regards to interpersonal violation. We want to raise awareness and educate the student body about these kinds of topics and what factors contribute to physical or nonphysical violence.
Abusive behaviors are often perpetrated by one individual against another in a relationship in order to fulfill a need for power and control. Oblivious to the complex nature of relationship violence and the power struggles prevalent in sexual assault, people frequently ask the question “Why don’t they just leave?” or claim the victim is at fault for staying.
Physical acts of assault or threats to commit violence are the most apparent forms of interpersonal violation and are usually the actions that allow bystanders to become aware of the problem and intervene.
However, the regular use of other abusive behaviors, such as intimidation, coercion, economic/emotional abuse and isolation (just to name a few), create a larger system of abuse hardly visible for prevention. The perpetrator feels legitimated in their right to control the victim because of this sense of entitlement to having access over the victim’s body, thoughts, time, money, etc.
Gradually, the victim’s independence becomes increasingly compromised by the abuser’s need to completely dominate and control them, thus limiting the victim’s ability to leave and to access resources.
Often these forms of abuse follow a certain pattern. There is no particular order in which certain types of abuse happen, but they all amount to the victim’s loss of control. The Power and Control diagram shown below is particularly helpful in understanding the overall pattern of abusive/violent behaviors, which are used by the perpetrator to establish the upper-hand.
One of the many factors that contribute to the power struggle in interpersonal violation is economic abuse. In light of recent events in Hollywood, regarding Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, the victim’s fear for losing their job and the hierarchal powers in this industry fed into the silence.
Katherine Kendall, an actress in “Swingers” and “A Gun for Jennifer,” said to The New York Times, “She had been worried about telling others because ‘I’ll never work again and no one is going to care or believe me’” (The New York Times, “The Women Who Have Accused Harvey Weinstein,” 10.10.2017).
Although Weinstein claims he has not participated in nonconsensual behaviors, his demeanor and his privilege as a top male film producer played a role in the actors’ silence and their loss of power.
Difference in age can also add to the power struggle in sexual violence, in which an individual younger than the perpetrator feels intimidated to speak up and challenge those older than them. False stereotypes of individual identity regarding race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and more are also forms of abuse that contribute to rape culture and the victim’s loss of control.
The misinformation/myth and stereotypes associated with race, sexuality, gender ethnicity, etc., like sexual violence are grounded in language with a common purpose—to dehumanize, to degrade and to make violence more acceptable. Perpetrators often employ this language, which sends demeaning messages to the victim making it easier to hurt and gain dominance in all aspects.
CARES, as a nonjudgmental and empathetic student-led organization, aims to develop a deeper understanding of these complex layers of interpersonal violation and the different abusive behaviors that are so often responsible for robbing the victim of power and control in their lives.
Especially in light of recent events of sexual assault and horrific events of violence in our country, it may seem that individual control is far from reach. But we also live in an important time. We live in a time where we can have healthy dialogues regarding important issues, such as interpersonal violation. We live in a time when Harvey Weinstein receives the consequences of his actions.
As members of CARES and members of the Vassar community, we aim to educate our campus and start a conversation on heavy topics such as sexual violence, strive to advocate for student rights and most importantly help break the silence.