News of sexual assault has been plastered on the walls of our social media platforms. Personal stories of women and men getting sexually harassed are shared almost daily, whether it be following a recent case in the news, or just as part of our daily internet conversations. This is not something new. A culture that is lenient towards assaulters and doubtful of victims has been inculcated in our systems and people.
Women have taken a stand, through movements and educational resources targeting men, telling us to do better. Unfortunately, the response from some men has been less than satisfactory. The #NotAllMen retaliation is the most commonly used one.
The fact is that a large majority of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases are perpetrated by men. 90% of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. When men are victims of sexual assault, 93% reported their abuser was a man. When victims of all genders are combined, men perpetrate 78% of reported assaults.
Obviously, not all men commit sexual assault. The point is that too many men do.
Instead of responding to critiques defensively, we should be calling out those who are part of the problem. Call out these perpetrators for not being real men. Real men do not rape. Real men do not molest. Real men do not abuse their positions of power. Real men are good men.
Real men respect consent.
The rhetoric that those who wear ‘skimpy’ clothing, or post pictures of themselves in said clothing, are “asking for it”, is plain false. Without fail, when victims come out to share their stories, they will be asked “What were you wearing?”. It does not matter. Consent is consent, and even someone who is naked is not “asking for it”.
How do we know this to be true? Oregon State had a project that went viral, named ‘What Were You Wearing?’. Women and men wearing jeans, multiple layers of clothes, or school uniforms are still targets to these men. Clothing does not equate to consent, and how victims were dressed are not part of the problem. Consent is the issue here. Men must acknowledge that no matter the scenario or clothing, consent must be obtained and respected. ‘No’ means ‘no’, even when ‘no’ comes after ‘yes’. Silence is not consent. Skimpy clothing is not consent.
Similarly, those who are in positions of power who abuse their positions to obtain ‘consent’ do not actually obtain consent. The #MeToo movement gained traction when stories of Hollywood producers and executives who offered roles or threatened to end careers to gain sexual favours went public. Did these victims say ‘yes’ to them? Yes. Was it actual consent? No. These individuals who were in power exercised that power to pressure them to ‘consent’.
Being in a position of power does not only mean literally but can also mean figuratively, namely through emotional manipulation and physical prowess. Another question that is asked to victims is “Why didn’t you run away or fight back?”. Simply put, those are not options when dealing with men who are stronger or bigger, or when met with a boyfriend who uses coercion via threats of ending the relationship or self-harm to obtain ‘consent’. A victim not responding or resisting does not equate to consent.
Real men hold other men accountable.
I am not asking you to ‘cancel’ and report your friends when they make jokes about rape, or when they make unwanted sexual comments to or about women. A simple “You shouldn’t say that” remark suffices. These forms of speech are not harmful alone but contribute to rape culture and an environment that does not take sexual assault and harassment seriously.
More importantly, you should not cover up for those who have sexually assaulted or harassed others. Whether it be a literal cover-up, or by discouraging victims to report the case to the authorities, those things are simply not right. Similarly, if you see something, say something. Some victims may be too fearful to report their assault or may think that it was their fault for being assaulted or harassed. However, I must reiterate that you should not be going on witch-hunts based on any and all accusations. Do your investigations without being disrespectful, and consult with the victim before doing anything.
Protecting your friends or other men who have engaged in such behaviour does not do them any favours. If so, they will not realise that they have done something wrong. The risk of a small offence snowballing into something much bigger is way too high. Additionally, the judiciary and authority boards do not help by letting offenders off easily. Minister K. Shanmugam, Minister for Law, has emphasised this, and announced a review of the current penalties for offenders.
The first step is to hold yourself accountable. Be a real man and do not engage in harmful acts that may not necessarily add up to sexual assault or sexual harassment, but may contribute to such a culture. The next is to hold others accountable. Real men do not let other men get away with it.
Real men listen.
When victims of sexual assault or harassment come out with their stories, listen. When people say “Why do men…”, listen. When we are told that we have to do better, listen. In a world where everyone is defensive of themselves, the ability to empathise and listen is of great value. You may not be in the wrong, and they may not be right, but just listen with your heart, and respond only when necessary.
The movement for ‘Men’s Rights’ and the campaign to hold those who have falsely accused innocents of sexual assault or harassment do have some basis to them, but it must not take centre stage when we’re talking about how we can prevent sexual assault. This is about men and how some of us may be unintentionally contributing to a problematic culture. Not all men do this, but most do. Instead of being a ‘pick me’ and saying “Well I’m not like this!”, just keep quiet, sit down, and listen. It isn’t about you.
The fact that the number of stories coming from the news, social media, and sometimes friends are increasing should be enough to convince you that this is a serious issue. Real men recognise that this is a real problem that needs our time and attention. Put down your pitchforks for a second, and listen with an open ear, open eye, and open heart.
The fear is justified.
In response to a query from MP Raeesah Khan in January this year, Minister K. Shanmugam cited data showing that 32% of sexual assault cases were carried out by friends of the victim. Friends are someone you would trust and have an existing relationship with, and not someone you would have to be worried about being assaulted by. The National University of Singapore handled 71 cases of sexual misconduct over the past 5 years. Educational institutions are supposed to be safe spaces and yet they are not.
What is even more concerning is that these numbers do not account for the cases that go unreported. Research found that only 52% of individuals who faced sexual harassment reported or told someone about the incident. Only 19% of them reported it to the police. When we let offenders off lightly or from being reported, we become a part of the problem.
The first step to address this very large and deep-seated problem lies with us. When you and I acknowledge that this issue is real and respond with empathy instead of anger, we can actually begin to build a better society for all of us. Let us strive to be real men, men of character, and call out those who do not live up to these standards.