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Friday, July 13, 2007

How I got here…

The question usually comes pretty quick…. “So - Matt, how did YOU get involved with MOCSA (Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault)?” The “YOU” part is typically emphasized because candidly, I just don’t look the part. First, I think I get the question because…well, I guess because I’m a man. Secondly, I probably get it because I look more like the dude you’d find riding a Harley without a helmet than a board representative of a non-profit that deals with sexual assault. I understand why I get it and the puzzled looks. But, the question usually invokes a blend of emotions that draws my gaze downward…

One emotion is sadness. I’m involved in MOCSA because my brother sexually molested some people very near and dear to me. It makes me sad to think about that – the how, the why, and what’s happened to his victims and their families, and my own family since his crimes. When it surfaced, I remember someone telling me that an “earthquake” was about to take place for me personally. And it did. I certainly can identify with the MOCSA logo where the first M is shaking like mad but the A is solid. I was very much an “M” when I first got involved with MOCSA. I’m an “A” now.

The second is shame – I’m ashamed because it took a terrible event like that for me to get involved in the first place. I’m ashamed because I never really understood how prevalent the issue of sexual assault is. How, many times, rape and/or sexual assault are just “swept under the rug”, not talked about, pushed down into the furthest recesses of a victim’s mind, etc. I’m also ashamed because I know I’ve taken part in some activities that are degrading to women and objectify them sexually. But - I know better now.

Almost every day, the media reminds us of another sexual assault that takes place or potentially might have taken place. Just recently a story broke about a Texas Assistant District Attorney who took his own life when he’d been exposed by Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series for approaching a minor for sex over the internet. The stories swirl from one headline to another – mostly focusing on such things as the “appropriateness” of such a show… there’s SO much missing.

Missed is the fact that 1 in 3 females and 1 in 7 males will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Missed is the fact that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are never reported – only about 16% are. Missed is the fact that false reporting of sexual assault is an extreme oddity even though the media jumps on each incidence with a vengeance (think Duke Lacrosse). Missed is the fact that most sexual assaults are not committed by strangers lurking behind bushes but by someone you’d invite to a family dinner – 80% of the time. Missed is the fact that 97% of the time sexual assaults are committed by MEN!

Now all of the above stats really bother me but that last one….ugh!

I wonder if we, as a society, would let any other groups of people get a pass if they committed such a horrendous act 97 times out of a 100? I really don’t think we would. We’d be putting together case study after case study if women committed a particular crime 97% of the time.

So …where’s the outrage with men taking advantage of women and other men sexually? Why aren’t we fuming mad because instead of finding “boogey men” doing these crimes, we keep seeing that, time and time again, it’s the “average Joe’s”. The vast majority of perpetrators are right out of the fabric of our general society - fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, attorneys, doctors, clergy, salesmen, coaches, “respected members of the community”.

The dominant male culture is simply off-kilter when it comes to this pervasive issue of sexual assault - and you know why? Because in my opinion, we as men, don’t want to really take a look at the other males we consider our brethren, the men that we would break bread with, and have an open, honest, and sometimes challenging dialog about sex, what consensual sex really is, and our attitudes towards women. More times than not, an all-male discussion involving sex will include two parts that easily can be portrayed as “the chase” and “the conquering”…sprinkled with as much bravado as possible. I know because I’ve proactively started these discussions and participated in them myself. But - I know better now.

Just today I perused Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” weblog and you know what people have posted time and time again asking Investigative Reporter/Host Chris Hansen? They post asking why he won’t go after “female predators” too. Like there’s an equally distributed population of male and female sexual assault predators out there. People also post to the website wanting to have Chris and his Dateline NBC show come to their cities to weed out all the “sickos”. Like somehow, there are just a few bad eggs that need be plucked from the basket and all will be well again.

And so - the last emotion I feel when someone asks me why I’m involved with MOCSA is anger. In fact – I’m SUPER-FANTASTICALLY-INCREDIBLY pissed!

I’m pissed because for every sexually assaulted woman there are FIVE more who’ve never reported a thing (only 16% ever report)! I’m pissed because these victims of sexual assault are women who I KNOW and care about very much (1 in 3!). I’m pissed because most of these personally-known victims only told me AFTER they thought I might actually understand what it’s like to be dominated by another human being. I’m pissed because for every falsely accused Duke Lacrosse member, there are 97 real rapists! I’m pissed because many of these perpetrators, who would devastate others lives, walk amongst us right now as “respected members of the community”. I’m pissed because we only see the tip of the tip of the very tip top of the iceberg with shows like “To Catch a Predator”. I’m pissed because many times we just don’t want to think about what to do to really rehabilitate these perpetrators beyond just locking them up and throwing away the key (because, guess what, they will be walking among our loved ones again in the future). I’m pissed at how we’re raising our boys to grow into “real men” with super-sized masculine overtones that objectify women and sex! I’m pissed because there are some really bad dudes out there – and they’re giving a mostly-good dude like me a bad name.

The sadness comes and goes, the shame is something I’m over, but the anger… it just keeps growing. Because- I know better now.

- Matt Sharples


Sam Meers said...


That's an excellent post. Thanks for sharing. All of us can do a better job respecting women and spreading the word among our male friends.


Anonymous said...

That was very powerful and personal. Thank you for sharing.
chato v.