You might think it seems obvious that remarks concerning physical appearance do not fall within the bounds of sexual assault. Well apparently Rutgers University thinks that they can classify remarks about physical appearance as “sexual assault.”
National Review reports:
The news that 20 percent of Rutgers University undergraduate women who took a campus survey reported having been sexually assaulted sounds terrifying – until you realize that the survey’s definition included “remarks about physical appearance” as “sexual violence.”
Rutgers announced the results of the survey on Wednesday, and they were then reported by news outlets including the Washington Post as further evidence of the rape epidemic on our college campuses.
Before I proceed, let me clarify the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual assault is an unwanted physical advance on someone, generally for the purpose of sexual gratification. The extreme to which this definition is carried is subject to debate. One could argue that if a guy puts his hand on my shoulder that could fall within the classification of “sexual assault.” Depending on the circumstance and the man’s intent I would say that this is a weak, and a silly argument, and not one that I would likely ever make, however it is one which still falls within the boundaries of reasonable arguments.
They key difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment is that assault has to be physical, whereas harassment does not. Now one could argue that sexual harassment could include unwanted physical advances, but the reverse argument cannot be made.
This is not to say that unwanted remarks about physical appearance could not be considered sexual harassment depending on the nature and intent of the remark, but the survey deals with the results of sexual assault, not sexual harassment.
Now allow me to dissect this idea that unwanted remarks about physical appearance are considered “sexual assault.” I will use myself as an example. Let us imagine, that a guy I find weird, creepy, annoying, unattractive, or am just not “into” directs a harmless compliment at me such as “You’re hair looks pretty” or something similar that is completely harmless, and can in no way be interpreted as a sexual innuendo.
Just because I am not “into” said guy does not mean that I can interpret his unwanted compliment as “sexual assault.” The above scenario is exactly what the Rutgers survey is suggesting. Not only that but unwanted remarks about physical appearance can be classified as “sexual assault” even if they come from said girl’s boyfriend. So if you’re mad at your boyfriend, you can claim he sexually assaulted you, when he is only trying to get back into you’re good graces.
The survey goes on to suggest that men should ask permission before paying a compliment. First, if you ask a girl if you can pay her a compliment, haven’t you in essence already complimented her? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the compliment? Compliments are appreciated because they are unexpected. You’re not going to be flattered if he asks permission first. Second, if she says “No, please don’t compliment me,” haven’t you in essence already offended her because you dared to ask permission to say something nice about the way she looks?
This is a one-sided and sexist policy, as it assumes women are the only ones who can feel offended by remarks about physical appearance. So in essence, a guy can tell me I have pretty hair, and it’s “sexual assault,” but the same cannot be said if I make a positive remark to a guy about the way he looks.