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A man asked if he could ‘slap’ and ‘spit on me’ – we need to stop normalising sexual violence against women

Any argument that this kind of behaviour is ‘uncommon’ appears achingly naive

Victoria Richards
Thursday 21 January 2021 14:39
<p>‘We must make a stand about the normalisation of sexual violence against women, and distinguish it from a sexually-liberated society’</p>

‘We must make a stand about the normalisation of sexual violence against women, and distinguish it from a sexually-liberated society’

As if the world of online dating during lockdown in the middle of a global pandemic wasn’t enough of a rollercoaster, this week I experienced something that had me clamouring for the convent: a man on a regular, run-of-the-mill dating app went straight in by asking if I would agree to being slapped and spat on.

Would I accept, he wondered, “face slaps” and “drool” as “reward”? This is so deeply problematic I don’t really know where to start, but this seems like as good a place as any: men, don’t talk like this to women.

And before the inevitable trolling starts – no, I don’t mean “all men”. This isn’t “all men”; it’s not a plea to the many good men out there who treat their wives, girlfriends and potential dates with the respect all humans deserve. But the fact remains that it is too many men. Even one man like this is too many.

But it’s not only one, and any argument that this kind of behaviour is “uncommon” appears achingly naive. As soon as I tweeted about my experience – offhand, at midnight – hundreds of messages from women with similar experiences flooded in. Stories of first dates which turned into an immediate request for a “golden shower”, before she’d even got out of the car; a woman who saw the words, “must like being choked” in black and white on a man’s dating profile; the sardonic, world-weary, “you're new to internet dating, then?”

British doctor Georgina Porter told me that 10 years ago, newly-single and in her early 40s, she joined dating apps and was struck by the number of men who asked for sexual practices that felt extreme. “Men often tested the water for amenability to anal sex almost instantly,” she said. “It wasn’t really a thing when I was young – it’s an appetite created by porn. Porn is also why men want to spit on women; anything degrading.

“When I was a teenager, girls who wouldn't willingly have sex were labelled 'frigid'. The new 'frigid' is 'vanilla'. Girls who don't want porn-inspired sex – anal, hair-pulling and choking – are shamed for their 'inhibitions'.”

In the wake of sharing my encounter, a number of people – and it was, mostly, men – rushed to belittle or defend it. Some insisted it was “honourable” of this individual to be up front about his predilection for sexual male-to-female violence – that he was “just being honest”, that he wasn’t in the wrong but that I was, for calling it out. I even got accused of “kink-shaming”.

But minimising this type of behaviour as a “preference”, or reframing it as a “harmless kink” risks erasing the reality of what it is: sexual violence, most often perpetuated by men, against women. How many opening conversations from women on dating apps begin with them asking men if they can choke, hit, slap or spit on them?

Fiona Mackenzie, of campaign group We Can’t Consent To This – which is fighting to end the use of “rough sex” claims in the criminal justice system, and pushing for non-fatal strangulation to be added to the Domestic Abuse bill – reported that just under 40 per cent of women under the age of 40 have been violently assaulted during sex, and a quarter of men admit to criminal assault of women in sex.

“This isn’t normal, even if it’s terrifyingly common,” she told me. “We're in a sorry place where men are emboldened to say, ‘I want to do an act of violence to you’, to a woman they’ve never spoken to.

“I've no doubt people will tell you, ‘some women like it’ – but why should all women have to be okay with being told they're worthy of a slap?”

“This is 100 per cent the influence of porn,” one woman told me. “I've been sexually active since 1987 and spitting, slapping and choking simply were not a thing until very recently. Anal was also incredibly rare. Porn is eroticising violence against women, and as the mother of a nine-year-old boy, I really worry.”

There’s no doubt that porn should be part of the conversation – only recently, Pornhub removed millions of videos in an attempt to fight sexual abuse imagery. The site was accused of hosting non-consensual content connected to child pornography, trafficking and rape.

I’ve had to talk to my own kids about porn – my daughter was only seven when a classmate told her she’d seen inappropriate images on her family iPad; and research tells us that as many as 28 per cent of children aged 11 and 12 admit to having watched porn online, via friends, pop-up ads or by accidentally stumbling across it. The NSPCC and Children’s Commissioner for England found that by the age of 15 or 16, 65 per cent of children have watched porn, with 53 per cent of boys reporting they thought it “realistic”.

When it comes to online dating, some women said they’d rather know of a man’s taste for violence from the outset. “Would you prefer they say nothing about it until you're in bed with them, and they just start doing it without even asking?” one challenged me. “From what I hear, that's the other most common option. Personally I prefer the red flags up front.”

“Men should definitely be upfront about their penchant for abusing women,” another added. “At least you found out early on and not three months into a relationship with him.”

As for me, I ended the conversation by blocking and reporting his profile to the dating site I was using. But the fight continues online, with men branding me “stupid” and “wrong” for doing so.

Of course, everyone has the right to practice safe and consensual sex in a way that suits both parties, as long as it is, truly, consensual – and comes from a place of mutual trust, care and respect. And while this isn’t a plea to the many good men out there, it is a plea, nonetheless. We all need to do our part and call out men who treat women as objects; who joke about rape and beating and choking, online or in the pub.

We must make a stand about the normalisation of sexual violence against women, and distinguish it from a sexually-liberated society. Because at the moment it’s looking a lot more like one that encourages girls to be subjected to violence and degradation in the name of being “open-minded” – and boys to perpetuate it.

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