Wednesday 6 June 2018

Demi Lovato proved what we didn't want to admit: Male sexual assault is still seen as a laughing matter

Sex workers shouldn’t be used as pawns in your weird pranks to be joked about online, and they certainly shouldn’t be unwittingly drawn into nonconsensual scenarios

Since being catapulted into a global spotlight at a young age, musician Demi Lovato has continuously used her platform to discuss crucial issues. The last 12 months in particular have seen her speak candidly about her own battles with addiction, self-harm and eating disorders, and her social media accounts have been frequently flooded with messages in support of sexual assault survivors.

That’s why it’s particularly surprising to see that Lovato is currently making headlines for an incendiary tweet sent during a Twitter Q&A with fans.

When asked about the funniest prank she had ever pulled, the star responded: “I hired a lady of the night in Vegas and sent her to [her bodyguard] Max’s hotel room to surprise him. She walked into his room without permission and grabbed him in his ‘area’ and he freaked the f**k out hahahahaha.”

Unsurprisingly, her admission was met with a barrage of criticism, to which she initially responded: “I swear I could tweet something about craving jelly beans and it would offend someone.” This dismissive tweet rightly added fuel to the fire.

Demi Lovato said she 'played a prank' on her bodyguard that involved nonconsensual groping ( Getty )
What Lovato seemingly failed to realise is that she wasn’t describing a hilarious prank; instead, she was essentially claiming that she paid a sex worker to sexually assault her bodyguard.

In legal terms, sexual assault occurs when someone is touched sexually without consent. The fact that her bodyguard “freaked the f**k out” seems to indicate he wasn’t exactly thrilled at being groped without permission, yet even Lovato’s follow-up apology was a cop-out: “I’m sorry if anyone was offended.”

Lovato also cited 2013 track Warrior, a track whose lyrics depict resilience in the face of abuse, in her defence, saying: “Of all people I know about sexual abuse. You don’t need to educate me.”

That sort of dismissive tone is commonly found discussions of male sexual assault victims. The months following the New York Times’ landmark exposé of now-convicted predator Harvey Weinstein saw scores of famous women sharing their own stories, but nestled in among these voices were a tiny handful of men – of which Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews were the highest-profile examples – whose stories were buried, ignored and under-discussed.

Rape Crisis UK figures show that women are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men, but we can’t ignore the fact that one in six cases are perpetrated against men as well. Three out of four suicides are committed by men, making it the single biggest killer of men under the age of 49. Studies show that men are less likely to speak about their mental health and equally unlikely to seek help when they are disturbed by something. The pressure on them to remain stoic in the face of pressure – including sexual pressure, like the sort it sounds like Demi Lovato inflicted on her bodyguard – can’t be ignored as a contributing factor.

I’ve had my own experiences of sexual assault. Some were trivial and easy to dismiss, others less so – and then, last year, I was followed home, groped and threatened with rape after a night out.

I’m not saying this to centre myself as a man in the wider discussion about sexual assault and rape, but instead to highlight that these things do happen. As a young, queer man, my experiences are my own. I can’t speak for other men, but I can say that this incident wasn’t isolated, and that I know male friends – of different ages, ethnicities and sexualities – have been through similar ordeals.

The fact that Lovato was so quick to dismiss the incident she described shows that, on the whole, our attitudes need to change. Countless features have called for a rethink of the way we discuss sexual assault –revelatory conversations have shown that what was once written off as “bad sex” or “nothing more than a joke” should be analysed in more detail and called out for what it really is.

There’s another story entirely to be written about Lovato’s scapegoating – and misguided description – of a sex worker, who becomes nothing more than the butt of her joke and a vicarious perpetrator. Sex workers shouldn’t be used as pawns in your weird pranks to be joked about online, and they certainly shouldn’t be unwittingly drawn into nonconsensual scenarios.

Despite the increase in mainstream media attention, conversations around sexual assault are still way narrower than they should be. Demi Lovato has proven today that we need to widen our scope and talk about the male experience of sexual assault alongside the female experience; we don’t diminish one by recognising the seriousness of both.

(Source: Independent)

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