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Bassili, Monica

Pain, Trauma, and Sexual Violence | Monica Bassili

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Day after day, news articles and accounts of sexual violence flood the internet. Beginning online with the Me Too movement, women are at the forefront of sexual violence to narrate their stories and defend their experiences. Yet, moving beyond the consistent, ongoing abuses against women, one question has to be asked – why does sexual violence happen?

 The usual excuses tend to emerge from this question. Either the woman was willingly intoxicated, or how she chose to dress necessitated unwanted male attention. In both instances, women are the cause of their oppression and subjugation.

Unfortunately, such a superficial understanding of sexual violence fails to excuse the countless cases of rape and violence in families and non-Western countries.

 For instance, as per a 2013 study on sexual violence in Egypt, 99.3 percent of women and girls experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. The country’s majority Muslim population seldom entertains skimpy Western clothing.

Further, Egyptian women are not “asking for it” or causing their subjugation. With this in mind, why is sexual violence prevalent worldwide? What are the causes of sexual violence against women?


Pain and Desire


The underlying desires of men, such as a need for power and control, facilitate sexual violence against women. Often, men who perpetrate sexual violence are in mental pain, which they believe is alleviated through gaining control over another person.

Sexual violence within families and between friend groups engages in a particular power dynamic that enables control from one body to another. The Freudian notion of desire explains such an interpretation of male desire well explained.


Although Feud’s analysis fails to account for race and class, his understanding of unconscious desires helps to deconstruct the root causes of sexual violence. In the university setting, sexual violence has been addressed through misguided campaigns in fraternity-sorority groups and educational materials.

Yet, sexual violence continues to plague educational settings. For this reason, questioning men’s motives for sexual violence is valuable for addressing the issue in public and private institutions. 

For instance, many accounts of women being raped by an acquaintance of a friend at university claim that he “could not stop.” In his eyes, his actions, his unwillingness to listen or reflect on his actions. In that situation, almost nothing a woman can do can logically convince a man to stop. Freud may have called this hysteria linked to past trauma, yet, this theory needs to adapt to present-day conditions to explain sexual violence effectively. 


Trauma and Sexual Violence

For the man in university who sexually assaulted someone, some complex form of past trauma on his part is not always the case. In the modern context, we need to introduce race and class as motivating factors that intensify the occurrences of sexual violence against women. For this reason, the trauma and pain that lingers following sexual violence must be contextualized within the power dynamics of class and race.


With this in mind, white supremacy and class oppression are vital factors that underly the desires that men actualize in instances of sexual violence.

Unfortunately, even within racial groups, especially those inhabiting non-Western cultural spaces such as South East Asia and the Middle East, sexual violence continues to occur. With this in mind, what can women do to protect themselves, to avoid being subjected to sexual violence?


There is no concrete answer or process for this issue. I cannot tell you to change your clothing or to avoid speaking to different people. What I can tell you is that it is not your fault. Sexual violence and sexual slavery are the longest historical trend known to society.

This may be referred to as prostitution, but it is based on the oppression and suppression of women. What is neglected from this common understanding is that, in turn, the longest parallel social trend is pimping. 


As long as men and women live together on earth, the prevalence and normalization of sexual violence against women will continue without adequate intervention. However, dealing with the pain, trauma, and life-long triggers that result from sexual violence and rape continues to unite women globally. 


For this reason, there is strength in connecting with women of all backgrounds to address sexual violence. Irrespective of race and class, women as a collective represent the historical struggle against rape and sexual violence. What is needed today is for women to recognize the power of mobilizing together towards a common goal, which requires the erasure of sexual violence.



Read more here:


Campus Sexual Violence: Barriers to Women’s Education


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