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Place, poverty and the role of sexual violence - power in short supply

Geography and place can dictate how much sexual bullying there is. We know that poorer areas have much higher rates of ill health and poorer sexual health plus more intimate partner violence.

Places of greater poverty or as people living in deprived areas of Glasgow called them, ‘rough shit holes’ lay down a background of negative childhood experiences. Such Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) can be measured. Men who as children have been victims of physical or sexual violence, experienced neglect or witnessed violence against their mothers are more likely to say they had committed sexual violence themselves. Evidence also show us that seeing family violence can makes it feel ‘normal’.

Less obvious is how this experience of family violence can offer sexual bullying as a route to power for the powerless. Men find ways of defining themselves as ‘real men’ in an environment where opportunities to achieve status in positive ways (education, work) are limited. Being a ‘man’ is hard to hold on to and has to be constantly performed or signalled it to others. To ‘be seen as ‘a real man’ with few ways of doing that and narrow definitions of what a real man is `(breadwinner, the car owner) can lead to ‘protest masculinity’ or displays of ‘hyper masculinity’ through violence. This allows men to obtain power when other ways are not available, both as a means of overcoming and but also as a reaction to poverty.

Research in Scotland’s poorest “shit-holes’ found how men and women seemed to live separated lives, making men seeing women as ‘other’’ or ‘objects’ but also driving “an undertone of simmering resentment towards women”. Beyond enabling and modelling violence, studies show that working class women may be more at risk from sexual violence or rape as punishment, so it is used to keep them in line.

The flipside of this for men is that their desire for intimacy and emotional connection are also silenced as the need to be seen to be self-reliant and manly. Emotionally intimate relationships are blocked by a fear of showing weakness.

Place is important because poor communities present greater threat to masculine identity; fewer channels for a range of expression of status, seem to be the greatest hotspots of poverty driven sexual bullying.

Hotspots of sexual bullying show a structural pattern that maps out power inequality and is about using sex to gain and keep power. It happens throughout society but may be a bigger problem where traditional male power is undermined by poverty.

Want to know more? Click on the links , read the research.

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