TV Tells a New Story About Sexual Assault

While college administrations dither about the problem of sexual assault and activists clamor for redress, television is doing something about it. Consider Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series, Master of None. Episode 7, pointedly entitled “Ladies and Gentlemen,” provides a real-world model of the SeeActStop directive to acknowledge (“see”) the problem and intervene (“act”) when you see something wrong. Additionally, because the characters are young professionals, the episode points out that this problem doesn’t stop after graduation. As the characters pursue their daily activities, the threat of sexual assault is omnipresent–from the theater to the pet store, from the subway to cyberspace. The episode gets to the heart of the matter when Arnold (Eric Wareheim) and Dev (Ansari) ask Denise (Lena Waithe) and Rachel (Noël Wells), “What can two gentlemen like us do to help?”

As the question suggests, recruitment of male support is critical to reducing sexual assault. Humans have spent 99% of their evolution living in small, face-to-face societies in which everybody knew everybody else–and everybody else’s business. Women typically would have grown up surrounded by male kin–fathers, uncles, brothers, and cousins. This afforded a highly visible means of discouraging sexual coercion: an assault was highly likely to become public knowledge, and the assailant would almost certainly face prompt retribution from the victim’s male relatives. In modern environments, however, this deterrent is largely absent. We send our daughters off to colleges and careers hundreds of miles away, far from the protection of their families and armed only with the protection of the law. Laws, of course, are integral to maintaining order, but compared to the hunter-gatherer societies in which we evolved, the path from crime to punishment in modern societies is much more attenuated. Moreover–as shown in The Hunting Ground–in sexual assault cases, that —> Read More