The Swiss Cheese Model for Prevention of Sexual Assault and Unwanted Pregnancies

Dr Qalamu Nusaybah Education Religious Rights Reproductive Health Statements Women

Recently there have been several hotly debated incidents in the news and on social media concerning sexual assault, in addition to the never-ending reports of unwanted pregnancies. These incidents remind us yet again of the consequences of ignoring the tenets of God’s laws upon human beings. We should not feign surprise at the consequences when the ‘rubber hits the road’ as a result of mankind’s disobedience. 

What many do not appreciate or refuse to accept, is that many factors lead to sexual crimes. Our world today, of unbridled toxic hypersexuality assaulting our senses from all directions and through a multitude of media, and the advent of sexual liberalism in our previously conservative society, unsurprisingly has resulted in skyrocketing cases of sexual crimes and unwanted pregnancies. Why we cannot put two and two together is incomprehensible. 

Whilst there is no dispute at all that a male who has committed rape is fully responsible for his own wrongdoing, there is still plenty of scope for improvement for everyone to work on to make our environment safer, by males, females, and the society at large. There are far too many poor choices made by individuals perhaps unwittingly or through bad judgment, which provide the opportunities and the impetus for heinous crimes like this to occur. This is an extremely unpopular opinion which is often met with accusations of “victim-blaming” or “rapist enabler”, clouding over any hope of objectivity in analyzing the situation. It is interesting to say the least, that the same people who fight for ‘gender equality’, purporting that the two genders are equal, somehow absolve women of any agency or responsibility when it comes to resulting sexual harassment and assault. 

If we are to have any success at preventing sexual crimes and unwanted pregnancies, a multi-layered approach consisting of individual responsibilities as well as shared responsibilities is much needed. If we have learned anything in the last year from the Covid-19 pandemic, surely this must be one of the salient take home messages. We must do this together as a community. Toxic individualism, as has been demonstrated by many societies which have refused public health measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing, has only served to exacerbate an already direly sick scenario.

To demonstrate this, WAFIQ have modified the Swiss Cheese metaphor of pandemic defense created by Australian virologist Ian McKay which was popularized by the New York Times to illustrate how prevention of sexual crimes is very much similar to prevention of a disease caused by a respiratory pathogen. It is not just one intervention that will protect you and keep you safe. Each intervention has imperfections, but multiple layers build a stronger defense. The following elaborates the principles behind the interventions suggested.

1. Safeguarding our collective senses, not only our own.

The objectification of women has reached unprecedented levels in this current era of technology. In the 1980s right after the seminal lecture by Jean Kilbourne in 1979, “Killing Her Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women”, the public visual space was already bombarded by images of the sexualized female to sell anything from cars to beer to power tools. Kilbourne’s work was timely and it is enduring in its relevance today. Not only do women continue to be objectified by male-dominated industries such as advertising, fashion and entertainment, it is women who now voluntarily objectify themselves for the male gaze through the ‘selfie culture’ on predominantly visual social media platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok down to the worst of them all, Onlyfans accounts, a content-sharing platform primarily for women to monetize their pornographic self-objectification. This is clearly harmful to men, women, relationships and society as a whole. The cultivation and perpetuation of sexualized representations of women weaken women’s position and dignity by presenting them merely as objects of the male gaze, where the “female image is seen through the lens of the male sexual fantasy”.

We would like to make the case that the starting point in reducing the overall risk of sexual assault and crimes starts with the self. For men in particular, to protect the gaze from visual bombardment of sexualized images which would entail actually looking away, rather than just the cessation of seeking. For women in particular, it would mean not being a source of objectification be it in real life or in the online world. These are hard realities to stomach, especially in a society that puts a premium on the ‘autonomy of the self’ or ‘the rights of the individual’, but it is what it is. Many a popular figure have quipped these concepts: ‘change starts with the Man in the Mirror’ or ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’.    

At the level of shared responsibilities, we advocate for all levels of government to put limitations on the use of the sexualized images for the purpose of advertising. Limits should be set on using the image of a female, perhaps only for products which are relevant to women and family, and strictly in wholesome and decent representations. Some may ask, why bother doing this when there are plenty of sexualized female images and pornography freely available on the internet? The reality is, much like how the ‘Broken Windows Theory’ by Wilson and Kelling three decades ago explained why a civil society needs to be cultivated by removing any visible signs of crime, an atmosphere of modesty also needs to be actively nurtured by removing sexualized images from the public sphere. If advertisers are free to use sexualized images of women in public spaces, this conveys the message to the public that sexualizing women is something permissible and encouraged.  

Another sensorial entity that for the same reason needs to be removed from the public sphere is sexualized music. It is well documented that instances of sexualization in popular music has dramatically increased since the 1990s. Studies have pinpointed parental advisory laws which were passed in 1985 as well as the rise in popularity of rap music as the two predominant causes of this. Anyone who grew up in that time frame will be able to notice the marked increase of not only explicit sexualized lyrics, but also violent and degrading language. We cannot underestimate the effects these have on human beings, regardless of age. Behavioral scientist Steven Martino states that “Our research does suggest that degrading sexual lyrics do more than ‘go in one ear and out the other’. It may be that listening to popular music, regardless of its content, results in heightened physiologic arousal that, through a process of excitation transfer, incites sexual behavior among teens.”

Today it is almost impossible to walk into a public place, be it a mall or restaurant or marketplace without our ears being bombarded by popular music. If we are lucky, we may be assailed only by oldies from half a century ago, but increasingly it is the latest shameless refrains which prevail. These cultural shifts do not bode well for society. The solutions are nowhere within reach, but the first step is to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

2. Avoiding seclusion with the opposite sex, minimizing interaction.

The #metoo movement has created much confusion in liberal secular society where sexual liberation prevails. Accusations of sexual harassment and assault, even without due process, must be believed in totality but any criticism of the cultural norms that produced this milieu is not allowed. The result? In 2017, a Morning Consult poll carried out for the New York Times showed that “men and women still don’t seem to have figured out how to work or socialize together” and that “for many, it is better simply to avoid each other.” The poll found that many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations. It reported that around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds said people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

“Organizations are so concerned with their legal liabilities, but nobody’s really focused on how to reduce harassment and at the same time teach men and women to have working relationships with the opposite sex,” says Kim Elsesser, author of “Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace.”

Bartom Swaim, writing for the Washington Examiner stated that “public discussions of sexual misbehavior by men have become hopelessly confused. The old rules oppressed women, we’re told, but they also shackled men; now we want some rules back, for men anyway, but it’s never clear which ones or why. Under the sway of the sexual revolution, we were taught that restrictions on sexual relations are irrational and oppressive, manifestations of ancient prejudices, yet meanwhile the rules governing workplace sexual harassment year by year become more voluminous and complex. College campuses are places of license but also places of endless debates about rape, harassment, and the shifting lines between consent and coercion.”

(Twitter user)

The never ending debates about consent for sex out-of-wedlock also suffers this ambiguity. How can anyone verify unwitnessed, undocumented consent for something as profound, with far-reaching mental, physical and legal consequences, as sexual intercourse? How many men, thinking that the sex they had the previous night was consensual, will be accused of sexual assault the next morning or later by women who often feel regret in the light of day? 

(Twitter user)

All these glitches afflicting the sexual revolution points to the solution we always had with us. Avoidance of any seclusion with the opposite sex whether it is a work colleague or boyfriend or stranger. Professional interactions between the genders, even if unsecluded, should be minimized as much as possible. Again, not an easy norm to reverse in today’s culture, but should we really advance further into the realm of sexual chaos before we realize that something needs to be done?

3. Elimination of pornography and sexually explicit messages

The sheer volume of porn being trafficked today is staggering. Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. In the US alone, the porn industry makes more money than Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA combined. That contributes to a global revenue exceeding $100 billion per year. Its normativity is such that porn culture is now steeped into virtually all media, with HBO, Netflix, and other ‘premium’ TV providers embedding sexually salacious material into their offerings. 

It is bewildering that feminists and liberals are not alarmed by this new public health menace. The sheer ubiquity, violence and degradation of women and increasingly, mass sex-trafficking and exploitation of women and children should spark immediate censure. Unfortunately, they have somehow bought into this idea that ‘sex-positivity’ which embraces sexual expression, is some sort of ‘affirmation of female agency’. This is clearly not the case. Pornography is an atrocity which institutionalizes male domination. It communicates something about the moral worth of women, and profits off the dehumanization of often penniless women for the sexual edification of boys and men.

A scientific consensus is emerging that today’s porn is truly a public health danger of immense proportions. Its current forms, always available and increasingly more degrading, combined with the physiology of the human brain, transforms porn into a ‘superstimulus’, which is basically an artificial signal that provides a stimulus which our brains are built to seek, but at a level way beyond what we are meant to cope with, hence making it uniquely addictive and exceptionally destructive. Human neurobiology not only makes today’s porn profoundly addictive, but this addiction is capable of rewiring our brains in ways that have a damaging impact on sexuality, relationships, and mental health. 

Porn activists have long argued that porn is merely private recreation and has little social or cultural impact. Much like the falsehood supporting homosexual intercourse, the tired argument of ‘what people do in the privacy of their own homes is no-one’s concern’ rears its ugly head again. Porn cannot be construed as a solely private matter because when practiced on a large scale, it leads to socially deleterious consequences. These are not ‘victimless crimes’, as research has revealed the myriad ways in which porn threatens the social, emotional and physical health of individuals, families and communities. To give but one example, in a study of US college men “researchers found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault if they knew they wouldn’t be caught, than men who hadn’t seen porn in the past 12 months. The same study found that porn consumers were less likely to intervene if they observed a sexual assault taking place.”

It is no wonder then that we are seeing an epidemic of sexual assault, rape, incest and child abuse in society today. Even though the elimination of porn may seem like a gargantuan task, there are many ways in which action can be taken. Consider the recent victory by the Traffickinghub campaign by Laila Mickelwaite in getting two major credit card companies, Mastercard and Visa to stop processing payments for the largest porn site in the world in response to the evidence human trafficking and sexual exploitation on that site. Governments and regulatory bodies must work together creatively to eliminate this scourge.

As a final note, we are well aware that suggesting these interventions will undoubtedly spark outrage and accusations of ‘puritanism’ from those who subscribe to liberal secularism as a ‘superior value system’ just because it comes from the technologically advanced West. We urge everyone to consider this: just because a particular society is the most advanced in terms of science and technology at a certain point in history, where the factors contributing to said advancement are in reality, numerous and often not virtuous, it is not a logical conclusion that those societies must therefore have the best values or moral system. This is a false premise which does not make any sense. A value system that sanctions liberal sexual mores, immodesty, and immorality is clearly dysfunctional, the evidence of which we can see all around us.

The time for half-measures is running out and we would like to boldly offer a much better solution to the never-ending holes appearing in the dam of our social fabric which secular liberalism clearly cannot solve. Like the proverbial little Dutch boy, we are running out of fingers to plug these holes. Confident and decisive action is needed at both individual and administrative levels if we are to avert communal chaos.

Dr Qalamu Nusaybah
Education Bureau of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ), a member of the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA).

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