Sexual Exploitation vs Sexual Exploration

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Almost all of us have heard of the Lena Dunham scandal that has happened recently. If you haven’t here is a seriously condensed recap: Lena Dunham recently released a book based on her life called Not That Kind of Girl. In her book she describes how as a young girl she used to sexually experiment on her sister.

The reactions toward Lena’s confessions seem to be split. One side of the argument says that Dunham is a sex offender and what she did to her sister should be considered sexual assault. The other argument made by some is that because Lena was only a child at the time (around 7) she couldn’t have possibly had any negative motives behind it. Those who defend her, say that Dunham was simply exploring her sexuality.

To be able to decide your opinion on whether Lena Dunham is guilty of sexual abuse or not, we must look at the definitions of sexual assault. In class we discussed the parameters of sexual coercion. We described sexual coercion with terms involving power dynamics; involving intimate relationships rather that stranger dynamics; Pressure or force to do something they necessarily don’t want to do. In her book, Dunham explicitly says that she used to trade her sister certain objects or privileges in order to be able to do something to her, like candy or television programs. From her descriptions of the activities she used to do, one would assume that Dunham was sexually coercing her sister. At one point she even says that she was doing things that any sexual predator would try to do. For critics of Dunham, they take that one sentence as a confession of guilt. (Since the scandal has come out, Lena Dunham has formally apologized for using the phrase “sexual predator” in a loosely tied way).

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But another condition of sexual coercion is holding Dunham back from being completely guilty. In courts, the victim’s perception of the event is heavily influential on whether or not the attacker is seen guilty. Lena’s sister Grace is very vocal in her opinion that she does not believe she was sexually abused. Lena and Grace still have a close relationship today. This is very important for the supporters of Dunham. If her sister, the one who these actions were done to does not see Lena’s actions as harmful then can others really comment on it? Those who condemn Dunham’s activity say that some victims do not always know that they are victims. Grace came out as lesbian when Lena was in high school, which for many isn’t a concern. But many extreme people are saying that Lena’s actions as a child might have had an effect on Grace’s sexuality.

Whether what side you stand on, it is not hard to debate that this scandal has created controversy in culture. People are now starting to look more closely on children’s sexuality. These events took place when both girls were extremely young, so questions about parenting to ensure that children grow up sexually educated are starting to become an issue. A tumblr has even been started for people to confess (anonymously or not) the experimentations when they were young.

So I have a lot of questions. I know what my opinions are, but what are yours? This scandal contains a lot of concepts that we’ve talked about in class— sexual assault, lesbian identities, young adolescent’s sexuality. Do you think Lena Dunham is completely guilty or completely innocent—what about somewhere in between? A lot of people are saying that the only reason she is being excused for her actions is because she is a cisgender female…do you agree?

As of November 8, Lena Dunham’s book is number 4 on the New York Time’s Bestsellers List