Alexander Wang And the Stigma Against Addressing Male Sexual Assault

A little over a month ago, male model Owen Mooney publicly accused Alexander Wang, an influential fashion designer, of groping him in a New York City nightclub in 2017. Through a sequence of short clips posted on TikTok, Mooney revealed his alleged encounter with the fashion designer, saying “People with this kind of status, they think their power gives them a pass to do this to people.” His commentary on the issue stirred a wave of outrage within the fashion industry

Shortly after the videos went viral on social media networks, further accusations of past sexual assault or nonconsensual sexual harassment emerged against the fashion designer, echoing Mooney’s allegations. Calls to boycott Wang’s clothing line has been made to show support for the victims. Fashion watchdog group Diet Prada claimed that allegations of Wang’s predatory behavior have been circulating for years and is common knowledge within the fashion industry. Fashion advocacy organization Model Alliance released a statement stating “We at Model Alliance stand in solidarity with those who have shared accusations of sexual abuse by Alexander Wang. Let’s be clear: The fashion industry’s lack of transparency and accountability leaves all models vulnerable to abuse, regardless of their sex or gender identity.”

Mr. Wang has since responded to the claims and criticism after days of silence, denying the allegations and proclaiming them false. He states that he had “never engaged in the atrocious behavior described and would never conduct [himself] in the manner that’s been alleged” and will seek further legal action. While some have accepted the statement as true, others held more skeptical views. In an article by Heather Snowden in the online publication Highsnobiety, she calls out the clear incidence of gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which an individual of higher power feeds off the insecurities and vulnerability of another individual of less influence to make them question their sanity, memories, or perception of reality. In his statement, Wang allegedly subtly distances himself from the accusations while discrediting the multitude of individuals who have come forward and threatening legal action. Snowden calls attention to the emotional toll that such a statement from a highly influential celebrity would have on the individuals who spoke out on alleged sexual assault.

While the case itself remains inconclusive, the accusations pitted against Alexander Wang highlights the lack of awareness on male sexual assault In the TikTok video, Mooney asks, “In an era of #MeToo and the solidarity victims received from Hollywood, where is the same support for the victims of Wang? This is why so many accusations of his get brushed under the rug.” His TikTok draws attention to the evident lack of attention that male sexual assault received in the media and how it is brushed aside. Contemporary ideas of sexual victimization often consist of male perpetrators and female victims. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found widespread sexual victimization through the gender spectrum and, in some forms of harassment, roughly equal for men and women. The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) in 2011 revealed that approximately the same amount of men (1.267 million) had experienced sexual assault as women (1.270 million) over the course of 12 months, challenging conventional ideas.

Despite the disturbing statistics, the media coverage of sexual assault often skim over male victims, highlighting sexual victimization as solely a women’s issue. Western notion of masculinity and gender roles create a heavy stigma around discussion of male rape, as society dictates men must consistantly welcome and desire sexual advances. As a result, men are significantly less likely to recognize an unwanted event as rape and are, therefore, less likely to report the incident and seek legal actions. The common misconceptions that men are physically too strong to be overpowered and sexually assaulted may cause male victims to feel shame for his inability to “protect” himself and question his masculinity. The self-doubt that emerges from these social standards can make male victims even less eager to talk about the experience. A study led by the University fo Toronto finds that 71% of adult male assault survivors cited “nobody would believe me” as the reason for not reporting the experience. About 63% reported receiving little support from friends and family when they attempted to inform them of the incident.

Raising awareness on male sexual abuse is essential to encouraging survivors to reach out for support and heal from the experience. In a study by the Department of Justice Canada, survivors suggest that campaigns raising awareness to the issue and informing survivors of available resources will help to break the stigma about male rape by educating the public. Intiatives and organizations like Male Survivors Trust are forming safe spaces to share support and encourage other survivors in an environment of confidentiality and safety.

Photo source: image from Roe Ethridge

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