In my latest for Luz Collective I discuss Jeffrey Toobin, the myth of the “accidental assault”, and the pervasiveness of the ‘oops’ defense.
“I taught high school for over a decade and my years spent working with U.S. teenagers taught me that many girls’ first experiences of sexual assault now happen through screens. One way that boys assault through the screen is by sending their female classmates pictures or videos of genitalia, and I’ve seen various male teachers, staff, and administrators treat such assaults as if they were child’s play. These enablers and apologists fail to acknowledge the power asymmetry that exists between a male sender and his female target, an imbalance that includes the recipient’s inability to unsee pornography intentionally placed in her line of sight.
These optic violations constitute a form of visual rape and these problems bring us to a now-infamous October 19, zoom meeting attended by employees of WNYC radio and The New Yorker. Vice became the first outlet to report on the aftermath of the notorious call, announcing that The New Yorker had suspended Jeffrey Toobin, one of its staff writers, for masturbating on video. Toobin claimed that he was unaware that his camera was on and The New York Times further reported that Toobin was participating in a secondary phone sex video-call when he exposed himself.
Media men and everyday men moved quickly to defend Toobin and a survey of their defenses suggests that these men spent minimal time contemplating notions like consent, boundary, or incursion. Their defenses also sounded much like the excuses I’ve heard trumpeted when adolescent boys ambush female classmates with homemade pornography.