Understanding unwanted sexual touching A situational approach
Chapter, Peer reviewed
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Original versionStefansen: Understanding unwanted sexual touching A situational approach. In: Heinskou MB, Skilbrei MLS, Stefansen K. Rape in the Nordic Countries, 2019. Routledge https://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780429467608
Situations involving unwanted sexual touching are analysed in this chapter in an effort to enhance our understanding of the social dynamics of this particular form of invading behaviour against girls and young women. The analysis is grounded in a situational perspective that draws on Collins’s (2009) micro-sociological approach to the study of violence. The data consist of short written descriptions of situations involving unwanted touching drawn from a large-scale survey study conducted among Norwegian youths (aged 18–19 years). Departing from a normative concept of sexual violence that posits that sexual violence harms a person’s ‘gender freedom’ (Stang Dahl, 1994), I show that acts of unwanted sexual touching are context-dependent occurrences. In some socio-spatial contexts, they represent sexual violence, while in other contexts they do not. In some situations, the act itself is unstable, fleeting and open to different interpretations. But incidents of unwanted touching are also problematic even when they do not harm someone’s gender freedom, as they may contribute to a diffuse ‘phenomenology of fear’ among girls and women: the embodied knowledge that their right to bodily integrity is less protected than that of boys and men.