Numerous men accused of egregious sexual misconduct all have something in common — and it’s not a shared crisis publicist or luxurious Arizona rehab center.
Powerful men forcing women to watch them masturbate is a recurring accusation made against disgraced Hollywood players like Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, producer Brett Ratner and director James Toback.
The obvious violation aside, the act begs larger questions about the conscious and unconscious motives behind it. Assault, as we’ve seen in recent weeks and heard over decades in casting couch scenarios, typically involves unwanted touching of the victim (in the best of circumstances).
The forced masturbation move may be widely reported of late, but it’s still bizarre and shocking to hear.
“To whip your penis out and masturbate, it’s highly problematic and inappropriate in every single realm you can imagine. But if you’re dealing with a personality that believes they’re above the rules, as so many of these cases seem to be, you start operating on a continuum where rape and assault is on one end,” Chris Donaghue, a PhD in human sexuality and author of “Sex Outside the Lines,” told TheWrap.
“The thinking is, ‘If I don’t actually touch this person, and put my penis in or on them, I haven’t done anything wrong.’ There’s a misconception that assault is physical, but it’s not just that. It’s emotional and psychological, and that can be worse, ” Donaghue said.
Licensed sex and family therapist Natalie Finegood Goldberg said the shock value of the act asserts a deep control over the victim, and subsequently brings a deeper demonstration of power.
“It is a ‘passive’, yet very active [and] aggressive, way of asserting one’s dominance and sexuality over another person. The witness is caught in a moment of powerlessness — someone else’s sexuality is being forced on them,” Finegood Goldberg said.
Weinstein ejaculated into a potted plant in front of reporter Lauren Sivan, she said, while giving her a “tour” of a Manhattan restaurant a decade ago. Actress Olivia Munn recalled an instance with Ratner to the LA Times, when he masturbated in front of her with “shrimp cocktail in one hand.”
“And before I literally could even figure out where to escape or where to look, he ejaculated,” Munn said. She had been asked to drop some food off at the director’s trailer, and didn’t know he would be there.
“Black and White” director Toback has been accused of masturbating and ejaculating on several women, and just today C.K. joined their ranks accused of the same.
Comedy duo Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov told the New York Times that C.K. invited them to his hotel room, and immediately “proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”
Reinforcing Donaghue’s theory about assault being physical, Finegood Goldberg said that men who only expose their genitals think they’re volunteering their own sexuality and “anything that happens after that is beyond their culpability.”
Alexandra Katehakis, the clinical director of The Center For Healthy Sex, thinks the masturbation move serves to inspire fear in women.
“Typically we think of this kind of behavior as rageful behavior. It’s not necessarily about sex at all. It’s designed specifically to scare a female. Typically women don’t’ exhibit themselves to men, and if they do they’re not going to call the police,” Katehakis said.
“That male most likely has issues with women where he feels sexually inadequate,” she added.
Even the accused perpetrators of this behavior may not be immune to why they engage in it.
“He told me he had issues,” Corry said of C.K., after she admonished him in a dressing room after he asked to masturbate in front of her, she told the Times.
Motives may vary for the lewd act but the outcome is singular for the victim, said Dr. Jennifer A. Drobac of Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
“It’s devastating to the victim, demeaning, shames the victim, may wonder if it’s something she did to attract this violent attention. She may feel shame and disgust,” Drobac said.
“She will probably be afraid because her space and her safety have been violated,” she said.