Gender, Sexuality Researcher Connects Sexual Assault, Identity

“She is here to shed light on topics that are unfortunately
timely: sexual violence, rape and social media,” said Humanities Institute Director Yuval Avnur, who is also a Scripps College Associate Professor of Philosophy. 

Cressida Heyes, the Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality and Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Alberta, gave a public lecture in Malott Commons’ Hampton Room Feb. 19. Heyes gave a creative and
philosophical speech titled “Dead to the World: Rape, Unconsciousness, and
Social Media.”

Heyes mentioned multiple cases involving the rape or sexual
assault of a victim while unconscious. She used the November 2011 Rehtaeh Parsons case as an
example, in which four teenage boys reportedly raped Parsons while she was unconscious at a party in Nova Scotia, Canada. The boys then allegedly released photo
evidence of the event.

“There is a tacit belief that being less aware of what is happening
to you makes it less serious, and it is that belief that I want to go after with
my comments today,” Heyes said.

She then discussed a sexual assault case
involving the 15-year-old Audrie Pott, in which her naked body was used as a whiteboard. Both Pott and Parsons committed suicide after their respective assaults. 

“The question that came to preoccupy me after I read through
these cases was, ‘What is distinctively bad about the experience of being
sexually assaulted while unconscious, semi-conscious or transitioning in
between different consciousnesses?’” asked Heyes.

Heyes went on to answer her own question, tracing how the power of agency, identity and
sleep are permanently affected after being sexually assaulted. Specifically,
she analyzed sleep’s role in relation to identity. According to Heyes, cases of rape whilst the
victim is unconscious problematize understandings of sleep. 

“During sleep I do not direct my mental content experience,” Heyes said. “Sleep lets you take a break from [yourself]. Sleep is a time of anonymity.” 

Heyes exhibited and analyzed images of
glamourous dead women from the media throughout her lecture. She presented multiple images
of models posing as victims from different crime scenes from the television
show America’s Next Top Model. Delia Tyrrell SC ’17 was intrigued by such use of relevant and
contemporary media examples. 

“She used really interesting examples from the media to talk
about the idea of necrophilia, or the necrophiliac effect, and how we have become
desensitized to unconscious and dead female bodies,” Tyrrell said.

Maddy Klein SC ’15, a sexual assault advocate, was disturbed by these
images in relation to sexual assault.

“I think it fits perfectly into society’s idea of when it is OK to have sex with someone, especially when they are glamorous and pretty,
which is horrifying to me,” Klein said.

Although the lecture may have been troubling, Avnur commented on the relevance and importance of Heyes’ speech and research. 

“Cressida Heyes is an important scholar and has done lots of
work relevant to the theme of the Humanities Institute, Concepts of Self,” he said. “Obviously, sexual assault is relevant to the Claremont community, and to
academia today in general, so of course the topic was relevant,” he said. 

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