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01 May 19

The contemporary language of sexual safety—rooted in liberal norms of secured, defended personhood—is a patchwork of legal and mental-health terminologies. It imports from contract law, workplace-safety rules, gun control (“trigger-warning”), and wellness assessment (“emotional damages”), and incorporates hazier notions of social proximity and distance, from encroachments on body space and affective measures of nonconsensual intimacy. But how has American law conflated sexual discrimination and sexual assault?  How do we define the sexual contract in the social compact absent a universal denomination of sexual norms? In this lecture, Emily Apter considers the untranslatability of sexual safety as both concept and legislated practice, starting with the famous 2015-16 case of New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, involving attacks on women by groups of men stigmatized as migrants. Here, untranslatability applies not only to cultural difference, gender violence, harm, and insecurity, but to the deeper problem of trying to conjugate “sex” and “safety” in the first place.

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