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Frotteurism is a form of sexual assault that involves a person stimulating himself or herself by rubbing against another person who is not a willing participant in a sexual act. This is typically done in a crowded area such as a concert or on a crowded subway, bus, or train. People targeted by this form of assault may not even be aware of the activity. It is a paraphilic disorder that is diagnosable by psychological professionals, and is often treated with various cognitive, behavioral, and pharmacological approaches. Frotteurism should not be confused with “frottage,” which is a similar activity engaged in by consenting individuals for sexual stimulation or gratification.
The term “frotteurism” comes from the French word frotter, which means “to rub,” and frotteur translates as “one who rubs.” Though it is often classified as a misdemeanor under various legal statutes, it is still a form of sexual assault and consequences can be severe depending on the situation. Someone who is the victim of frotteurism may not even be aware of the crime, but may still feel violated or otherwise assaulted by the offending individual. It should also be noted that such actions against a child can be an early warning sign of later sexual abuse against children by a perpetrator.
Frotteurism usually consists of one person rubbing against another person to achieve sexual arousal or gratification. While most such actions are perpetrated by men against women, it is not unknown for men to be targeted by women as well. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), frotteurism is typically diagnosed when the impulse to rub against others occurs for six months or more, and leads to negative consequences of some kind. This can include a loss of job or family, arrest and criminal prosecution, and other such indicators of an inability to control these desires.
The term “frottage” was used in some early legal statutes and psychological descriptions of frotteurism, though the two words have since lost their synonymous nature. Frottage is now used to describe sexual acts of rubbing between two or more consenting participants. Some older statutes against frotteurism still include the term “frottage” when discussing the illegality of the practice, though they should not be confused. In general, such acts are considered sexual assault when perpetrated against an unwilling or unknowing target.