What Isn’t Sexual Assault

There’s a rather graphic write-up from a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari. I don’t know if something got lost in translation, but I was put off by the claim of a “rushed” dinner – the only bit that the writing conveyed as rushed was between getting the cheque and leaving. I generally take out my card when I request the cheque, glance at the bill when it is delivered and have the server take the card immediately. That’s not to force my dining partner into anything – we’ve already decided we are done and want to leave. If you wanted to finish your glass of wine (or wanted to drink another glass from the not-yet-empty bottle), then you don’t agree to leave yet. You say “I really like this wine, let’s talk for a few minutes while I finish my glass”. Or “I’d like to have a cup of coffee before we leave”.

Off-putting story aside, it’s seemed in a nebulous area between outright assault and a consensual encounter. It’s perfectly reasonable to consent to one particular act but not want to engage in another (they have oral sex that she doesn’t want to progress to intercourse). But what gets me is that throughout most of the story, they were not dressed. I get this from a paragraph *near the end* where the guy says let’s chill on the couch, but with our clothes on this time and she says they got dressed. OK, maybe they were still in their underwear or something … but still.

I totally support the idea that men can control themselves. Whatever a person wears isn’t an invitation to be assaulted. If someone comes back to your house after a date and takes off their blazer, that’s not an invitation to aggressive pursuit. But someone who comes back to your house after a date, gets undressed, engages in some sexual act, does not want to engage in another specific act, but continues to wander around your house without their clothes!?! How in the hell can that person claim to be sending non-verbal signal that you are not interested in continued sexual interactions?? If you aren’t interested, put your bloody clothes back on. *That* is a non-verbal signal that you are not interested. Or send a verbal signal. “I’m not interested in sexual intercourse with someone I’ve just met, and we’ve had as much oral sex as I am comfortable with tonight. If you want to chill out together or talk, that’s fine. Otherwise, I’ll see you later.” The most generous reading is that the woman was sending very mixed signals, and it would be better if men took anything other than an enthusiastic ‘yes’ as ‘no’. Maybe that’s the point she’s making??

I was in University when the ‘ask and receive verbal consent for each move’ was a policy (and a joke) – “I’m going to move my hand to your breast, is that OK?”, “Now I am going to put my other hand on your elbow, is that OK?”. The logical conclusion, as a legally minded individual, was that lawyers should draft and sell a few different written consent contracts. One agreeing to carte blanche access to the other person, one for oral sex, one for penetrative sex with condom, etc. Then both parties sign the agreement. If they want to move farther than originally planned, stop and sign a new agreement. Bonus side effect, you take a break from the heat of the moment and decide if you actually want to move farther than originally intended. Less apt to regret your actions after-the-fact. Obviously you’d need a on-the-spot blood test and breathalyzer reading to confirm that judgement wasn’t impaired. But we’ve all got cell phones with video cameras now, record the test, the results, and the signing. Doesn’t ensure you won’t feel grossly violated the next day, but there was no misunderstanding or “they got me drunk so I’d be down with it”.

I worry that a movement that started with power imbalance coercion and physical force coercion has transmogrified into the same “he misread my signals” from my University years.

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