Thursday, January 19, 2012

No Excuses for Sexual Assault

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape and assault.
If you have ever been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault. NO ONE has the right to push you into something that you don't want to do. People have a lot of excuses for rape and sexual assault. In this post, I am going to discuss some of these excuses and show how nobody would accept these excuses in any other situation.

Affirmative Consent
My friend Eli created a webcomic about affirmative consent, which you can read here: Affirmative Consent. The important thing to keep in mind here is that if you ask someone to do something 49 times, and they say no each time, but the 50th time you ask them, they say yes, that's not consent. That's pressure. It means that having to do the thing isn't as bad as whatever pressure the person will experience if they don't. If someone wants to have sex with you, they should be actively  interested, not just going along with what you want them to do.

Think of it this way: if your friend calls you and asks if you want to eat at a restaurant that you hate, you can tell them that you don't want to eat there. But what if you're already in the car with your friend, and without asking you, your friend pulls into the restaurant, parks the car, and assumes that the restaurant is okay with you?  Sure, you can still say that you don't want to eat there, but wouldn't it be harder?  Wouldn't you be more likely to go along with it even if you really don't want to eat there? The same is true with any activity, including sex.  But since people are uncomfortable talking about sex, they will usually just start kissing or touching the other person and try to figure out if they like it. Because there is no actual discussion, it's much easier for someone who doesn't care about the other person's feelings to pretend that they thought the person wanted to have sex when they didn't.

Mental Awareness
A person must be mentally aware in order to actively agree to something. If you broke into someone's home and robbed them while they were asleep, you would never get away with saying that it was okay to steal because the sleeping person didn't say anything to stop you. The same would be true if you stole from someone's purse or pockets while they were very drunk, very sick, or passed out.  Likewise, you can't have sex with someone who is asleep, passed out, or out of it for any reason and is unable to give consent. Remember: the person must actively want to have sex with you.

Secondly, you need to be mentally aware in order to know whether someone else wants to have sex with you. It would be wrong to drink before you drive, operate heavy machinery, perform surgery, or anything else that might lead to someone getting hurt. If you are so drunk that you are unable to tell yes from no or that you don't have enough self-control to stop doing something when someone tells you stop, then you are not aware enough to be having sex.

Other People's Perceptions
The only thing that matters is whether or not a person actually says that they want to have sex - anything else that you perceive as asking for sex - clothing, dancing, flirting - has nothing to do with actual consent. If you ran a school dance team and met someone wearing an "I ♥ dance" t-shirt and jazz pants with "dancer" written on the back, you wouldn't just sign them up for the team - you'd ask first. And if their answer is that they have no interest in the dance team, you wouldn't push them into it, or say that they owe it to you to join the dance team because they dress like someone who likes dance. It works the same way with sex - what a person actually says (or doesn't say) is final. Thinking that someone was "asking" for sex with their clothes or behavior has nothing to do with what the person actually wants. And most of the time, the idea of someone "asking for it" is probably not a misinterpretation, but an excuse for sexual assault.

The Code
Imagine that a friend invited you to hang out, but when you got to their house, they expected you to go skydiving with them. You're terrified at the thought of it, but your friend is acting like you already committed to doing it, like agreeing to hang out meant that you also agreed to go skydiving. This happens all the time with sex - someone was supposed to understand that the other person invited them over to have sex, when the other person never said so. Of course you can still say no, but it's very easy for someone to pressure another person into having sex by implying that they already promised they would.

Changing Your Mind
Even if you think that someone did say they would have sex with you, a person can change their mind at any time, no matter what. If your friend promised to go to the movies with you, but then decided that they didn't want to, you might be disappointed. But would you ever think that you had the right to drive to their house and physically force them into your car, or threaten to hurt them if they didn't come with you? Probably not. Probably if you did either of these things, everyone would recognize that what you did was wrong, even if the other person had originally said they would go. This is not an excuse when it comes to sexual assault - it doesn't matter what someone said earlier if they are saying no right now. Again, this is probably used more often as an excuse than an actual misinterpretation.

If you have been sexually assaulted, don't let anyone make you think that any part of it was your fault. You could be wandering around naked for all I care, and if you didn't say that you wanted to have sex with someone, then they had absolutely no right to do anything sexual to you. When you don't know what someone wants, you ask. It's that simple. There are no excuses for sexual assault.

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