Trigger warning: This post is about rape and other forms of sexual violence. Please exercise self-care and skip this post if you need to.
Today I’m giving my first consent workshop as part of Consent Is Sexy Week at Carleton University! If you’re free between two and four this afternoon, drop by the University Centre and join me! Meanwhile, here’s a post from last year that explains my feelings about why partner sex should always, without exception, be mutually and sincerely consensual.
To say sexual assault is an emotionally charged subject, is putting it very mildly. People get worked up. I get worked up – sometimes to the point of losing my temper. I’ve ranted, I’ve railed and I’ve cried hot tears of frustration. I get particularly agitated when a person tells me they understand sexual assault is wrong and then start citing what I call “rape loopholes”. Rape loopholes are statements that often begin with something like “Obviously rape but is wrong but…” and might conclude with something like, ” if they don’t actually say ‘no’,” or “if we’ve had sex before” or “if they cave in and say yes.” I start seeing red, because in all of those scenarios we’re still talking about being trying to be sexual with someone without knowing whether they’re into it! So not okay.
My few years ago shrink used to say that anger is just a mask for hurt. It fucking hurts when people don’t see sexual violation as categorically unacceptable. It also frightens the shit out of me when people – especially people that I like and respect – try to suss out situations where it might not be so bad to do something to a partner/partners that that person doesn’t really want. I want to scream at them PLEASE DON’T BE THAT PERSON! Because that person is scary and hurts people. Badly.
But screaming isn’t helpful and anger, while it has it’s place isn’t always productive.
Consent is a cut and dry issue, as far as I’m concerned. Even after 16 + years together, my partner and I still negotiate boundaries and sexual activity. I tend to assume that people say they’re confused by consent are simply intractable . Which isn’t fair. I don’t know how other people’s minds work or what they’re experiences are. And truth be told it’s unfair of me to huff on about how this is a very simple issue when, until now, I haven’t been able to articulate why, for me, sexual consent is an easy nut to crack.
I decided to sit down and really think about what I feel about sexual consent and “rape loopholes”. And finally I came up with the following parallel: Someone else’s body is like someone else’s home.
If I come to your home uninvited, break the lock, kick the door down and come in, I am intruding.
If you let me in because I point a gun at you through your window, I am intruding
If I ring your doorbell, ask to come in and use your phone but you tell me “no” and instead of leaving, I keep ringing and ringing and asking and asking to the point where you feel it’s easier just to let me come in and use the damn phone , I am intruding.
If I am your best friend and you invited me over for the evening but now it’s late so you ask me to leave and I refuse, I am intruding.
We accept, quite easily that we’re to ask or wait for an invitation before we go into someone’s home. We aren’t confounded by the notion that the resident never forfeits authority over the place she lives. When we’re told that being in other people’s homes without permission is a crime, we don’t immediately scramble to think of ‘trespassing loopholes’ like: “I went into their apartment but only to use the bathroom;” or “They left the door unlocked;” or “I was here yesterday!” [ETA: Nor do people protest prohibitions against trespassing because “someone could totally say I trespassed when really they invited me over and regretted it later!” False reporting rates for rape/sexual assault are the same as any other crime — very, very low.]
More than any dwelling, people’s bodies are their homes. We should be at least as respectful of other people’s bodies as we are of the places they reside. Sexual consent may seem like a grey area, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty black and white. If “no means no” seems fraught with loopholes, perhaps this is a little easier to understand:
Originally posted March 3, 2011