“But you didn’t say no…”

Rape is always a hard topic to discuss, because there is no way of knowing to what degrees people have been impacted by their experiences. One person may be able to brush off an event that would completely crush another. I hope, therefore, that the people reading this will keep an open and understanding mind, and not diminish the lives of others, especially given the high rates of sexual assault at Oxford.

The law defines rape as the forceful penetration of a victim by a penis. With an object, it is classed as sexual assault by penetration (although this distinction is hopefully going to change soon to make all penetration rape.)

However, what is almost impossible to define, is the word “forceful”. It brings to mind a violent image and suggests resistance, which is not always apparent in real life. A survivor of rape and sexual assault may not realised that they have been raped, and indeed the instigator may not even realise that they have done something wrong. They may believe that some kind of “misunderstanding” took place, and that the victim is at fault for “leading them on”.

This concept of “blurred lines” around sexual contact horrifies me: how can anyone even try to have sex with anyone else unless they are absolutely sure that the other person wants it? The level of responsibility placed upon the recipient of sexual advances is inordinate. A common situation in “accidental rapist” scenarios is where unwanted sexual contact is occurring, but the recipient has frozen up maybe, out of fear that if they struggle, it will cause more trouble than is necessary; maybe out of embarrassment. Maybe they wanted to say, “no,” but the words caught in their throat. This paralysis is completely natural, and is experienced by a significant amount of sexual assault survivors. Therefore, to place all of the responsibility on them is to victim blame, and to deny natural human instinct.

Therefore, I think the pressure should be on the instigator to check that their actions are acceptable. These “blurred lines” can be very easily defined, as long as you ask, “please may I put my hand on your breast?”, “could I touch your dick?”, “would you like to have sex?” It gives your potential lay the chance to say, “no thank you, I would rather we keep this encounter a clothes-on one” or “Absolutely, where are the condoms?”

It really upsets me when people use the excuse that “asking isn’t sexy” or “it’s a turn-off”. Please, grow up.

A) If you’re too embarrassed to talk about it out loud, then why are you doing it?

B) Asking is extremely sexy if you do it right.

C) Having your partner actively engaged in and enthusiastic about the activities will only enhance your experience. Maybe you’ll feel a little awkward at first, but it’s less awkward, in the long-run, than being a rapist.

D) Why are you afraid of asking? Are you worried they’ll say no and you’ll have to stop?

All in all, I remain unconvinced that “it was an accident” should ever be used as a defence for violating another. There is plenty of stuff out there to educate us on what consent is, or isn’t, there are plenty of infomercials, campaigns, leaflets and classes. Therefore, to not know the correct procedure to go through before you have sex with someone, seems highly unlikely.

When it comes to consent, it’s not just “no means no”, but just as importantly that, “yes means yes”.

When in doubt, just don’t do it. 

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This article has 4 comments

  1. This whole article is predicated on a piece of false information. There is no requirement in UK law that rape be “forceful”.
    According to the law, rape requires ‘non-consensual’ penetration, but pretending that forceful and non-consensual are the same thing only perpetuates the myth that rape only occurs through physical force.

    • This wasn’t so much about the legality as it was the way women conceive rape. It is really under reported and that is because women don’t recognise that what has happened to them “counts”.

    • Also the whole point of this article is to stop drawing a line between the idea of physical force and emotional force. I even say “it brings to mind a violent image…which is not always apparent”.

  2. Consent can be rescinded at any point. So if asking for consent explicitly is a necessary part of a sexual activity, how often do you propose we do that?

    Let’s say I ask ‘do you still consent to having sex with me with me doing X?’ every second, what happens if s/he changes his/her mind between the two seconds?

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