Girls Gone Wild Teaches Us That Legally, “No” Doesn’t Mean Lack of Consent

Sexual assault: Any unwanted act of a sexual nature that is imposed on another person.Found a wonderful note in Facebook from 2010. To my knowledge, the legal decision referenced in this note is still in force today. It is a horrifying precedent. Used by permission of the writer.

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Oops, I Raped You — Sorry About That

Oops, I Raped You — Sorry About That, It Was An Accident, I Didn’t Notice You Were Frozen and Crying

Date rape is extremely common among types of rape. Date rape is also referred to as acquaintance rape, and it encompasses being raped by your official date for the evening, being raped by an acquaintance, being raped by the guy at the bar who chivalrously pulled your chair out for you and bought you a drink, and more.

Here, Here’s a Handy Excuse for Every Situation

By far the most common justification for this type of rape (as well as any other types of rape — it can work with anything!) goes like this: “She never said no.” Or words to that effect. It sets up the classic he said/she said situation in which it is almost impossible to prove rape no matter how much physical evidence may exist. Semen is explained away as the simple result of consensual sex; bruising and other marks are just “rough sex, because she wanted it.”

In the media, we rarely hear about ordinary date rape cases. For one thing, most of them are never reported to the police. Of rapes that are reported, most never make it to court — and by far the majority of cases we hear about in the media are the ones where the legal system and media declare them false or non-credible accusations. As long as this is true, we will continue to overestimate the number of false accusations and underestimate the incidence of date rape.

Be aware, at this point, that a significant number of cases that don’t make it to court end because the rape survivor ended them. The legal system records this as a false accusation or a non-substantiated accusation. That’s not accurate, but it’s the way things are done. The desire to not have your whole life, particularly your sex life, paraded before the country for everyone to see and brutally judge — as well as dread of having to face your attacker in court when you’re likely to lose anyway — these account for many rape cases that end because the survivor weighed her options and didn’t find any good ones.

Rape by Miscommunication

“Rape by miscommunication” is false.  Check out some articles here and here and here and here, and a study here (that several of the articles refer to), on subtlety vs. a plain No as it relates to sex. This article also hits on the subject. The study, and the articles, were done on men discussing getting consent from women.

I would be interested to find out about any similar studies done on women getting consent from men. I’m pretty certain there would be some major differences, and a study on that topic would be fascinating.

I’m Smart and Subtle, Till I’m Not

The bottom line is that men communicating with women understand subtle interpersonal messages from women, and indeed practice subtlety themselves — including not saying a direct “No” to sex. That’s right — men were subtle and indirect about saying No themselves. However, this skill in being subtle and in understanding subtlety only extended until a rapist wanted sex.

Suddenly, confusion entered the picture. Suddenly men in these studies (it wasn’t just rapists, but the men in general) began to talk about women failing to look them in the eye and say a direct No, even though the men themselves did not do that. Suddenly, they professed not to understand subtle messages anymore.

This is a loud, flashing red alarm in a country and culture where 1 in 5 – 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted in some way during their lifetime (1 in 7 – 1 in 5 men are too, but that was not the subject of these particular studies).

So What Are We Supposed to Do About It?

The Affirmative Consent article referenced above suggested that education is key, suggesting that college students should be educated on the subject. The study I linked to earlier, here, says this:

“[I]n presenting this research, and its associated transcripts, to young men and women, we have found that by drawing attention to our shared commonsensical knowledge of how everyday refusals are normatively done, and then to how this knowledge is often then patently discounted in favour of the interpretative repertoire of miscommunication . . . young people become engaged in an active discussion of how it is that both sexual consent and sexual refusal are actually negotiated.”

I will add here that I would like to know more about female rape of males. I can make an educated guess about some of the differences between male-on-female rape vs. female-on-male rape, but I haven’t yet seen a study on it. The female-on-male rape rate is far lower than vice versa, but it’s good to recognize that male victims are just as traumatized as female victims. Probably different strategies of prevention would apply.

The blog post Talking Past Each Other asks why, when it’s such a small percentage of the male population that commits the vast majority of rapes, do other men defend them and make excuses for them? If that stopped happening, if men who would never ever commit rape stopped covering for rapists in any way, I’ll bet that  — not just education — would have a major impact.

I’m Having Sex For a While, Without Ever Noticing My Partner is Terrified and Not Into It

I have wondered myself why a rapist thinks it’s a good excuse to say, “Well, she didn’t say no, and she didn’t push me away, so I thought she wanted it.” That small subset of men — rapists — sincerely don’t care one way or the other.

When a normal man (that is, a non-rapist) has sex, he notices if his partner is silent, stiff, unresponsive, crying, frozen in fear, pushing him away — he notices a negative response. A guy looking for “Oh yeah!” is going to instantly notice “I just want to go home. Can I go home now?”  or anything said with fear. A normal guy would be very unlikely to even reach that point, because he cares what his partner is feeling. Most men would be horrified to literally push themselves on a partner that so obviously didn’t want to have sex with them.

A rapist can read a woman’s signals just as well as a normal man; the difference is that he doesn’t care.

I’ve thought about how long it takes to rape someone. It’s not an instantaneous act. How is this guy, in the middle of raping a clearly miserable, distressed, terrified partner, overlooking her fear and misery? How is it possible that he can’t see what’s in front of him? The real answer is that he can see. He has simply decided that his desire for sex outweighs her humanity, and he knows that his chances of being sent to prison are ridiculously slim. All he has to do is say he thought it was consensual, and he’ll be off the hook. Based on actual records of rapists, they are able to do this time and again, usually dozens of times, before anything ever sticks legally.

What person is willing to push someone into sex under circumstances that he himself says were ambiguous? If there’s any room for misunderstanding, then don’t have sex. This is not complicated.

Some say, “Well, but women might act one way and mean another thing, and they might be saying no but then all flirting with you…” I have no sympathy for these excuses. If a woman is giving a man mixed signals, or negative signals, or if there’s any doubt at all, then don’t have sex with her. If she wants him, believe me, she will figure out how to be clear. But he already knew that. He just didn’t want to hear the word No. Not verbally, and not nonverbally.

So if you’re a normal guy who has ever spent a moment worrying about false accusations of rape, here’s a tip:

Don’t have sex with anyone who doesn’t give you enthusiastic consent. There you go. The end of all possible misunderstandings.

Rather than setting the bar as low as possible for consent (“Well, she didn’t fight me off, right?”), set it high. If someone is sending you mixed messages, don’t have sex. If she’s saying No, but obviously trying to bait you into making a move, don’t have sex. Set the bar high: Do things like ask her outright and see if she responds enthusiastically. Or flirt with her and see if she makes the first move — and then check with her verbally to be sure. I advise women to do the same thing with men — it eliminates excuses and can help eliminate game-players, always a good thing.

So this whole line of thinking, “She didn’t say no, I mean she said no but then looked away in that flirty way girls do, or she pushed me away but you know how girls are, they want to just act reluctant…” is bogus. If you’re not a rapist, no amount of fudge factor will turn you into one.

It’s impossible to not notice a woman’s lack of enthusiastic consent while she’s being raped. And beforehand. So put away your excuses. We know who you are and we know what you are doing. And today, more and more often, people of goodwill of both sexes are willing to call you out for it. Don’t rape people. Don’t support people who joke about it. Just don’t.

Sexual Assault Resources Specifically for Men

Photo of man w/bruises and cuts on faceThat men are raped is not in question. For example, see the Abused Empowered Survive Thrive and website, which has several large sections specifically for men, such as Male Rape Myths and Research and Statistics on Male Abuse Survivors.

As of 2011, the CDC estimated that almost 20% of women suffered rape in their lifetime. (By the way, just as a man’s physiological body response to rape is involuntary, so is a woman’s. This does not indicate arousal or consent for either sex. Keep reading.)

The same as for female rape survivors, many ignorant people in society hold bigoted or erroneous views about male rape survivors:

  • Men can protect themselves, so he must’ve wanted it or else he would’ve stopped it.
  • Now that he’s been raped, he’s homosexual.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so it’s all just sex for him.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so he deserved it.
  • A real man could have kept it from happening.

While many of the emotional needs of male survivors are the same as those of female survivors, men have some unique needs. First, here are some struggles both sexes face:

  • They feel violated and disempowered.
  • They question themselves.
  • They lose confidence in their ability to protect themselves.
  • They wonder if they did something to bring the attack on themselves.
  • They think they should’ve done more to stop it. Or less. Or something different.
  • They feel blamed by society (“If she hadn’t gone to a bar dressed like that it wouldn’t have happened,” “If he was straight it wouldn’t have happened,” “Why did you provoke the attacker?”, etc.).

Here are some of the unique struggles men face:

  • They feel emasculated.
  • They wonder if they’ve become homosexual.
  • They wonder if it happened because they’re homosexual (data shows that homosexuals are in fact targeted; I don’t know of an exhaustive study showing how rapists target male victims in general).
  • Society believes men can’t be sexually assaulted by women, but they can be–and this is a stigma as well, with many people viewing the male victim as weak or as less of a man, or thinking that a “normal” man would be glad to “have sex,” or assuming that no woman could be strong enough to rape a man. (Aaaand we’re back to the “not a real man” myth.)
  • Sketchy information shows that men (no matter who does the attacking) are even less likely to report rape than women because of the stigma attached to the “weakness” of a male victim or the stigma of questions about his sexuality or masculinity.
  • There aren’t many resources for male rape survivors, so they’re more isolated and less served than women. Even factoring in the lower proportion of male survivors to female survivors, there aren’t a proportionate number of resources specifically for male survivors. Most services for female survivors also serve male victims, but here I’m talking about services that are dedicated to male survivors.
  • Male survivors may have had an erection or ejaculation during an assault and feel guilty about it; the attacker or the victim’s friends/family may assume this means the victim must have “wanted it,” when in reality, both erection and ejaculation are physiological responses to stress that don’t require sexual arousal and that a man can’t voluntarily control.

Some of the good resources I can find for men are listed here.

No one, no matter what their age, race, or sex, deserves to be raped or has “asked for it.” Rape doesn’t change people’s sexual orientation, and it isn’t OK to rape a man because “men want it all the time anyway.” Rape is never a turn-on. Raping men isn’t OK, and it’s never the victim’s fault — not ever. I will shout this from the housetops. To male assault survivors: You are not alone. We women have been attacked too, and we stand with you. We believe you. We believe in you. We want more for all rape survivors, no matter who has been attacked.