I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media sites that purport to teach women how to protect themselves from sexual assault. I tend to re-post them and then explain why the “advice” is either not needed or doesn’t work or both.
For instance this rape prevention check list from the Mississippi State Department of Health. I could write another whole article just on this list alone (in fact I might).
Seeing these frequent lists that span the range from “completely useless” to “I already do/know this” to “how the hell am I supposed to lead a normal life if I have to do all these things to not get raped?!” inspired me to create my own “check list” for rape prevention aimed at the perpetrators instead of would-be victims.
Alas! Somebody already did that.
So instead, I’d like to talk about the culture surrounding rape–the culture that allows serial rapists to operate seemingly undetected and the culture that blames victims for their assault. Many feminists have dubbed this “Rape Culture.” I know, I know, nobody wants to hear or talk about the ways in which our culture might encourage and legitimize rapists. This article is not about whether or not you believe we live in a “Rape Culture.” You can read more about that here if you’re so inclined. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to the present culture surrounding and informing our attitudes toward consent, sex, rape and rape prevention as “rape culture.”
So, if the rape prevention check lists that are commonly spread around are inadequate for actually preventing rape or addressing the causes of it, then how are we supposed to prevent rape? How are we supposed to address it without assuming that rapists will simply stop raping or putting all the onus of prevention on potential victims?
I propose that we change the culture. Let’s move from a “Rape Culture” to a “Consent Culture.”
In a Consent Culture sexual predators will stand out because they will be the ones violating small every day boundaries:
I had a group of friends in high school who all hugged each other. I was usually ok with this, but there was one guy who joined our group that sort of creeped me out. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but I still felt uncomfortable with the idea of hugging him. One night I was doling out the usual “good bye hugs” to my friend group, and I skipped him. I didn’t make a big deal of it. This wasn’t some sort of overt ceremony. Nobody noticed this hug-lapse. He called me later to berate me for not hugging him, and I explained that the fact that he’s yelling at me now for not wanting to hug him makes me even more uncomfortable around him. He asked if I would grant him a hug next time, and I gave him an unequivocal no. The next time we all hung out, he was leaving first. He made an obvious move to hug me in front of our group of friends. I had to make an obvious move to avoid it. He went off on me about how I was embarrassing him in front of our shared group of friends.
Rape Culture, How my friends reacted:
They all ganged up on me. They got angry with me for asserting my autonomy. They said I was mean for not wanting to hug him. They didn’t listen when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, that he already knew I was uncomfortable hugging him and he tried to do it anyway. They didn’t care. I was still the one who was wrong. I was forced to apologize to him. And he continued trying to hug me.
Consent Culture, How my friends reacted:
They all ganged up on him. They got angry with him for not respecting my autonomy. They said he was acting entitled and mean for yelling at me simply because I refused a hug. They listened to me when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, and they understood that he knew I was uncomfortable hugging him. They cared. He was forced to apologize to me. Even though I don’t think he learned his lesson, he did not continue trying to hug me.
I don’t know if this teenager ever went on to sexually assault somebody, but I can say I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He demonstrated to me that he could not, or would not, respect explicit boundaries. He demonstrated that he would try to punish me for asserting or attempting to maintain boundaries. That’s enough for me to not trust him in the future. How peers react is key though. In the Rape Culture scenario, the friends put all the blame on the one attempting to assert and maintain boundaries. They made it clear to the victim and to the perpetrator that certain physical touching is owed in some cases. They made it clear that they would tolerate at least some violation of boundaries. In the Consent Culture scenario, they made it clear that they would back the victim. They essentially told the perpetrator that boundary violations would not be tolerated. So, even if the perpetrator did not change his mind about it, he is still forced to respect boundaries in order to be socially accepted. I’m not saying that everybody who violates small boundaries is a rapist or sexual predator. I am saying that if we stop tolerating the violation of small boundaries, then it sends a clear message that consent is not a grey or muddied area, and that violating larger boundaries will also not be tolerated. Sexual predators test the waters. This is how they operate. They start by violating small boundaries and testing reactions. Depending on the reaction (either from the victim or from peers), they will continue upping their violations. As of right now, ~95% of people are not rapists, however, the vast majority of people violate small boundaries without thinking about it. This gives predators a place to hide. In a consent culture, the vast majority of people would not violate small boundaries, thus exposing the predators early on.
In a Consent Culture, a woman’s “no” would be enough. She would not have to back up that “no” by showing she’s already possessed by a man, and she wouldn’t have to apologize or give excuses for saying “no.”
A few years back I was the proud owner of a gym membership. I usually liked to go when I got off work, sometime between 9 and 10 pm. Sometimes I went with the (now ex) boyfriend, and sometimes I went alone. There aren’t very many people at the gym at that time of the night, so I got to know the faces of the regulars, but I hardly ever talked to anybody. One night I happened to be working out by myself. As I walked in and surveyed the gym before beginning I saw a man there who I vaguely recognized. Our eyes met for a split second. He smiled. I nodded. I had seen him before, but we had never spoken, and I wasn’t about to change the dynamics of our relationship that night. Apparently, he had other plans though. An hour and a half later I was wiping down the elliptical and the man was on his way out. He waved and said “Bye” as he passed me. I was a little bewildered by this, but I was polite and waved back. He left about a 30 seconds to a minute before I did, so I was very surprised to find him standing on the middle landing of the steps on my way down to the locker rooms. He had been waiting for me.
“Hey sweetie, you been working hard?”
“Yep,” and I tried to walk past him. He followed me.
“I see you here sometimes. Maybe we can be work out buddies?”
“No thanks, I prefer to be alone.”
“Ah, come on. We should work out together. We could even get a bite to eat after we change and figure out our schedules.”
“I don’t really want to do that. I just want to go home after this.”
“What? Are you married?”
“No. I have a boyfriend though.”
“So, you’re not married. So it’s ok. We can get something to eat, and we can work out together.”
“No, it’s not ok. I don’t want to do that.”
“Ok, ok” (he said this in a patronizing “no need to freak out on me” kind of way) “Hey are you going for a swim tonight?”
This part was especially creepy. I normally did swim and get in the hot tube for a few minutes after my work out. It was my “cool down.” As soon as he asked me though I made up my mind not to go to the pool that night.
“No. I’m too tired tonight. I’m just gonna change and then go home.” I avoided using the word “shower.” I didn’t want him to get any idea that I wanted him to picture me naked.
“Ok, see ya later then.”
When I got to the locker room, I changed my mind about the pool. The pool was my reward for working hard. It’s what kept me going when my muscles screamed for me to stop. I didn’t want some creepy dude restricting my access to my favorite part of the pool. Before I changed though, I looked out at the pool to see if he was there. He wasn’t, and there were more people out than usual. I did my normal leisurely laps and then got in the hot tub. I happened to sit between a man and a woman, but still far enough away from both that we all knew nobody wanted to touch or talk to each other. Then the creepy guy showed up. The hostility flowing from him was palpable, but he tried to keep his tone light.
“I thought you said you weren’t swimming tonight.”
“I changed my mind.” As I said this, I inched myself closer to the guy on my left. This got his attention so he was able to hear what creepy guy was saying.
“But you said you weren’t swimming. I waited for you out in the lobby, and you didn’t come out. So then I checked over here and saw you. By the time I changed into my suit, you were already in the hot tub.”
“I didn’t ask you to wait in the lobby. I told you I wanted to go home.” It was clear he was upset that I had “lied” to him. I actually hadn’t lied to him. When I told him I wasn’t going to swim, I had every intention of not swimming that night. I just changed my mind.
Rape Culture, how peers/staff reacted:
The man in the hot tube clearly heard the conversation, but did not involved himself. He ignored my subtle movement toward him as a silent cry for help. In fact, he left the hot tub before the creepy guy walked away. Others in the hot tub also ignored the situation. Nobody suggested I get help from the staff, and nobody offered to be a witness should I choose to report the guy’s behavior to any staff. I got out of the hot tub, and left the pool area still dripping wet. I was obviously upset and on the verge of tears. I was afraid to go to the locker room alone or walk out to my car alone. Before I had a chance to explain to the staff at the front desk what happened, they berated me for leaving the pool area and quoted rules at me about how one is supposed to leave the pool. They did not listen attentively as I explained the situation to them. They looked at me condescendingly the whole time. When I finished, they just smirked and said that guys are like that sometimes. I told them I was fearful of going to the locker room alone, but they did not offer to send any female staff into the locker room with me (there were female staff present). Instead they only offered to have a male staff member stand outside the locker room door while I got dressed, and they said they would watch me walk to my car from the front desk. I decided never to go to the gym alone again at that time of night, even though it was my favorite time to go and I had to restructure my homework/study schedule in order to go at different times when my (ex) boyfriend couldn’t go. This resulted in my not being able to work out for as long as I wanted to and so I just stopped going as much.
Consent Culture, how peers/staff reacted:
The man in the hot tub clearly heard the conversation, and noticed my subtle movement toward him. He turned around and stared the guy down after he heard me say “I wanted to go home.” He then pretended to be a friend of mine, introducing himself to the man and making it clear that we are at the gym together “often.” This man and the woman next to me both talked to me after the creepy guy left. They offered to come with me to talk to the staff. One of them even knew his name. Having their support calmed me down enough that I was calm enough to dry myself off before leaving the pool area. We walked to the desk together. The staff listened to my story intently. They looked concerned for me. At the end they apologized for my experience. They said this wasn’t the first complaint they had received about this particular man and promised to speak to the manager about to proceed next, since the man had clearly violated the gym’s established harassment policies. I don’t know if they banned him, but I never saw him again. One of the female staff, and the woman from the hot tub offered to go to the locker room with me. When I finished changing, the man at the front desk and the woman from the hot tub walked me out to my car. I felt safe knowing the staff and fellow gym members had my back.
There is a stark contrast in the effects between these two scenarios. In one, the harasser is allowed to continue his behavior because of the silence of his peers, and the staff create a situation where harassment is not addressed and women feel unsafe to go to the gym at certain times. In Rape Culture, the behavior of the harasser was minimized and ignored, and my reaction was belittled and sneered at. When the concerns of victims are ignored, they do not feel safe. In Rape Culture, the gym did not have, or did not follow, any kind of harassment policy. They had no way of knowing how many women had been harassed by this man. Not only that, but women who are not supported by their peers, or do not think they will receive support, are less likely to report harassment and assault.
In Consent Culture, the harasser was shamed for his behavior and possibly punished (membership revoked/probation). I was supported and consoled. When I got out of the hot tub with my supporters, I was calm enough to remember the rules of entering and leaving the pool, so I dried myself off. The staff acknowledged the problem and were able to inform me that 1) they have a harassment policy and 2) they use their harassment policy (since they knew he had been reported before). They also did everything they could to make me feel safer at their establishment. Also, if we lived in a true Consent Culture, I would not need to qualify my “no’s” with apologies, excuses or appeals to a boyfriend. I’m not saying this would have stopped him from confronting me in the stair well. However, if we lived in a Consent Culture, he probably would have expected to be shamed and punished for his behavior if he followed me, by waiting in the lobby or going to the pool (there were people in the lobby as well, so if I hadn’t gone swimming, there still would have been witnesses for the second confrontation). If we lived in a Consent Culture, I probably would have felt justified enough to go to the staff before he confronted me a second time, and I would have been taken seriously. I wouldn’t need to show that he egregiously violated my boundaries in order to be taken seriously; I would have only needed to show that he violated my boundaries once (because in a Consent Culture, normal people just don’t do that). This goes back to the first point: in Consent Culture, small boundaries matter.
Now I’ve said something on small boundaries and harassment, I want to move on to assaults.
In Consent Culture, sexual assault by young boys or teenagers would not be minimized.
My breasts did not go into full development mode until I was a freshman in high school. Throughout seventh and eighth grade I was sexually assaulted by fellow students. Male students found it hilarious to come up to me in the hallway and grasp my chest to check and see if I had grown more. Sometimes they would grope my shoulder blades and then loudly exclaim “Oops wrong side!” before proceeding to my chest. This happened to me for almost two years before I got fed up with it and went to a teacher near the end of eighth grade.
Rape Culture, administration’s reaction:
The teacher told me not to worry about the unwanted touching. She said that boys will do that and eventually they will grow out of it and realize it’s wrong. When she saw I was still upset, she suggested I go to the school counselor and said it was fine if I missed her class (the bell was about to ring). So I went to the office with a note to see the counselor. While I was waiting to see the counselor, the vice principal walked past me. I was the only female student in the office. Even though he appeared to have been busy and heading to his office, he immediately wheeled around and performed an impromptu “dress code check”. All the students were made to stand up while he scrupulously checked all of our clothes. When he got to me, he ordered me to raise up my arms and turn around several times. I did as I was told. Then he said I wasn’t raising my arms high enough; he made me raise them higher than I would ever be expected to raise them outside of gym class (in which I wear different clothes anyway).
I was clearly upset and felt uncomfortable and exposed, he took this to mean that I was nervous I was about to get caught, not that I didn’t want to expose myself like this in front of a bunch of boys (some of whom were friends with the ones who were assaulting me). When I did as he asked, he made me turn around several more times. He spotted less than a half-inch of skin and announced that my shirt was out of dress code. I had to wear a ridiculously large school shirt the rest of the day. After this humiliating show for the boys in the office (they were all snickering at me), I was allowed in to see the counselor. By this time I was even more upset. I couldn’t talk without crying. The counselor listened to what I had to say. She defended the vice principal’s actions as “just enforcing the rules” and repeated the line that my teacher said about the boys. I asked her if it was against the rules for them to be grabbing me in the hallway, and she said it probably was but I shouldn’t make a big deal about it. I was angry. They had just made a big deal about a half-inch of skin showing while my arms were stretched inhumanly higher than they ever are while doing school-related activities, so by god they were going to make a big deal about my being groped.
I demanded to speak with the vice principal. When I told him what was happening, he said the same thing: boys will be boys and I shouldn’t expect them to not grope me. But, he said, groping is against the rules, so if I have a witness next time, then he will try to do something. Nobody called my parents to inform them that I was assaulted. I did not report it to my parents either. I was already ashamed and embarrassed. I had already lived through the ordeal now three times having to re-tell it to three different authority figures. None of them took me seriously, so why good would it do to tell my parents?
Word got out that I had told a teacher (a TA was in the classroom when I tried to *quietly* speak with her and apparently she told one of her kids, who goes to the same school, about what happened). Soon even more boys were groping at me, but they made sure not to do it when teachers were around. None of the other girls would help. They didn’t want the boys to start targeting them. The teachers never said a word about it in class. There were no school assemblies held to address sexual assault. The school effectively ignored the problem and left it to me to deal with it. One day I got fed up, the first boy that touched me was slapped hard across the face. The boys stopped after that. None of the boys ever got in trouble. I did, however, receive demerits for the dress code violation.
Consent Culture, administration’s reaction:
After I told my teacher, she was very concerned. She could tell I was really upset, so she told her TA to take over for a few minutes so she could escort me to the counselor’s office. I didn’t have to wait in the office lobby to give my note to the secretary. Instead my teacher took me straight to the chairs outside the counselor’s office and we waited together. I heard the vice principal do the impromptu dress code check, but none of the boys were made to spin around or expose themselves.
My teacher stayed long enough to explain to the counselor why I was there, but she had to get back to class. The counselor talked to me about the assaults and harassment. She helped console me. She told me it was not my fault, and that boys should be able to learn how to respect boundaries. She said she would speak with the principal and vice principal about it. She didn’t want me to have to relive the experience by telling it over and over again. They also called my mom and explained to her that I had been assaulted. They said they would investigate and find out who it was, and they said they would be launching a new awareness program about sexual assault and abuse.
Over the course of the next few weeks, teachers gave speeches about respecting boundaries. There were multiple assemblies held. Posters went up in the hallways admonishing students that “No Means No” and unwanted touching is assault and is punishable by law. At one of the assemblies, the assaults were mentioned. Apparently, the boys were doing it to so many girls that nobody knew who had originally come forward. The other girls being assaulted felt empowered to come forward as well. Once about 10 girls had come forward, all with the same complaints about the same group of boys, the boys were one by one sent to in-school-suspension. I did not know that they were doing this to other girls. I had thought I was alone. Now I knew I wasn’t. The assaults did not escalate. In fact, many of the boys came to me and apologized. There were a few, the ones who would probably later grow up to be full-fledged sexual predators, who seemed to want to flaunt the new attention assault was getting and tried to do it even more. But now they were being watched–and not just by teachers. If they wanted to assault somebody, they couldn’t do it in front of their buddies, who no longer thought it was cool or funny. They couldn’t do it in front of any other girls, who were no longer fearful of being targeted. Not only that, but they were deterred from doing it again, even when the girl was alone, because they knew the administration would take his victim seriously if she reported it. The predators had nowhere to hide, and most of the assaults stopped.
We can’t expect kids or teenagers to automatically understand consent or understand what assault and abuse look like. I don’t expect to be able to teach grown adults who already commit rape that rape is bad, or to respect boundaries and always get consent. But I do expect to be able to decrease the amount of young people who turn into grown adults who rape by teaching about consent and boundaries from an early age. There are many ways to do this, even with toddlers, without having to explicitly talk about sex and/or rape. One example is to stop tickling a child when they tell you to stop, or not to force your child to kiss or hug relatives when they don’t want to. Right now a small portion of the population (about 4-6%) commit the vast majority of rapes. This means that most rapists are serial rapists. They do it again and again and again and they don’t get caught. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: serial rapists are able to do this because they are able to hide their incremental boundary violations within the norms of currently acceptable behavior. There were some boys in the Consent Culture reaction who had assaulted girls in the past, but not realized how harmful it was. They thought the girls were “in” on the joke too. Once they saw that this behavior was victimizing the girls and also not tolerated by the authority, they quickly changed their tune, and in some cases even apologized. Some of them might still go on to become adult sexual predators, but they will no longer be able to hide behind their assaults as if they are jokes. In a society where sexual assault is taken seriously, and not minimized, sexual predators can be rooted out faster. They can be punished before their behavior escalates to more violent assaults and/or rapes.
In Consent Culture, women can go to parties, and live life, and know that her friends and peers will be looking out for her best interest, and not the interest of predators.
(In the former examples, I split up the reactions into “Rape Culture” and “Consent Culture” but did not inform exactly which reactions actually happened in my life. My friends’ actions to protect me during this incident deserve to be highlighted and will be recounted as accurately as possible. Their actions are representative of Consent Culture, whereas the tertiary reactions I got from people who heard about the incident later are representative of Rape Culture.)
I turned 18 toward the end of my senior year in high school. Through extra-curricular activities, I had some older friends. One of them, Tommy, was turning 21 the day after I turned 18. He decided to throw a big party at his apartment. At this point in my life I was pretty naive. I only ever drank when I was with my siblings, and I had never been drunk before. I was going to go to my first real college party. Another school friend, Jenny, was going with me, I knew most of the people who were invited, and my friend offered the couch for me to sleep on so I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere later. This felt like the best possible scenario for me to drink around other people and feel safe.
The night started out pretty good. I had some sort of sweet mixed drink. I talked a lot, after a few drinks I got a little bit flirty. But it was our birthday party. I wanted to let loose a little bit. I wasn’t interested in hooking up with anybody. I just wanted to get drunk for the first time and enjoy myself. I even openly flirted with a girl for the first time in public. Yeah, I was a wild one. I don’t remember much of the night, but I do remember one particular guy having a great interest in me. No matter what group of people I was talking to, he would suddenly show up. At one point I remember talking to him out on the balcony, and I remember he offered me a drink from his flask “just to taste it.” Some part of my mind must have been not completely soaked in alcohol yet, and I declined. My high school friend told me a few days later that I had told her the guy was creepy and made me feel uncomfortable, but I don’t remember saying this to her. Eventually somebody convinced me to do shots, and that was my event horizon of drunkenness.
What follows has been pieced together from the bits I remember and what I was told from other people:
Jenny, Tommy and Tommy’s friend Jake decided I needed to go to bed. I wasn’t feeling very good, so Jenny accompanied me to the bathroom and we hung out in there for about 10 minutes. She says I never threw up though. When I started to try to fall asleep on the bathroom floor, she made me get up and Tommy and Jake helped her get me into Tommy’s room. Tommy left to go deal with drunken party madness, so Jake and Jenny stayed to get me in bed. Jenny was going to make Jake leave so I could change into shorts (instead of my jeans), but apparently I insisted that he stay because he was gay. Jake left anyway (because he’s a decent person). After helping me change, Jenny said she was going to get me some water. I think I fell asleep at this point, because next thing I know Creepy Guy was sitting on the bed next to me. He was in mid-sentence, apparently attempting to have a conversation with me while I was passed-out. I remember him reaching over me. I honestly can’t remember if he was touching me in any way. Everything was wobbly and shaky and I really just wanted him to leave. I’m pretty sure I told him to leave (but again, my memory is shaky). In any case, I was barely conscious. Creepy Guy stood up suddenly when Jake walked in. There was some shouting. Creepy guy left, and Jake stayed. Then Jenny came in with the water. They told me the next day that Jake had seen Creepy Guy walk into the room after Jenny left and that Jenny and Tommy had warned him about Creepy Guy. When he didn’t come back out he got a bad feeling about it and decided to walk in. Jenny stayed and talked to me until the party died down and I fell asleep. The next time I woke up was because Tommy had come into the bedroom. Remember, this was Tommy’s bedroom. I was a barely conscious drunk girl sleeping in his bed, and I’m fairly certain I had even told him earlier in the night that I had a crush on him. Also, I had recently turned 18, so there’s that. Here was a situation where, in my inebriated state, I probably would have said yes to Tommy if he wanted to sleep with me. He didn’t wake me up to try to have sex with me though. He woke me up to ask for one of the pillows that I was sleeping on. Then he got a sleeping bag from his closet and made a palette on the floor. We talked for a little bit, and then we both fell asleep.
Consent Culture, friends’ primary actions at party:
This is how peers can prevent rape. Creepy Guy was a sexual predator. Creepy Guy had probably done this before, if the statistics behind rape and sexual assault have taught us anything. My friends, and one acquaintance, were able to stop him because they recognized his predatory behaviors and they listened to me. Tommy and Jenny recognized that he was paying a lot of attention to me and that I needed to go to bed. Tommy enlisted the help of his friend Jake to get me to go to sleep because he knew I felt comfortable around him. Jenny barely left my side in order to keep me safe because she was alerted to the danger of Creepy Guy. Tommy and Jake did not brush away her concerns. They listened when she told them how Creepy Guy was acting. She listened to me, and they listened to her. Imagine a whole world of Jenny’s, Tommy’s and Jake’s. Imagine a whole world that takes victims (or potential victims) seriously and works to protect them. Imagine how hard it would be for serial rapists to operate when people are paying attention to whether or not he’s following a girl around, offering to get her more and more drinks, trying to get her to drink unknown substances. Imagine what it would be like if every girl knew that if she simply told a friend while they were out partying “Hey, that guy is creeping me out” that she would be taken seriously instead of hounded for “over reacting” or accused of making “false accusations.” That is Consent Culture.
Rape Culture, tertiary reactions:
A few days after the party, I was talking to a bunch of people who were there and some who were not. Somebody mentioned that I was really drunk and told everybody about how I flirted with him a lot. I laughed and thanked him for not trying to take advantage of me and then started to recount what happened with the Creepy Guy. I told them that Creepy Guy kept coming on to me the whole time and following me around the party and that he came into the bedroom later when I was alone and he was only stopped because Jake walked in. The group of friends all laughed at me. They said I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. They said I shouldn’t have flirted so much. They said I must’ve been “all over him” since I flirted with other people as well. Even when Jenny spoke up and pointed out that I tried to get away from him the whole night and that I had specifically told her that night how creepy he was, they still said I brought it on myself because I gave him the “wrong idea” by openly flirting with a lot of people. Then they told me I shouldn’t even talk about it because they know Creepy Guy and they know he would never try to rape anybody. I must be lying or remembering wrong. My face flushed. I wanted to cry right then, but I didn’t. I just sat down, hunched over and stopped talking. The subject was quickly changed to something else. I learned my lesson: don’t drink at parties (even though there were plenty of guys getting drunk and plenty of other women there getting drunk), don’t flirt (even though there were other girls flirting, the guys are flirting with you and if you don’t flirt back then you’re labeled a “prude, stuck-up bitch”), don’t talk about your experience later because you could ruin his reputation (even though talking about it hurt my reputation more than it hurt his).
According to Rape Culture, if I flirt with one person, that automatically means I want flirting/sexual attention from everybody (not just the person I’m flirting with). This is a gross misapplication of the concept of consent. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person B. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A at This Time, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person A at Another Time. Consent can be given and revoked. The people who reacted in this way tried to make it seem like Creepy Guy was just confused. They tried to convince me that I had somehow led him on, and even though I never told him yes, he thought I “wanted it.” However, they didn’t know that I already had the counter-example brewing in the back of my mind. Tommy. Tommy knew I liked him. I had specifically flirted with Tommy that night, and he had flirted back. I was sleeping in Tommy’s bed. Tommy knew I probably would have said yes to him if he wanted to have sex (although, the “yes” was still stemming from my lowered inhibitions, since at the time I was still suffering from sexual repression, it took a while for me to be able to consent to sexual acts without the use of alcohol, but that deserves a whole post on its own). But Tommy didn’t ask. Tommy didn’t even try. He saw a girl sleeping in his bed, and decided to sleep on the floor. See, because even if Tommy was confused about whether or not I wanted it, even if he thought I definitely did want it, he was decent enough to wait until I was of sound mind to truly consent. He was decent enough to wait until he knew for sure that my “yes” wasn’t based on being intoxicated and not knowing what I was doing. Creepy Guy was not decent. He was not a “nice guy” who was simply confused about what I wanted. This is what Rape Culture tries to teach you: that consent is some grey ambiguous concept that anybody can make a mistake about and accidentally become a rapist, but that’s not how it actually works. Nice guys don’t accidentally rape people. Rapists pretend to be nice guys, plan out their assaults for when the “rape script” fits into the areas that society has deemed “grey,” and rape with impunity because they know the victim will be silenced and shamed if xe speaks up.
Consent Culture teaches that consent should be easily recognizable and if it’s not, then you should stop what you’re doing. Consent Culture does not have “rape scripts” that must be followed in order for victims to be believed. Consent Culture does not teach that boys and men are somehow naturally rapists (they’re not) or teach girls to avoid rape as if it’s a natural disaster that just happens (it’s not). Consent Culture does not allow victims to be silenced and shamed when they speak up.
For further reading (some of these are linked in the post):
Rape Discussions: When to intervene in a situation
Meet the Predators
The “Why I Need to Call Some Men Creepy” Linkdump
Legal Consent, Morning-After Regret, and “Accidental” Rape
Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Abuse
The Day I Taught How Not to Rape
Rape Culture 101
I’ll Stop Citing My Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering
We are the 95%