“Ask first. Consent is hot, assault is not.” — From Teen Source, a blog about sexual health
In all the sexual assault and harassment allegations that have surfaced in the entertainment and publishing industries recently, the common denominator is a sexual predator who does not grasp the concept of consent.
Either that, or they feel consent is something lesser mortals have to trouble themselves with, but not those like them, in positions of power — whether physical, financial, psychological, executive, or some combination.
But is the notion of consent really that difficult to grasp?
It’s taught to children, for goodness sake.
Is it really complicated to view sex as a two-way street, not one you barrel down alone and expect that your partner will be constantly ready and agreeable? The fact that we talk about sexual “partners” is indication enough that the decision to engage in some sort of sexual activity should never be made unilaterally. Equal rights are inherent in the word.
And neither I, nor men I have talked to about this, understand what drives someone to impose or force themselves onto another person who has shown no sign of being interested or willing.
What sexual predators don’t seem to get is, even if they are big-time movie producers, celebrated comedians, accomplished actors or TV hosts, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to see their penis unbidden or watch them masturbate, any more than they would some scuzzy creep exposing himself on a street corner.
The big difference, of course, is that many of the men who stand accused in the entertainment and publishing industries wielded a great deal of influence over other people’s careers.
What ever happened to asking someone out and accepting refusal gracefully if they decline?
Surely all these famous people had access to a pool of potential romantic partners without having to grope and maul and traumatize.
But of course, this is not about romance, it’s about using your power to take things you want without asking first.
The lesson being learned now — and not nearly soon enough — is that other people have power, as well — both men and women. The right to say no. The power to be the sole custodian of their own bodies. And anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that right and ignores it may well have to suffer the consequences.
I believe strongly in innocent until proven guilty, but if someone has admitted their inappropriate behaviour, then they should not be surprised if they find themselves being shut out of career opportunities or being stigmatized. It’s what happened to victims for years.
"Women are not in a perpetual state of consent of which they must rebut to overcome overt sexual advances." — Justice Frances Knickle
One of the clearest statements about sexual assault I’ve read lately is from a court decision issued Jan. 10, 2018 by Justice Frances Knickle from the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The case involved a man and woman who were friends, and drinking together at the woman’s home, when the woman became incapacitated. The man then performed a sexual act on the unconscious woman, and was seen doing so by the woman’s mother from a house across the street.
In finding the man guilty of sexual assault, Knickle expounded on the notions of trust and consent, addressing the man directly:
“In this case, (the man) engaged in oral sex with (the woman), while she was in a very vulnerable state, and incapable of consent. She was asleep. He was in her home. There was no violence beyond the violence inherent in the offence itself, but it clearly was humiliating and demeaning to (the woman) and her sexual integrity. … You were her friend, drinking together as friends. She was entitled to feel safe in her home with you.
“Women are not in a perpetual state of consent of which they must rebut to overcome overt sexual advances. Yet you treated (the woman) in precisely this way. As if she were there for your gratification. This was an opportunistic act for which you had no problem violating her trust in you as her friend.”
Respect. Consent. The right to sexual integrity.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton