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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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#SexColumn: If everyone knows that consent is essential, why is our rape statistics so high?

Picture by David Ritchie.

Picture by David Ritchie.

Published Apr 22, 2022


By Sharon Gordon

Johannesburg - With the cold, wet Easter Weekend behind us I know that many of us binge watched a series. The one everyone is talking about is ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’. The debate is around the lift action. Spoiler alert – was the sex in the lift rape or not?

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There are two viewpoint – yes it was and no it wasn’t and it’s all about what constitutes consent, what constitutes withdrawing consent and then are we in the murky waters of sexual assault and rape?

What constitutes consent?

A recent survey found that everybody agreed that consent was essential when it came to sex. And I mean everybody interviewed in the survey. I was impressed. Just so we are all on the same page – consent means saying yes I would like to have sex. And herein lies the problem – when last did you actually say the words ‘Yes, I’d like to have sex’?

If everyone knows that consent is essential and that without consent you are committing a crime, how come we are getting it wrong and have such high rape statistics?

I understand that rape is a touchy subject and that it seldom has anything to do with sex and a lot to do with power. In any form rape is completely unacceptable and a violation of human dignity. In its worst form it leaves the victim mutilated, if not dead.

In the 21st Century in 58 countries around the world, a husband cannot be found guilty of raping his wife. It is her duty to spread her legs wide and take it any time he wants to. I find the concept repugnant and yet it still exists.

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Consent is an important part of the sexual transaction. In BDSM or Poly communities there is a higher level of communication. To participate in a play the parties are required to give unambiguous verbal consent. For those of you who are unsure about what I mean – let me spell it out.

‘May I blindfold you and cuff your wrists behind your back?’ she asks. He replies, ‘Yes, you may blindfold me and cuff my wrists behind my back.’ Unequivocal, unambiguous consent. It’s not that hard and yet very seldom practiced in most relationships.

Imagine if we could do that kind of communication in our common garden variety relationships.

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Consent MUST be freely given, consent with a gun to your head is not freely given.

It must be ongoing and is reversible, I’ll deal with this in a little more detail below. It must be informed, enthusiastic, specific and clear. Impaired consent – given when drunk, stoned or high – is not consent and can amount to sexual assault or rape.

Consent given after hours of persuasion is not freely given or enthusiastic. The person who finally gave in will feel abused afterwards and may go on to accuse the other of rape or assault. When they say no the first time – it’s no.

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The best example of consent being ongoing and reversible can be illustrated with a tale from Thailand. You’re in a bar and meet the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. Gorgeous in every way. You ask her if she’d like to go to your hotel room and have sex. She says yes and asks you if you would like to have sex.

What a question? Of course, you do! You get to the room and get your kit off and… she has a penis!

You said yes in the bar as did she. Now what? Consent can be reversed – you do not have to go through with it. It’s that simple.

In BDSM relationships it is withdrawn using the safe word. To continue with the play after the safe word is called is a complete breach of the relationship and the trust that exists between the parties. We all know what happens when trust leaves, it’s gone forever.

The problem with consent is so few of us have actually said yes! Consent is almost always implied and that’s where things go wrong. Think about it, have you ever been asked or asked, ‘May I have sex with you?’ or how about ‘may I kiss you, lick you? Etc.

No! What a surprise!

Have you ever received a reply, ‘Yes you may?’

I have recently been asked more than once about consent when drunk.

It’s a touchy subject with more than one answer – If one is drunk and the other not the answer is simple – the drunk one (impaired) cannot ever give consent even if they are saying ‘please have sex with me!’ It’s a no – walk away because when they sober up you may be in trouble.

If you are both drunk and both consent – again consent cannot be given when impaired – rather wait till you’ve sobered up because one or both of you may regret it in the morning and nobody wants to live with rapist status.

If you have been drunk and said yes, it’s much harder to prove the assault and while I am not for one single second saying that the other party cannot be held accountable you have to be responsible for your actions. I can hear outrage coming my way.

What I’m trying to say is if we get drunk, we do really stupid things – so maybe don’t get drunk and if you are drunk say no!

The point is that 99.9% of us never ask and never give actual verbal consent.

In the same survey where everyone agreed that consent was vital to the sex transaction, they were then asked how they asked for and received consent. This is when the squirming began.

Nobody had actually asked or even said yes. Consent was implied and here is where it gets really terrifying, they all said – ‘well nobody stopped me!’

It would seem that consent is implied because you didn’t say no. And this brings us back to the lift scene. Is ‘Not here, equivalent to no!’

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even say no comfortably to the telemarketer who calls me at dinner time.

Saying no to someone is one of those things we have to go on self help courses to learn how to do. It is the word NO that stands between you and a criminal offense.

So what if we turn this upside down and ensure that consent means something other than not saying no. What if consent is simply to say verbally and unequivocally, yes. Nothing is assumed. We may be able to save ourselves from a difficult conversation.

I asked my family about how they all get consent. Yes we do talk about sex as if it is a normal part of life and conversation. It would seem that even in my house we have issues. ‘Would you like to come over, watch Netflix and chill?’ seems to count as asking for consent. I’m putting a stop to that way of thinking right now.

I’m going to suggest, no beg you to ask for consent from your partner the next time you want to have sex. It is actually really sexy!

If you would like to contact me with comments or suggestions email me – [email protected]

The Saturday Star

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Crime and courts