Sexual Consent: The Dual Responsibility No One is Talking About

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Fri, May 8 - 2:12 pm EDT | 3 years ago by
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Sexual consent is a two-way street, and no one is talking about this. While there are no lack of sources willing to – rightfully – stress the importance of only engaging in sexual relations with someone with their consent, one very big factor is not only being omitted, but is also being excused away: the responsibility of the person giving consent to be sure they are doing so meaningfully and responsibly.

Sexual Consent
Source: Shutterstock

In a recent op-ed piece for the Claremont McKenna College student newspaper, The Forum, Jordan Bosiljevar introduces the newest ripple in the current wave of word meaning bastardizations: “raped by rape culture.” In the piece, entitled “Why Yes Can Mean No,” Bosiljevar asserts that she was conditioned against saying no, citing examples which include cheek kisses from relatives when she was five and a boyfriend daring to tell her that some girls enjoyed sex at age sixteen. These examples apparently led to Bosiljevar having a fear of saying “no.” Somehow. “In discussing this experience with friends, we coined the term ‘raped by rape culture’ to describe what it was like to say yes, coerced by the culture that had raised us and the systems of power that worked on us, and to still want ‘no.’” Examples provided included the internal feeling of obligation after visiting someone’s room, loneliness, fear that someone else won’t be interested in the future, and the concern that they might not stop anyway.

Then, as is the typical radical progressive way, Bosiljevar throws in racism and homophobia, stating that (and I’m not even kidding right now), “Consent is a privilege, and it was built for wealthy, heterosexual, cis, white, western, able-bodied masculinity.” She continues: “When you’re poor, disabled, queer, non-white, trans, or feminine, ‘no’ isn’t for you.” Thankfully, Bosiljevar does clarify that sometimes people “oppressed in these systems of power” can have consensual sex and maybe even enjoy it. Sometimes, even women.

Bosiljevar’s solution to this is to simply not make consent available to everyone unless they’re also willing to smash the patriarchy. First, we have to realize that all oppression is connected, and all rape is racist, classist, ableist, patriarchal, hetero and cissexist. We cannot make consent available to all if we are not simultaneously disrupting these structures.”

Bosiljevar gives an example of a sexual experience where, despite the man asking her “Is this ok?” and, in her own words, “If we are being legal about this, I said yes,” she actually really meant no. Since she admittedly gave consent without coercion or threat, clearly a new term would need to be introduced in order to make her a victim – and here we have the birth of “raped by rape culture.” In addition to insulting rape victims everywhere, such a claim introduces a very scary mindset: that if you happen to be a woman, you are incapable of saying yes and meaning it. While this may seem like an extreme example, it is one we’ve seen utilized by colleges and universities across the United States in recent years – and it’s catching steam.

In September of 2013, an unidentified man, “John Doe,” was accused of rape by an unidentified woman, “Jane Doe.” Despite being cleared by police – who determined that both parties were drunk, the sex was consensual, and it was a mutual engagement in poor judgment – Occidental College administrators evaluated the wealth of information in order to determine whether Jane Doe was a victim of rape. Both parties were severely inebriated, and while Jane Doe sent text messages – both to John Doe to see if he had a condom, and to a friend to brag about the fact that she was going to have sex – and went to John Doe’s room for consensual sex, one week later she revoked her consent, citing her level of intoxication as a factor to be considered for rape. This decision came after seeking counsel from the college’s assistant Professor of Sociology, Danielle Dirks, who told Jane Doe that the man she slept with “fit the profile of other rapists on campus in that he had a high GPA in high school, was his class valedictorian, was on a team of some sort (the specifics of the report were redacted), and he was ‘from a good family.’”

Occidental administrators opted to hire outside adjudicator Marilou Mirkovich to evaluate the circumstances of the case. In the lengthy report, it was determined that, while the sex was indeed consensual, Jane Doe was too incapacitated to meaningfully consent. Although John Doe’s level of incapacitation impaired his ability to meaningfully assess how much she meant her “yes,” a clause in Occidental’s sexual-assault policy determined John Doe was responsible for evaluating Jane Doe in the same capacity he would have had he been sober. The fact that, technically, both students were too drunk to either give or receive meaningful consent was never addressed, instead resulting in John Doe’s expulsion. After rejecting his appeal, Doe filed a lawsuit against Occidental.

The ideals introduced in Bosiljevar’s piece, when combined with the actions of Occidental College and many other higher learning institutions, champion for the ability of a woman to withdraw consent even weeks after a consensual sexual encounter has ended. When factoring in multiple documented occurrences of false claims, and the repeated defense of such false claims by feminist advocates, society has become desensitized to the gruesome act of rape.

Even the CDC questionnaire considers consensual sex when a person is “making promises about the future that they know are untrue,” “repeatedly asking for sex,” or “showing they were unhappy” factors when compiling their data for their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, stating “Sometimes unwanted sexual contact happens after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way.” Women can withdraw consent for a sexual act weeks after it occurs, yet men cannot withdraw consent for a relationship, lest it be rape. Because, if we’re being completely honest with each other, we know that’s what people really care about. Society has established that women consent and men obtain consent, a mindset that is evidenced by the FBI’s official definition of rape.

Rape is a severe and traumatizing crime. Equally as severe, however, is the experience someone falsely or irresponsibly accused of rape goes through. While there is no question that any sexual act should only occur if said act is consensual, it is becoming increasingly apparent that those giving consent need to be educated on their responsibility to do so knowledgeably and responsibly as well. Regret does not diminish consent. Treating women as though they are incapable of making meaningful decisions, and expecting men to telepathically know what is best for a woman, sounds an awful lot like that big bad patriarchy people keep talking about smashing.

Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.

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