Thursday, 19 November 2015

A clarification: sexual assault is a bad thing

I'm feeling a bit ooky about my last post. Like, I think it would take a determined case of squinty selective reading to get "sexual assault isn't always that bad" from what I wrote, but it's a possibility, and it's not a possibility I want to live with. So.

Sexual assault is really fucking bad. You should not do it. Just so we're clear on that.

What I meant to say was that different people react to experiences in different ways because they are different people in different circumstances with different histories.

About four hundred blogyears ago, Harriet J talked about how we all unconsciously set our own "acceptable" levels of sexual harassment: that, at one stage in her life, she classed getting catcalled several times a day as "acceptable", because it was unavoidable; to class it as "unacceptable" would make it impossible for her to leave the house. Similarly, I think I have classed a certain amount of a certain type of sexual assault as "tolerable": not that I don't get freaked out sometimes, or kick off at the dude if I feel safe enough and if I have it in me that day; "tolerable" as in it is a really unpleasant but survivable (and, thankfully, rare) aspect of my life. That tolerance level has varied over the years, and I would imagine other people's levels vary from person to person and individually over time.

Or, in short: people react to sexual assault in different ways according to a variety of factors, and the fact that one person's response to one incident at one particular moment in time was not either "suicidal misery" or "homicidal rage" does not imply that sexual assault as a whole is not A Bad Thing.

Like: I have a friend who survived an abusive relationship. Since that time, she's experimented with BDSM, and enjoys being tied up - but she finds being pinned down by someone using only their own bodyweight unbearably triggering. If you hadn't had a chat with her about this beforehand, there's no way you could know that; if you skip the "having a chat" section of sex prep and hope that these things will just flow from one brain to the other via ESP and your interaction will magically turn out blissfully, it's entirely likely that what you see as a non-aggressive move in your mating dance will prompt a massive fucking freak out on her part.

So if you make a habit of jizzing on unconscious people without asking prior permission, you're going to get a variety of different responses, ranging from "mmm, crusty face" to "what the bastarding motherFUCK do you think you're doing" via unintelligible weeping, and probably a good few more.

But even if you do obtain permission first, you are still committing an assault: the person you plan to spunk on will be asleep at the time of the spunking, and sleeping people cannot give consent.

Some people like being woken up by someone going down on them. Some people also like being hit on the butt with a spanking paddle. Because our collective attitudes to non-sexual violence are slightly less fucked up than our attitudes to sexual violence (and because 'enjoying pain' is a minority condition, whereas 'enjoying sex' is erroneously assumed to be universal) it's fairly uncontroversial to say that hitting someone on the butt with a weapon is an actual crime unless the person you're hitting says something as unambiguous as "please hit me on the butt with this spanking paddle".

And the point is that exactly the same thing is true of sex.

Keeping in mind the fact that having sex with someone is an actual crime unless they unambiguously communicate something along the lines of "I would very much like to have sex with you right now, please" is the only way to avoid that infamous Grey Area.

The thing about sexual contact with unconscious people is that by definition there is no way to make it consensual: they're asleep. They can't consent, because they also can't withhold consent, because they can't communicate anything, because they're fucking asleep. So even if someone says, "I would very much like you to wake me up by putting your tongue on my genitals tomorrow morning, please!", when you put your tongue on their unconscious body you are still committing an assault. Even if they wake up all breathy and orgasmic and thank you profusely for rocking their world, baby, all the stuff that happened when they were unconscious? Still an assault.

Even if they asked you to do it, they might wake up freaked out or pissed off or disgusted or just realising that they didn't enjoy it as much as they expected to, and you need to be prepared for that. You need to be ready to stop at the drop of a hat with no warning and no recriminations. Not sulk because "but you told me to!".

The conclusion isn't "don't do it". The conclusion is "if someone asks you to do it, talk about it, a lot, for the love of all that is holy, and be even more aware of consent issues than you usually should be".

I'm going on about this at such length because I worry about the exact opposite of the argument I spoke about in the last post -
Some people get awfully nervous when you describe transgressions like that as "sexual assault", despite the fact that the events meet the dictionary definition. The argument is that if you include "lesser", "less traumatic", "less extreme" acts within that category, people will take the category as a whole less seriously because it's been diluted by these things that "aren't really a big deal".
- instead, I worry that if we aren't crystal fucking clear that these "lesser" violations are absolutely included in the category of Sexual Assault, it's way too easy to restrict that category to an ever smaller pool. To say, "if waking someone up with a blow job is okay, then sex with unconscious people in general must be okay".

And, y'know. It isn't. I'd love to believe we were all agreed that any kind of sex in the absence of an enthusiastic uncoerced YES is assault, is illegal, is wrong, but we don't live in that world, do we?

No comments:

Post a Comment