Wednesday, February 03, 2010

University Police Chief Sends Mixed Message About Rape

From the Red and Black student newspaper article about a student who reported rape:

Rape isn’t the stranger crime everyone thinks it is,” [University Police Chief Jimmy] Williamson said. “In roughly 84 percent of rapes, the woman knows the attacker. With all the drinking, hooking up and so forth, we create situations that, unfortunately, leave a lot of victims in the aftermath. Relationships are complicated as it is. Overconsumption just muddies the water even more.”

In Georgia, any sexual contact without consent is considered rape. However, it’s not unusual for both parties to have a different idea of whether consent was given.

“When having sexual relations, we try to teach young adults to make it clear what your expectations are,” Williamson said. “Communication is key to setting expectations, but when you mix in alcohol, communication breaks down. You need to communicate verbally, but also use body language. If she slaps your hand away, that probably means no.”

Relationships may be complicated, but true legal consent is not a complicated concept. If there is any room for confusion related to consent you don't have what is needed to proceed.

This police chief missed the opportunity to inform students that guesswork and assumptions are not legal consent and that legal consent requires all involved knowing they are freely consenting to each particular action. Consent to one action cannot be taken as consent for anything beyond that one action. This doesn't change because the person who didn't consent to that particular action didn't clearly set expectations and limits.

Limits exist by default since consent is a positive temporary action not the absence of a negative action.

What this police chief's statement feels like is a promotion of the idea that there can be no-fault rapes. There can't. The person who proceeds without consent is always legally responsible for violating the law. If these people didn't intend harm the contribution to them committing rape comes from those who helped convince them that what they were doing without the other person's consent wasn't a sex crime.

If you assume or guess someone is consenting and you are wrong, you have committed a sex crime. Period. Making absolutely sure the other person has freely consented may be seen by some as a hassle, but it is less of a hassle than being rightfully accused of a sex crime.

If so much alcohol is involved that either party has gotten to the point where communication and/or the ability to think is impaired then the only way to ensure legal consent is to wait until the impairment no longer exists. If the water is muddied by alcohol or anything else then ensuring true consent is impossible and again the only way to ensure legal consent is to wait.

This is true even if someone was an active, willing participant beforehand. Whatever was going on must stop. This is true whether the other person passed out or is not currently capable of making informed decisions.

If someone slaps your hand away then that must be treated as an absolute no not a probable no. If it truly means something else besides no then a continuation needs to come from the other person in such a way that miscommunication cannot be possible. If it meant, "I'm just ticklish in that spot and I'd rather you touched me in another spot," then that needs to be clearly and freely communicated by the other person.

Rape is not caused by a breakdown of communication, it is caused by the belief that someone else's communication or lack of communication can excuse continuing without that person's freely given consent.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:08 AM   3 comments links to this post


At February 03, 2010 9:29 AM, Anonymous gidget commando said...

Why affirmative consent is SUCH a difficult concept for some people to understand boggles me.

At February 03, 2010 12:32 PM, Anonymous Acey said...

Affirmative consent is not such a challege. An old boyfriend of mine would say, "Would you like to have sex with me? Right now?" And then he would check in with me as things went along. It wasn't any less fun or less romantic. And he knew whether there was enthusiastic consent.

At February 05, 2010 11:02 PM, Blogger Rj said...

i've generally the had same experience as Acey. such a plain and simple concept. those who don't get it, don't want to. Surely it's called entitlement.


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