Sunday, 10 March 2013

50. On her soft blue flowered rug

Amanda and I are lying on Amanda's living room floor, on her soft blue flowered rug, and talking about consent.

Consent - the rights and wrongs of when you are having consensual sex and when you are raping someone - is something I give a lot of thought to, as a sexual assault victim. My case is obviously very clear cut. There are few people who would argue that it was ok for a grown man to threaten an eight-year-old child into giving him a blow job.

Amanda has made Kir Royales. We are drinking them out of pint glasses, with pink bendy straws. Amanda's terrier Buffy is curled up on the wicker basket chair and Repo Man is playing on the TV. Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez are doing speed in the front seats of a car, and although Amanda has muted the sound I've seen the film enough times to know that Harry is saying "Ordinary fuckin' people. I hate them."

We got on to this subject because Amanda is incensed by a story her friend Jill told her. Jill went out one night, got drunk, and met a man. She went home with this man, but because she'd had too much to drink nothing happened; she passed out on his sofa and he put her under a quilt and went to bed. She woke up three hours later to find his flatmate - who had clearly just come in to find a strange drunk girl asleep on the sofa - giving her a vigorous fucking.

"What bothers me," says Amanda, "I mean - quite apart from the obvious reason why it would bother me - is that she doesn't appear to think there is anything wrong with it. I mean, she told it like it was a funny story. Like it was "Oops, I got really drunk and fell down the stairs in The Kasbah and now I have a bruise shaped exactly like Mauritius" funny. I was all like " got raped." And she said: "Well, not really," and, I mean, how is that not really rape? I mean, it wasn't even the same fucking guy! Not that it wouldn't have been rape, if it even was the same fucking guy!"

"Do you think the other guy knows?" I ask. "He put her to bed when she passed out. That was a nice thing to do. Do you think he knows?"

Amanda said: "I doubt it. Jill said this guy finished and went to his room without saying a word, but by then it was 5am and she was awake so she just left."

We think for a while. We drink Kir Royale.

"She wouldn't have a case," I say. I sympathise with this. I don't have a case. It's 27 years later, I have no name, no clear description, no evidence and no witnesses. One day I might see Matthew, walking around town. Maybe I have seen him. I don't remember him all that well. He could work in the same offices as me.

He away with it. And there is nothing I can do. And he has almost certainly done it to other children since, and there's nothing I can do about that either.

Jill also has no evidence and no witnesses. And in our current culture, it would be easy for the man to say she consented and she was just drunk. The guy who brought her home might testify that she passed out...or he might not. Bros before hos, right? Who would he believe? The drunk girl who came on to him and came home with him with the intention of having sex, or the guy he has presumably known for some time?

But how do you know when someone is consenting, or when they feel coerced? Some rapes are easy to concede. Penetrating someone who is unconscious, that's clearly rape. Having sex with someone who is so out of their mind on drink or drugs that they don't know where they are is clearly rape. Holding someone down and fucking them when they are struggling and trying to get away is clearly rape. Keeping going when someone says "No, no, stop I don't want this," that is clearly rape.

But there are other forms of coercion. There's guilt-tripping, and emotional blackmail, and anger when you refuse, and minimising how you feel.

There's the shamer: "Wow. I didn't think you were this uptight." There's the persuader: "How do you know you don't like anal if you've never tried it?" There's the therapist: "I know you have all these childhood issues, but you just need some good sex to help you get over it." There's the time honoured whiner: "But I really, really want to have sex." There's the guy who is a nice guy so why won't you, and the girl who has wanted you so much and after all this time can't she even...

And the end result is you have sex you don't want to have because you feel obliged or forced into it. And - although prevailing opinion among my peers is otherwise - situations like that are rape.

Although, unlike your standard physically coercive rape, these rapes occur also because, culturally speaking, both the predator and the victim feel that it is not "real" rape and so therefore they are less confident in - respectively - saying "no" and listening to "no". 

"Can't you just give me a blow-job?" Amanda mimicks, and we both fall about laughing.

She says: "The only solution is to get someone to say "Yes, I want to fuck," every time."

"Don't you think that's a bit impractical?"

She shakes her head. "No. It's kind of sexy, actually, getting them to say the words. But then, I'm a talker."

"What about if you're in a relationship and you're really attuned and you know you both want to have sex?"

She thinks about it. "I guess that's ok. But how do you know you're attuned?"

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