Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Text Before Sex" and Proving Consent

I just read the article posted by Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN, titled "Jones: Young men, text before sex" you can, and should, read it here.

This article is well intentioned - she wants sexual assault to end and she wants her son to be healthy and safe while he's at college. But her subscription to a couple of common rape myths, and ignorance of some little-known facts, makes her article just another victim blaming, convoluting, confusing, piece of rape culture.

Jones basically expresses a belief that having proof of consent (in this case, in the form of text messages) is important to protect young men from false accusations of rape.

I have mixed feeling about this tactic. On one hand, I appreciate any attempt to make discussions about sex and consent commonplace. On the other hand, I'm disgusted by the emphasis on avoiding false allegations of rape because they don't happen very often. In fact, for every unfounded report of rape there are around 15 founded reports. And guess what else? Just because a case gets recorded as being "unfounded" doesn't mean that the rape didn't happen, so there's something to think about. Honestly, it's ridiculous that people focus on protecting people from being falsely accused instead of protecting people from sexual violence considering how often each happens.

But if this texting thing can help clear the muddy waters of consent, isn't it a good thing, regardless of the ulterior motive? Well, in that one way, yes. But that isn't what ends up happening. A person who really does consent, in person and not just over a text message, will, likely, not be reporting a rape later.

On the other side of things, consider the following situation:

A man texts a woman he is friends with,
"Hey! We should hook up tonight. What do you think? Are you DTF?" (For those of you who don't know, DTF stands for "down to fuck" It's a particularly crude and casual way to ask for consent.) So the woman texts back,
"Of course! How could I resist you? ;)"

Knowing nothing else about these people there is already gray area... were either of these people being serious? Was this an inside joke? Do they both know whether the other was being serious or not?

For the sake of the argument, however, we'll assume they both understand the other and they are, in fact, consenting to sexual activity.

Now, what if the next time this man sees the woman she has had several drinks. Does the previous consent still apply?

See how the gray area just keeps popping up? 

The thing is that we already have a lot of guidelines and rules and advice out there about how to prove consent was not withheld: text messages, listening particularly for the words "No" and "Stop," making assumptions based on previous sexual partners or activities, etc. and ALL of these leave room for "gray area," for "he said - she said," for doubt and discussion.

As a culture, we need to stop focusing on whether or not consent was clearly withheld and/or granted in the past and begin to focus on the concept of whether or not consent is obvious and enthusiastic when the actual activity occurs.

The article by Jones ends with her telling her readers to stay away from the drunk, party girls; the implication is that those are the girls who are in the best position to later make a rape accusation.
I agree with her sentiment, but not with her reasoning.
Dear readers, you should stay away from sexual activity with drunk people, but not because they may later accuse you of rape, because you may be committing a rape especially considering that an intoxicated person is not, legally, capable of consenting.
The concepts Jones expresses are great, but unless it's presented in a way that doesn't slut-shame, and/or imply that false accusations are a common issue, it does more harm than good by further cementing rape myths.

A person with such a broad following should be more responsible. Better advice for young men would be to learn what consent really is. I'll end with a definition for those of you who aren't too sure:

Consent: Voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
-A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.


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