Silence gives consent?

Consent sounds like it’s cut and dried. I say yes or I say no. But contested rape cases, hazily remembered or uncomfortable evenings, or scenes with no safeword point to fuzzier boundaries.

I was discussing this with friends recently, and brought up the following incident. I don’t think I’ve posted it before so here ya go:

I was about 18, and working in a bar. A friend was meeting a colleague she fancied (let’s be topical and call him P), but the colleague was bringing a mate (NP) so I was drafted into a classic wingman role, and went to meet them all once my shift was done.

The evening must’ve gone ok (I remember pints in a chain pub; Edwards I think) because we all ended up back at P’s mum’s suburban semi. My friend and P disappeared, leaving NP and I alone.

He was pretty easy to get on with – chatty, decent sense of humour – and after a while we started making out on the sofa. Fairly pedestrian stuff, probably a bit of biting (anyone who knows me is nodding now) but no indication or discussion of anything kinkier.

Then NP suggested we went upstairs. I think he must’ve known the house well cos he led us straight to a spare room – I can still picture the single bed opposite the door and a window with white metal venetian blinds.

Some more making out, with me ending up on my back with my arms thrown above my head. I was naked, he wasn’t really, and he was five years and probably almost five stone bigger than me. So when the dude sat on me and put a knee on each of my arms, I was completely pinned in place.

Having sensibly kept both hands free, NP then proceeded to masturbate until he came on my face. He didn’t ask me if this would be ok, and I certainly didn’t see it coming (ha ha, sob). He just restrained me and went for it.

Now, my 30-year-old, women’s rights, sexual rights and communication-championing self is quick to call this a violation. Plenty of people enjoy being pinned down and covered in come, but etiquette suggests one finds out before rather than after whether this is someone’s thing.

In absolute terms, I don’t believe consent can be assumed. I didn’t have the opportunity to say no before the dude started, so I can’t be said to have consented. But this gets fuzzy because there is a sliding scale of sexy stuff people do, and we don’t always seek consent for simpler actions, eg, asking permission to kiss someone.

We are also pretty good at gaining consent through trial and error without traumatising one another. A wandering hand is moved somewhere more benign or gently stopped from opening a fly without it being a big deal.

But assuming consent with a stranger can be hard to get right, and trial and error when you’re playing edgier games can be risky. Pinning someone down or coming over their face are aggressive moves that could trigger unpleasant memories and lead to full scale freak-outs.

Of course, I could have asked the guy to stop – whether he did or not would have removed any uncertainty from the question of consent. But here’s the thing; however irresponsible they guy was, I’ve never felt any negativity toward him.

I, er, appreciated the experience, and although I acknowledge that in a model system I should have had the opportunity to say no, that would have made it a different encounter – one that wasn’t so enjoyably dark.

This fuzziness leads me to an unexpected coda. While discussing Singapore’s dictatorship with a local colleague he asked “Why would I want to vote when I don’t want to change anything?” Why indeed? Except when the time comes that we do want change we could discover we have no voice.

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1 Comment»

  s wrote @

and they came for …. and I kept quiet as I was not one of them…etc.

Then they came for me and I found there was no-one left to speak up for me…


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