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Rape, “she never said no,” “he crossed the line”? Help make “consent” crystal clear.
May 1, 2006 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Rape, “she never said no,” “he crossed the line”? Help make “consent” crystal clear, for people you know and maybe succeeding generations too.

Prompted by this and subsequent comments about the responsibility of men as well as women for reducing rape risks, please contribute your thoughts and experiences regarding the following questions about what men and women can do to 1. make consent crystal clear, and 2. create an atmosphere where even less-than-honorable men do right, out of peer pressure, or to be cool.
Part 1: how to make consent unmistakeable, in the heat of the moment?
Part 2a: would making Part 1 issues a common, ordinary, or at least necessary topic of discussion, between fathers & sons, mothers & daughters, siblings, and friends of both sexes, help reduce rape risks? (For parents at least, like the “So here's where babies really come from” talk – uncomfortable, but part of being a responsible parent.)
2b. If yes, how to introduce such issues - especially between guys and their buddies?

Men, Part 1:
What have you concluded about “How do I know for sure she's ok with it? How can I make sure I don't cross the line?”
Examples: In situations where she said 'no' and I backed off some but not entirely, what gave me the idea that she was ok with me continuing but more slowly?
How would I tell the difference between a woman changing her mind from 'no' to 'yes', vs. a woman stopping fighting but still not wanting it?
How can I be sure I know when it's ok to go from making out to boob-groping to heavy petting to all the way?
In situations where she changed her mind from 'yes' to 'no', what gave me the understanding that I needed to back off?
If there were times when she wanted me to get a bit rough (holding her wrists, using a tight grip, or otherwise being forceful), how did I know for sure she wanted it that way?
If there was a time when I (or a friend) thought the line was bright and I (or a friend) honest-to-God thought I (he) was on the right side of it, but later found out she thought I (he) had crossed it...what contributed to the confusion?

Women, Part I:
What have you concluded about "How can I be sure that I am clear about my desires? How can I be clear about where the line is?”
Examples: In situations where I changed my mind from 'no' to 'yes', how did I communicate this to my partner?
When I (or a friend) changed my (her) mind from 'yes' to 'no', or when I (or a friend) was ok with making out but nothing else and my (her) partner was pushing to go further, how did I (she) express resistance and how did it work?
If there were times when I (or a friend) never said 'no' so it wasn't legally rape, but neither was it my (or her) decision, how did those situations unfold?

Both parties, Part I: Would it make things crystal clear, especially for younger or more inexperienced guys, or for older guys with new partners, to make sure they incorporate a phrase like “Is going all the way [or whatever] something you want?” into sexual banter?

It seems to me that it would be extremely helpful for as many people as possible to talk about these things, expecially between guys, and as often as we hear that “Women should do such-and-such to reduce the risk of stranger rape”. Help to create a culture where communication is crystal clear, both men and women can reduce the risk of people they care about being involved in damaging situations, and people who are sexual asshats constantly face messages that their behaviour is unacceptable and will incur unpleasant consequences.

To discourage misunderstandings about anybody blaming anybody else for anything, if you comment on another poster's story, please frame responses in terms of what you would pray your sons and daughters would do/say in such a situation. (or at least, NOT “Poster XXX should or could have done/said blah blah blah.”)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus to Human Relations (38 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: this makes little sense, it appears to be chatting about consent without a purpose

 
My guess is if the girl is not climbing all over you, the answer is no.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:37 AM on May 1, 2006


My guess is if the girl is not climbing all over you, the answer is no.

Right on. Any time where there's even the slightest hint that you're entering a grey area, back out.

If you really have to check with a girl to make sure she's consenting, something's going wrong.
posted by maxreax at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2006


I third this sentiment. There shouldn't be any ambiguity here. A good idea may be not to sleep with someone who has been drinking seriously until you've already slept with them sober. I think that would take care of 95% of problems.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2006


Honestly, these conversations have become so cumbersome and exasperating! What's so complicated about any of this?

Most of your questions can just be rephrased in the form of statements, providing your answers.

I changed my mind from 'no' to 'yes.'
I changed my mind from 'yes' to 'no'
I'm ok with making out but nothing else.
Is going all the way [or whatever] something you want?

There is too much mystification around these fears and ideas. People have some superstitious fear of 'breaking the mood', and so they neglect to negotiate. When in fact, negotiation is part of the mood. If you can't talk about sex, you're probably not ready to be having sex, either in general, or with a specific new partner.
posted by Miko at 10:45 AM on May 1, 2006


Its quite simple actually. There are situations where a woman might be saying maybe, or might be saying no. Assume its no every time and you are fine. Its better to be sure that you are doing the right thing than to commit a terrible crime.

Some people feel like if they move forward the person will figure out what they want and decide they do want to go further. Sometimes this does happen but it isn't worth the risk that you might be hurting someone (and committing a crime) terribly. No woman or man is worth this.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:49 AM on May 1, 2006


It's hard to say. these days it seems that no matter what, what the guy wanted (or thought) doesn't matter at all if the girl decides that she regrets it the next day and suddenly feels 'raped.'

Answer to "“How do I know for sure she's ok with it? How can I make sure I don't cross the line?”" is "Open up and communicate. Let her know that if she's uncomfortable with anything to please speak up."
Although it's a nice gesture, there's no guarantee that it'll work. She could still clam up and then hate you later. This will be a problem until we develop mind-reading hats or something.

I still think that it all boils down to a couple of things: try to get to know the person a bit more first, and above all, communicate and be open about everything. Set expectations and set limits.
posted by drstein at 10:52 AM on May 1, 2006


If there were times when I (or a friend) never said 'no' so it wasn't legally rape, but neither was it my (or her) decision, how did those situations unfold?

Um, that is rape.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2006


In a legal sense? I was paraphrasing the story of a girl I know.

Also, everybody's responding to Part I. Thoughts on Part 2?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:56 AM on May 1, 2006


If there were times when I (or a friend) never said 'no' so it wasn't legally rape, but neither was it my (or her) decision, how did those situations unfold?

Um, that is rape.


Oh come on. It's not practical, logical, fair, or intelligent to view things so black and white.
posted by xmutex at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2006


OK, then Part 2:

would making Part 1 issues a common, ordinary, or at least necessary topic of discussion, between fathers & sons, mothers & daughters, siblings, and friends of both sexes, help reduce rape risks?

The answer is yes.
posted by Miko at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2006


This is not what ask mefi is for; chatfilter.
posted by Justinian at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2006


Thanks, Miko. Thoughts on Part 2b - how? Especially between guys. Because in my experience, my women friends are open to talking about these things, and my guy friends say talking about such things is a big reason why they like having women friends. But when I ask guy friends what they talk about with other guys, they say "sports, work, politics" - very little that's personal, much less personal AND very likely taboo.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2006


Fair to whom? The legal definition of rape is having sex without someone's consent. It doesn't have to do with what a person says or not. The only situation where a person cannot be convicted of rape given the facts as you have them is if that person has no idea whatsoever that the other person is not consenting. Otherwise you have the mens rea (state of mind) for rape. If you think you might be forcing it and you in fact are, and you continue regardless, that's rape. That's first year criminal law.

Its never worth it.

To bring it on to the original question--you have to be clear about what you want and willing to take no for an answer. If you think the answer is no, even if they don't say no in so many words, you should not go forward. It isn't worth it and its morally wrong. Black and white is important in some situations--prevents the wrong thing from happening.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 AM on May 1, 2006


Are you trying to apply general behavorial guidelines to the diversity of the individual? That's impossible and this is just chat.
posted by geoff. at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2006


As for part 2, good luck. Guys don't really talk about this stuff at all. I've never had this type of conversation without women present. It would have to be in the schools, because I am rarely wanting to just converse on this subject.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:13 AM on May 1, 2006


I intended to get practical suggestions on how to encourage (suggestions for specific phrases) my friends to bring up Part I issues with the men and women in their lives.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:19 AM on May 1, 2006


Apologies for not making that clear. Does that intent still qualify as chatfilter?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:24 AM on May 1, 2006


Open communication all the way.

I think people must always, always assume that "no" means "no". Yes, there are people who say "no" but mean "yes", whether to tease or to feel better about the act in the morning or something else. These people are playing dangerous games, and are too emotionally immature to be having sex anyway.

I think there seriously needs to be more communication in between the sexes about what defines consent. I get the feeling there is a major disconnect about vitally important things involving sex.

For example, I have been pretty horrified while talking with my guy friends during discussions of harassment versus flattery. One of my friends said a girl dancing in the club shouldn't be upset if some guy gropes her--she's at a club, and he just thinks she's attractive! I have yet to meet a female who feels the same way.
posted by schroedinger at 11:28 AM on May 1, 2006


I'm so glad we are talking about this. It seems like most rape discussions are of the "he said she said" variety, or of what makes a "legal" rape. Statistics show that most rapes are not done by strangers, and most rapes go unreported. This is true for me personally, for more than a few friends of mine have confineded in me that they have been raped. Each situation happened when they where in high school, and none told cops or even their parents. Some say they didnt tell their parents because they were drinking at a party and didnt want to get in trouble. Some say the couldnt report it because they never fought the guy off, so maybe he didnt know he was raping.

I suppose the key here is parenting. For instance, if I had a son and a daughter, my parenting would go as follows:

To both: I know illegal drinking is going to come up sooner or later. While I hope you dont drink, if you do, know that your judgement will be impared and you cannot drive. If you call me drunk from a party I will pick you up. I will be upset, but you safety comes first.

To the daughter: If you are drunk at a party with drunk boys, understand that you are an even easier target for rape. That doesnt mean a boy cant stop himself, he can! Please be clear to a boy if you dont like something he is doing. He can stop at anytime, even if you have allowed him to touch you or he is obviously aroused, he can still stop. Dont be embarrassed to tell him to stop, no matter how far you let him go. If a boy forces any sexual act with you, please call me and I will pick you up. Please dont be afraid of me just because you were doing something I dont allow (drinking).

To the son: Son, I know you are at an age where you are being romantic with girls. I want you to know that when with a girl you must always be articulate of your desires, and hyperaware of her desires. If she doesnt seem sure then stop. I know that you are a good boy and would never intentionally force yourself on a girl, but in situations were drinking is involved things get blurry. A girl may seem comfortable with you, kiss you even, but if she is drunk know that her judgment is impared. Even if she doesnt fight you off, you would be taking advantage of her if you take things further. If you two like each other, then wait until she is sober and then ask her how she wants to proceed.
posted by hellameangirl at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2006


What have you concluded about “How do I know for sure she's ok with it? How can I make sure I don't cross the line?”
Examples: In situations where she said 'no' and I backed off some but not entirely, what gave me the idea that she was ok with me continuing but more slowly?
How would I tell the difference between a woman changing her mind from 'no' to 'yes', vs. a woman stopping fighting but still not wanting it?


If she's going along with it, keep going until she indicates that she doesn't want to progress. If you think there's a need to continue, but to go more slowly, call it off. You're too ham-handed for her, or she's really not into it. Either way, you're asking for trouble. The best way to avoid this scenario is to be patient and progress slowly. If you did that and she still calls it off, she's having second thoughts/is a tease and you need to kick her out/leave.

How can I be sure I know when it's ok to go from making out to boob-groping to heavy petting to all the way?

You don't know unless she tells you. She probably won't, so proceed after sufficient time has passed and be prepared to stop entirely if she balks.

In situations where she changed her mind from 'yes' to 'no', what gave me the understanding that I needed to back off?

Anything from her hand moving yours, to saying no, to her hand moving to the pepper spray.

If there were times when she wanted me to get a bit rough (holding her wrists, using a tight grip, or otherwise being forceful), how did I know for sure she wanted it that way?

First time and you don't already know her well? Jesus, don't.

If there was a time when I (or a friend) thought the line was bright and I (or a friend) honest-to-God thought I (he) was on the right side of it, but later found out she thought I (he) had crossed it...what contributed to the confusion?

Booze.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2006


Part 1: Non-consent is always obvious. Guys either choose to ignore it, or are damaged to the point where they can't see it.
Part 2a: I could definitely see this going into an advanced parental birds & bees discussion.
Part 2b: Most guys don't discuss things like this at a peer level. I would concentrate on part 2a.
posted by poppo at 11:40 AM on May 1, 2006


also, Part 1's long exposition is to facilitate data collection, the content of which would help me figure out how to initiate or phrase such encouragements appropriately.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:41 AM on May 1, 2006


Clarification: I realize my use of "damaged" could be taken for "intoxicated". I didn't mean it that way. I meant someone who had a broken home, terrible childhood, or any other significant trauma with which they have not been able to deal with properly.
posted by poppo at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2006


Poppo, in you view, absolutely no possibility of 2b? eg, guys watching nightly news on tv. Duke U story comes up. One guy says, "Hard to tell who's right & wrong, huh? Reminds me of an interesting thread on a discussion board recently, about whether consent has "grey areas"...Like one time, I was making out with this hot girl, and..."

no way that'll get anywhere, ever?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2006


In a way, it's VERY simple:

Any time where there's even the slightest hint that you're entering a grey area, back out. --maxreax

I agree that this is a surefire way to avoid rape. And rape SHOULD be avoided, and maybe we have to give up some other stuff in order TO avoid it.

But the gender politics involved are NOT simple. The complexity ties into a common issue between men and women (naturally, I'm generalizing here -- there are plenty of men and women who don't fit these types):

she: I want you to understand nuanced social cues.
he: I only understand overt social cues.

The truth is, sometimes no means no, sometimes it means maybe, sometimes it means I'm not sure, sometimes it means yes. This is what's wonderful and exasperating about human communication. This is why we don't yet have (and aren't even close to having) artificial intelligence. Humans who can process social nuances are devoting tons of complex brain machinery to the task. And even they make mistakes, because so much is open to a variety of interpretation.

Heck, my wife and I sometimes misunderstand each other when we're making a grocery list. How much more rife for misunderstanding is the realm of flirtation -- which is, by its nature, an indirect form of communication?

A man who wants to avoid offending women (broadening this a bit beyond rape) is stuck if he also wants to flirt with them. With flirtation comes risk. Please, I'm NOT saying flirtation leads to rape. Much of the time it leads to harmless fun. But there IS a possible danger of misinterpretation if the signals are to complex and the receiver is confused.

Each woman (and man) is unique, and this throws another monkeywrench into the mix. Rules don't work -- unless they are really conservative (i.e. no always means no.) -- because when Jane says no she means something different from what Kelly means when SHE says no. Men -- if they want to play without the possibility of harm -- need to learn how to read people. And this is hard for many of them.

As a young guy, I was raised in a feminist household. I was taught to be respectful of women. Trouble was, I was OVERLY respectful. So much so that I became the "nice guy" and was mystified that women wanted to befriend me but wanted to sleep with the "bad boys."

I'll embarrass myself with one example (this sort of thing played itself out over and over in my youth). I was once in the park with a woman that I was really attracted to. We'd been talking for hours -- deep, soulful conversation. The conversation turned to romance, and we talked about our experiences (though I didn't have much to contribute). After about an hour of this, she said, "What about you and me?"

I tried to parse that sentence in my head. Did that mean she was interested in me romantically? Did she want me to make a move? Would a move offend her? Should I just SAY I'm interested?

I didn't know what the RIGHT thing to say was (that's part of the problem with us literal-thinking guys -- the delusion that there's always a "right" thing to say.) And I felt that to make a move, even to take her hand or kiss her, without 100% certainty that this is what she wanted -- without any gray areas -- was a form of rape. So I just sort of stammered, "uh, I don't know."

There as a long pause. Finally, she looked down and said, "Well, if anything was going to happen between us, it probably would have happened already." Even after she said THAT, I didn't get it. It took me years to understand. Meanwhile, my FEMALE friends chided me and told me that I should have grabbed her and kissed her.

Even with more equal gender roles, many women still want men to make the first move; and they also want the men to figure out -- via subtle cues -- what the first move should be or whether they should even be a move. And, of courses, often the woman isn't sure whether or not she wants the man to make a move, so her signals are ambiguous from confusion in addition to from playfullness.

I think this is why many men like strip clubs and hookers. It's NOT just because they're horny. It's because they're dying to relate to women, but they want to relate in an overt way. They want the rules to be crystal clear.

In my 30s, I finally learned to read people well enough to tread the line between respect and (playful) aggression. I learned that girls are sometimes attracted to assholes, because assholes are confident and girls like confidence -- and most of the nice guys don't radiate confidence (they're too busy second-guessing themselves). But these lessons were VERY hard for me to learn. I think they are hard for many men. They involve a kind of outside-the-box thinking that is unnatural to the typical male brain.
posted by grumblebee at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2006


"What's so complicated about any of this?"--miko

I think it complicated for immature people, and I'd say all rapists are immature.

"I have been pretty horrified while talking with my guy friends during discussions of harassment versus flattery. One of my friends said a girl dancing in the club shouldn't be upset if some guy gropes her--she's at a club, and he just thinks she's attractive!"--schroedinger

This is where part 2b. comes into play. I hope you responded to this friend timely him "No, she isnt asking to be groped, dude, grow up." I've also heard guys say some nasty things and sometimes, a lone, brave soul speaks up.
Example: At a bar I overheard some college aged dudes talking about porn. One guy says: "Man, I love the throat-fucking scenes in that one!" the other guys chuckle. One guy whinces and says, "dude, thats just...wrong." Every bit counts.
posted by hellameangirl at 11:56 AM on May 1, 2006


Marry him first. End of story.
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:59 AM on May 1, 2006


"Initiate or phrase such encouragements appropriately?" I hate to ask the questioner here, but what's the intent and purpose here? If it's to be clear and honest in your interactions, then that's the answer in itself -- be clear and honest. If it's to discuss the pitfalls of communication, then that's probably the solution as well.

If it's ever unclear whether someone is giving consent, then proceed very cautiously. There's a cultural assumption that I think is completely outdated where it's considered "proper" for a woman to put up a pretense of disagreement. This is amazingly unlikely to actually happen in reality. If she's not having it, then she's not having it.

In any case, "data collection?" We could use a more honest line of questioning to know where you're going with this.
posted by mikeh at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2006


grumblebee's comment has been flagged as fantastic. You're on a roll today, grumble.
posted by agropyron at 12:03 PM on May 1, 2006


I recall that a university (Brown?) had a code of conduct that explicitly called for the guy to get explicit verbal consent for every physical advance he made. "Is it ok if I touch you here?" "is it ok if I touch you here?" I also recall this engendered a great deal of snarkiness. I wasn't able to dig it up.

Frankly, I think that level of explicitness is unrealistic. I'm pretty sure I never would have gotten laid if I acted like that. I was a little too forward with a girl once. She put a stop to it, I backed off, and felt terrible about it. On a later occasion with a different girl, I actually was almost as explicit as this code, and she flat-out laughed at me.

Conclusion: there needs to be a gray area. There needs to be the possibility of over-reaching, but women need to be clear and unembarrassed when it's happening, and men need to take women seriously when they say "stop."

The "no means yes" scenario is too fucked-up for me to get into. Women shouldn't play coy like that, and shouldn't expect men to be mind-readers. And men shouldn't pretend that they are mind-readers.
posted by adamrice at 12:11 PM on May 1, 2006


My students tell me that what's complicated about this today is conscious consent - in other words, saying Yes while drunk, but thinking No when sober later.
posted by A189Nut at 12:18 PM on May 1, 2006


Mikeh: I'm a happily married hetero woman. I think if more people, especially guys, talked about Part I issues, then there'd be fewer date rapes. I wanted to know if other people agreed with this reasoning. If they agreed, I wanted to get their suggestions on how to initiate discussions with the men and women in my life, and how to make those discussions self-perpetuating.

I've known and listened to girls' and women's stories, IRL and on discussion boards, about date rape, and sex that they considered wasn't exactly rape but wasn't consensual either (their words). I have ideas about guys' perceptions of such events, but since I may have subconscious biases, I thought it'd be useful to actually ask guys about Part 1 issues. I've already asked my husband, who told an anecdote about 1., agreed with 2., and said he'd have to think about 2b.

Where I'm going with this is, I want to help reduce date rape by starting contagious conversations about how people of both sexes can haul these issues into the open.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:21 PM on May 1, 2006


Antioch was the college with the ridiculous code of conduct (although maybe others followed suit).

These questions would all be very easy if seduction wasn't part of sex. The turning of a "no" into a "yes" is part of sex and seduction is a valid way of accomplishing that goal (boith for men and women). But seduction is blurry and at the edges it bleeds into rape.
posted by Falconetti at 12:22 PM on May 1, 2006


I find it interesting how rape discussions always assume a male rapist, female victim. Half the sexual assault victims I know are male (molested in childhood by other men, molested in adulthood by either men or women--one was raped by his wife, with whom he had months before cut off all sexual relations both verbally and by subsequent action, when under the influence of multiple sleeping medications. He thought he'd had a strange and frightening dream, then found a condom in the trash can).

Crossing the line is a male or a female action. Rape is serious, and it's a wrong that when two people mutually cross the line when intoxicated or caught up in the moment, it's easy for a woman to later claim rape due to inability to give informed consent--not just a tragedy for the supposed rapist, but for all those who've truly been taken against their will.
posted by Cricket at 12:23 PM on May 1, 2006


"Like one time, I was making out with this hot girl, and..."

I can't see it happening, but maybe other guys here will disagree with me.
posted by poppo at 12:26 PM on May 1, 2006


Cricket, I agree that crossing the line can be a male or female action. Just to explain, the "male rapist / female victim" assumption of my post derived from the Metafilter thread I linked to, which was explicitly focused on male rapist / female victim.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2006


Always ask questions,
don't make assumptions, don't guess
Like, is this ok?
posted by edgeways at 12:28 PM on May 1, 2006


From watching my younger (college-age) brothers, I suspect no 2b. discussions will occur. They think a good answer to "what happened today?" is "stuff." (Even when talking to each other.) I think it'll be well-timed eyerolling and snark that communicates what is honorable or makes respecting women a matter of peer pressure. "He did what to get some? Loser."

'Course, as a 28 year old female, I have no idea how to sway their thoughts on this matter at all. Especially without being preachy. Maybe by talking with the third brother (younger than me, older than them) while they're riding in the back seat. I think they look up to him (or both of us) and would accept it as "the right way to be" if they realized we both thought that way.

I'm really interested in hearing other's thoughts and hope this question isn't deleted as chat. It strikes me as a real "how to" dilemna -- how to get these conversations started, how best to affect culture in this direction?
posted by salvia at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2006


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