This is our truth, tell us yours
Content Note for sexual assault and consensual BDSM
In my first week at university I, like thousands of other freshers went to a party, and got drunk. This was an official party, organised by a Hall of Residence to welcome all the newcomers. Towards the end of the night I ended up in a toilet with a man significantly older than me trying to fuck me. When it became clear that wasn’t happening he pushed me to my knees, and for want of another way of putting it fucked my face instead. I was found later on, crying, in the same toilet by someone who became one of my closest friends. Its only now I realise she didn’t ask what had happened, she didn’t need too.
He was a PHD student and every so often our paths would cross, I would feel sick and scared, and he would smile and wink. At the time I thought he was some kind of psychopath, now I realise he simply didn’t know he had assaulted me, that his self concept did not include either the desire not to rape, or the idea that he could.
My understanding of consent has been formed by my experiences as a sex worker, a submissive and a survivor. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason conversations around consent ignore the really important issues is because people have never had to think more deeply than a simple yes/no binary. A recent happier story might explain better what I mean. My fellow traveller here has had to change his plans a few times due to my mental health, or simply being tired. It’s always something I struggle with, head filled with ideas of what a good submissive should be like. It happened again this week, when stress from one area of my life spilled over into another. When we met I was desperate to not have the threatened coffee and chat. (What else do you think a sadist threatens a masochist with?). I was to all intents and purposes consenting. However my yes may have fulfilled the self concept of the student who assaulted me as “not rapist” but it was not enough for Carter. He did not want me to be submitting because I felt I had to, or because I felt I deserved to be punished. He explores this idea wonderfully here.
Ascertaining consent is not a simple binary and this scares some people, whom it seems are more concerned with not being called a rapist than not raping. Another example from BDSM. Sometimes I dance away from the cane. It has taken me more years than I care to admit to work out why Carter has never ordered me to be still. I can assume the twue positions as well as the next devotee of O. However when I dance what is actually happening is a conversation, a conversation about consent. When I return to the required pose for the next stroke the conversation may be silent but it is one that says consent is not a simple one time deal. As a brief aside the execrable James showed in writing Fifty Shades of Shite that her view of consent is as dangerous as that of my PHd student. Seeing consent as something that exists implicitly and without any considerations of the circumstances surrounding an act.
Today there has been a lot of fuss from the usual suspects at new guidance to the CPS and police on how they approach rape cases.
Police and prosecutors must now put a greater burden of responsibility on rape suspects to demonstrate how the complainant had consented “with full capacity and freedom to do so”, according to the new guidance.
This is a vital step forward and does not, as is being claimed remove the presumption of innocence. Currently the approach to rape is that the victim must be lying, and they have to prove they are not. All this change does is remove that presumption and replace it with a balance. However it will not change those people who do not place not being a rapist at the front of their self concept. There is a report in the Guardian today on abusers using social media to make it appear that an assault or rape was actually consensual sex. Its a scenario that is far older than social media, the rape victim who is sent a bunch of flowers and a thank you card. Sometimes these will be cases of people trying to manipulate the system, but far more often, in my opinion, they will be simply people who didn’t care enough to check what they were doing was consenting.
Changes to how the police and CPS operate are welcome, but as any member of an oppressed group will tell you relying on them for better treatment of victims is like hoping you dont wake a vicious dog, you should never forget it might turn on you. Until we have consent based education, and a real discussion about what consent is people will carry on believing they can be good people and ignore consent. Largely because society as a whole tells them that once they hear, or believe they hear, a yes they can do what they want.
I shall in another post explore the further swerf simplification of consent, based on the idea that lust = consent.
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