The subjects of consent and sexual assault hit close to home for me, not just as a woman, but because of having been raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In that religion, women who are victims of sexual assault are required to literally scream during an attack, or they would be viewed as having consented to the violation:
To understand why this directive from Jehovah’s Witnesses is wrong from the bible’s point of view, please see, “Shunning Rape Victims by Going Beyond Bible Law Not Even Meant for Christians.”
This directive is also virtually impossible from a psychological point of view. Many people are aware of the “fight or flight” response; when presented with a threat, the mind evaluates the danger and produces a surge of adrenaline so that you can fight or run away.
However, the body might also go through what is called a freeze response; from Psychology Today:
“…this reaction refers to a situation in which you’ve concluded (in a matter of seconds—if not milliseconds) that you can neither defeat the frighteningly dangerous opponent confronting you nor safely bolt from it. And ironically, this self-paralyzing response can in the moment be just as adaptive as either valiantly fighting the enemy or, more cautiously, fleeing from it.”
A freeze response is a way for the mind to protect itself from what’s happening; you disassociate from an event you cannot fight or escape, so that you don’t suffer as much psychological trauma during an accident, natural disaster, attack by a stranger, and so on. This freeze response also makes it impossible for someone to scream during that event.
As disgusting as it is that Jehovah’s Witnesses demand a woman scream, and that they actually equate being raped with “fornication,” they are not the only ones to make up bizarre rules that women must follow when attacked, or else face accusations of having consented to being assaulted.*
WHAT WOMEN DO TO SHOW NON-CONSENT
Let me first ask a question of men only:
What do you do every day to protect yourselves from being raped?
Confused? Jackson Katz, a social researcher and author of the book, “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help,” poses this question to his audiences when lecturing. Katz begins the conversation by drawing a line down a chalkboard and writing “men” on one side and “women” on the other.
Katz then asks the question of the men in the audience, and is usually greeted with confusion, silence, or a joking, “Don’t go to prison.” In other words, men do virtually nothing to protect themselves from rape; they don’t even think about the risk.
Katz then asks the question of the women in the audience, and is typically given a laundry list of responses, including:
- holding car keys as a potential weapon
- avoiding jogging at night
- never leaving a drink unattended in public and coming back to drink it
- using a male voice on the answering machine
- not wearing headphones while jogging
- not using parking garages or highway rest areas
As a woman, I can assure you that what we women go through every day, every week, to avoid being raped is exhausting; if you’ve ever wondered why women go to the restroom in a groups, it’s because we don’t go anywhere unfamiliar alone. Many women I know carry mace or an actual “rape whistle,” and have even taken self-defense courses.
Very often, female friends who are out together follow a complicated scenario at the end of the evening, sending each other coded texts to indicate that they made it home safe. For many women, avoiding rape is like living in a totalitarian country, always looking over our shoulder, always afraid of what’s around the corner.
Here’s a point to consider; all of these steps that women go through to avoid being raped indicate that we are not consenting to a sexual assault or any advances from strangers.
Let that thought sink in for a moment; before there is an actual attack, before a man approaches us, before we even leave the house, we women proactively say that we do not consent to unwanted, and especially violent, sexual advances. We arm ourselves with makeshift weapons, ensure that we have backup, and stay hyper-aware of our surroundings, all because we do not consent to being accosted. We do these things to protect ourselves, yes, but if we consented to a rape, we wouldn’t go through all those steps to thwart an attack in the first place.
Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses dismiss all those things and decide that a woman needs to scream, period. Nothing else that a woman does or doesn’t do matters to them; none of those things listed above signal her non-consent, as far as they’re concerned. If she didn’t scream, then all those other things were apparently done just for show.
YOU DON’T HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF DECIDING HER CONSENT
As said, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones to make up rules for women or otherwise accuse them of consenting to this violation, or somehow bringing it on themselves. Often, there is an undertone, or someone who outright says, that a woman is obligated to do a laundry list of things, or avoid doing certain things, so that she’s not raped. Some will even say that a woman “asked for it,” or “if she didn’t want to be raped” then she should have done, or not done, this-or-that.
All of this amounts to other people deciding a woman’s consent for her.
Those people are, in effect, saying that they’ve decided the woman consented to being raped because she did, or didn’t do, this-or-that.
However, according to dictionary.com, to consent means “to permit, approve, or agree.” A person’s consent is therefore intrinsic to them; it belongs to them, and them alone. You cannot decide for me whether or not someone is allowed to do something to me, that I agree to something, or that I personally have given someone permission to do something, no matter your basis for that reasoning. Only I can give someone consent for anything that involves me, or decide if I approve of, or have given someone my permission for, anything.
Another person saying, or deciding for me, that I consent, that I agree to something or approve of something, is like someone else deciding my beliefs for me. If I say I don’t believe in vampires, another person cannot insist, “Yes you do, I’ve decided that you do because you’re wearing a black t-shirt,” anymore than they have the right or privilege of telling me that I agree to, or give permission to, some man wanting to force himself upon me.
To better understand this concept, ask one simple question when it comes to determining if a woman has somehow consented to rape:
If someone says, “She didn’t scream, she didn’t fight back, so she consented,” or, “She wore a miniskirt and parked in a particular spot so she was asking for it,” my response would be, “Says who?”
Who says that she consented, or that she actually gave a man permission to rape her, by doing this-or-that, or by failing to do something in particular? In whose mind is a parking spot, outfit, time of night, or reaction when assaulted “consent”?
The answer is, of course, someone other than the victim.
Another person, some random stranger, has taken it upon themselves to decide in their own heads that the woman consented because she did a particular something, or didn’t do this-or-that. The victim did not choose a certain parking spot or outfit as a means of consenting to rape; a rapist, or a rape apologist, decided for themselves, in their mind, that someone now has permission to rape her based on those factors; again, they don’t have the ability to do that.
Apply this thinking when it’s said that a woman “invites” harassment, assault, or rape because of something she wears, because of being out at a certain hour or in a certain part of town, and so on.
In whose mind is that an invitation?
Who decided that those things are an invitation to harass or accost a woman?
Again, the answer is, not the victim. The victim has not invited anyone to do anything. Instead, the harasser or rapist invited themselves to assault the woman.
If a stranger bursts into your home without your permission during a birthday party, they can claim that the music coming from your stereo and cars in the driveway were an invitation for them to walk through your front door, but that wasn’t their decision to make. They were not asked to be there and were not welcome; they wrongly and presumptuously invited themselves. Having a party, even if it’s visible from the street, is not an open invitation for just anyone to enter your home anymore than wearing a particular length of skirt or being out at a certain nightclub is an invitation for just anyone to touch or otherwise harass or accost a woman.
To further drive the point home, if I don’t tell someone that I want them to touch me, or do not invite a man to put his hands on me in any way, no one else has the right to say, “Yes, you do want this harassment, you do want to be touched.” It doesn’t matter what reason they offer after that; the skirt I’m wearing, where I parked my car, how late I’m out, if I’m alone on the subway, and so on. If I’ve withheld an invitation, then the other person is not invited. That’s how invitations work.
RAPE IS NOT JUSTIFIED, NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO IT
Since you cannot determine consent for another person, once you argue that a woman consented to, or invited harassment or assault of any sort, you are now justifying the assault.
Whether they realize it or not, when someone makes these arguments above, they are actually working out in their own head if the man was justified in what he did. Saying, “She did this or that, or didn’t do these certain things, so she consented, she invited it, she was asking for it…” leads to, or translates to, “…therefore it was okay for the man to assault her.”
Let me make this perfectly clear; there is no justification for sexual harassment, physical assault of any sort, or rape. Period.
No one is entitled to do what they want to another adult without that person’s permission. A skirt length does not entitle you to put your hand on a woman’s leg, being next to you on the subway does not entitle you to grope a woman, seeing a woman out alone does not entitle you to rape her.
Nothing justifies a man putting his hands on a woman without her permission, much less taking his penis out of his pants and then forcing it into any orifice of a woman’s body. Nothing. There is no designated “rape zone” in any parking lot, there is no “rape time” of any day that makes it okay to accost a woman out of her home during that time.
Let those thoughts sink in. If you argue that a miniskirt, time of day, parking spot, or anything else designates consent, if you overrule what the woman herself says about her consent, you are now justifying rape. You are saying that a man is entitled to touch another person’s body, even take his pants off, pull out his penis, rip a woman’s clothes off, and force that penis inside of her, based on these other factors that you’ve made up.
Since you can’t decide that she consented, all you’re then doing is justifying the act in your own mind. You’re justifying harassment, assault, and rape, as if men are entitled to do these things if a woman does those other things.
CHILDREN, ADULT WOMEN; WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
No doubt you’ve read news stories of parents, usually mothers, allowing someone to have sex with their underage child for money. I’m sure anyone in their right mind understands why this practice is disgusting and disturbing; that child did not consent to someone having sex with them. A child cannot consent because of their immaturity and naivete; because they cannot consent to sexual activity, he or she did not give their consent.
With that thought in mind, what’s the difference between a parent deciding consent for the child, or overriding that child’s inability to consent, and a stranger deciding consent for a woman?
Consider that point for a moment; an abusive parent saying, “I have decided that it’s okay for someone to have sex with my child, even though he or she has not consented to this sex, because… [I need the money, I think sex with a child is okay, I get sexual enjoyment from the idea of a child being molested, etc.],” is no different than a stranger saying, “I have decided that it’s okay or justified for a man to grope, harass, accost, or rape a woman, even though she herself has not consented or given that man permission, because… [she wore a short skirt, she was out at a certain time of night, she was in a bar, she had one too many drinks, etc.].”
How are these two thought processes different? In each scenario, someone else is deciding consent, they are overruling the victim’s thinking, based on factors other than how the person themselves feel.
The person being assaulted has not consented in either scenario; however, when a parent “pimps out” their child or allows someone to rape them, they take away that child’s right to determine sexual behavior on their terms, to be a willing participant in sexual activity. The parent takes away a child’s autonomy and decision-making when it comes to sex.
People who decide a woman’s consent for her have done the same. They have taken away a woman’s right to give someone else permission to have sex with her, her right to be a willing participant in sex. Strangers take away a woman’s autonomy when it comes to decisions about her sexual interactions the same way an abusive parent steals that from their child.
When someone hears of a parent saying it’s okay to rape their child, they might immediately and easily see the obscenity of that, but when they hear of a man assaulting a woman, they sit and evaluate a list of nonsensical factors to determine in their mind if she consented. This is despite the fact that the woman did not consent anymore than the child consented.
For anyone who still feels that they have the right or ability to decide if a woman consented, or “asked for it,” or somehow brought rape upon herself because of what she wore or where she was, take time to realize that you are no different than a parent deciding that it’s okay for someone to rape their child. If you understand the disgusting obscenity of a parent giving their consent for a child to be raped, realize that you are doing the exact same thing to a stranger. You are no different than those parents, and no less deserving of contempt and disgust because of how you justify rape.
*For the sake of this article, I’ll be referring to rape victims as female and perpetrators as male, although I fully acknowledge that men can be victims of sexual violence and women can perpetrate that violence, especially against children and underage boys, as well.