Consent is defined by West's Encyclopedia of American Law as "voluntary acquiescence to the proposal of another; the act or result of reaching an accord; a concurrence of minds; actual willingness that an act or an infringement of an interest shall occur."
It goes on to say that "consent is an act of reason and deliberation." Further, a person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another. Finally, it says, "consent assumes a physical power to act and a reflective, determined, and unencumbered exertion of these powers."
I was volunteering with a local YMCA in an upscale neighborhood. I was working in a job that left me feeling uncreative, so I was doing their monthly newsletter in exchange for reduced member fees. I met a guy there who seemed nice, and he asked me out. I cannot recall much about the first date, except that it involved a movie and dinner afterwards. We ended up at Cafe Express, and I remember being amused because I always thought of that particular location as "Cafe Depressed" because it was a venue people chose for coffee after AA meetings. I know this because while I was in a particularly abusive relationship I attended 12-Step Meetings in an effort to "fix" someone. What I finally got was that the only one I could fix was myself, and I left.
The second date was much more memorable. We spent the day together after some YMCA morning event. We had lunch and stopped by his house where he grabbed some O'Douls -- a non-alcoholic beer -- from the fridge before heading back to my house to drop me off. I remember I was wearing sweats, and had on no make-up -- not looking particularly attractive. Not being an early morning person, and often running late, I'd opted for the natural look. I asked him if he wanted to come in for a bit to watch MTV. Back then, I kept a super clean apartment, decked out with furniture and accessories I normally could not afford. It was sales model furniture that I purchased from a homebuilder where I was formerly employed in PR.
We were sitting on the floor when it happened. He leaned over and kissed me, and I kissed him back. Within a matter of seconds he was on top of me and had pinned me to the floor. I remember thinking he was certainly strong for such a scrawny looking guy. He started undressing and I said "NO!" He covered my mouth with his hand.
"Shhhh" -- he says, "it will be over in a minute."
I stopped working out. I stopped going to volunteer meetings. The newsletter was close to deadline. The lady in charge called me to ask what was going on -- was I sick?
I told my mother what had happened.
"What were you wearing?" she asked, "Was it suggestive?"
No. I was wearing sweatpants! And no make-up!
"Did you lead him on?" "Did you kiss him?"
Yes, I kissed him, but I did not consent to sex.
Well then you need to report him, she says, because I had told her the guy was a girls' coach at the Y. So I went into the Y to tell them what had happened. They told me unless I filed a police report, there was nothing they could do.
I read plenty of stories about what happens to a woman who reports a sexual assault -- background checks on the sexual history of the victim, because only virgins, it seems, ever get raped.
No thank you -- so I stopped volunteering, stopped going to the Y -- even though that meant I would finish out my contract paying full price dues.
I gained weight. I started seeing a therapist. I stopped dating. I made new friends. They didn't understand why I had no interest in men, or dating. Why I hung out with only gay guys. I loved music and dancing, and going to gay clubs was so much safer for a woman then. You could wear whatever you wanted, and the men there did not assume you were there to get "picked up." You could have a few drinks, dance the night away and your male companions would make sure you got home safely.
The Football Player
About a year or so into therapy, and my friends were still bugging me to go out. By this time I was thin again -- a size 5. Not from working out at a gym or exercising but from rarely eating and taking diet pills. Sure, I had constant migraines but I looked great! I finally got tired of the haranguing, and agreed to go clubbing with my friends, but I needed the perfect outfit -- the long skirts and sack dresses I'd been wearing just wouldn't do. Mini-skirts were back in -- and on my 5'2" frame that meant no hemming required! I could purchase something off the rack and it would come to my knees. I chose a "loud" graphic print skirt, big earrings and a hot pink jacket with huge shoulder pads. Definitely a "Look at ME!" outfit for 1992.
So we end up at a brand new club -- I don't remember the name. Just that it was in an upscale neighborhood beside a very trendy bar. I think we started at the trendy bar, but it was too crowded, so we ended up here.
A few guys came up to talk to us -- one in particular was not even my "type" because he was what we called "Blond and Beefy." He starts buying us drinks. My friends knew him in high school and that he was a football player with a Big 12 school. He came from money -- not that it meant much to me, but my friends were impressed.
Now me, on an empty stomach, I had no business drinking. So after about an hour or so, I decided it was time to go home. But I had ridden with friends, left my car in some parking lot. The designated driver was not ready to leave.
"Let's go get some food, and then I'll drop you at your car," says Blond and Beefy. He has a fancy black car. My friends know him from high school. I haven't been out in ages. I agree. I get into his car, we drive past a few places, then he turns into an apartment complex. "Why don't we just order a pizza?" he says.
An alarm goes off in my head -- but I'm really in no condition to drive. We get to his place and I ask to use his phone. This is 1992 before cell phones. But we all had answering machines we could check from pay phones -- which we did constantly. I call my friend the D.D. while the guy is in the bathroom, and practically whisper into the phone.
"Please call me, here." I say into the machine. "we're at his apartment." I leave his number. I think she calls back, and he tells her everything is okay.
Maybe 15 minutes later the door bell rings. My friend is at the door. I peer over from behind Blond and Beefy, "Can you take me home?" I ask her.
"What about your car?" she asks.
"Can you come get me in the morning and take me to it?" I ask.
There's a look of annoyance.
She's with several people. Clear we won't all fit in her car.
"Let me take them home first and I'll come back."
"Okay," I say out loud. In my head, to myself, I say, "You can handle this." Because I've had a year-and-a-half of therapy.
The pizza arrives. The guy starts mixing drinks. Vodka and orange juice. I decline.
"Just take me to my car," I say, now panicking with not one but 5-alarms going off in my head. "Please, just take me to my car."
"I'll take you in a few minutes," he says.
You can see where this is going. And it does.
"Now, please take me to my car," I say, battered and bruised.
"I'll take you in the morning," he says.
After he passes out, I start dialing my friend's house. No answer. I leave a message. I call again. I leave another message. Finally, I fall asleep.
The next day, the guy wants to go to breakfast. I have no appetite. I just want to go home and take a long shower.
My friend calls me later in the day. I don't answer the phone; "screening calls." It keeps ringing. She talks to the machine. I pick up. "I'm home. I'm tired. I need to sleep."
And I say nothing to anyone about it. Not even my therapist. Because my mother's questions from the last time are in my head...
"What were you wearing?"
I had on a short skirt, long jacket, panty hose, high heels and make up.
"Did you lead him on?"
Did I? I accepted his drinks, and his ride offer.
"Did you kiss him?"
I don't remember, but my friend later tells me I did.
Even my mother was not going to believe me this time. No one gets raped twice. Not an intelligent woman of 30. Who has been in counseling. And I could just imagine what she would say...
"You used poor judgement, Sissy.
"You dressed up, and looked pretty -- in an outfit that said, 'Look at me.'
"You accepted a ride from a guy you had just met in a bar.
"And you were drinking.
"This is YOUR fault."
But at no time did I give consent.
Bill Cosby and Consent
I thought I had dealt with all this years ago and was "over it. I finally told my therapist -- 10 or 15 years later, who encouraged me to tell my friend the former designated driver, who had no idea.
"We thought you liked him," she said, "You kissed him." And we got past it.
But recent coverage of Bill Cosby's admissions that he purchased drugs to give young women he wanted to have sex with stirred it up again. It's got me thinking about alcohol and consent.
According to Bill Cosby's wife Camille, as reported in the New York Post, Cosby's nearly 50 accusers gave their consent. And let's face it, up until these latest revelations that's what a number of people chose to believe. Not the word of 2 dozen public and another nearly 2 dozen private claims of women -- but the word of one man. Because folks could not separate the man from his work. Because we would like to believe that beloved TV dads like Cliff Huxtable, and the Jello pudding guy are not capable of rape. That women often "cry rape" for money, for attention, for revenge.
Rape by the Numbers
- 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape. (Source: RAIIN)
- In 2005 - 2010, 78% of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance. (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- On average, an estimated 211,200 (65%) rapes went unreported to the police between 2006 and 2010. (Source: Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 2006-2010)
- According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics' study for 1992 - 2000, most rapes and sexual assaults were not reported to the police, including 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes and 26% of sexual assaults were not reported to the police. (Source: Bureau of Justice Report)
But what about all those false accusations, don't they really involve consent?
According to FBI statistics, only about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false, the same percentage as "other felonies" (Source: MAAN)
Yet women who cry 'rape' are less likely to be believed.
Statistics have gotten a bit better, we're told. Still, 40% of rapes are estimated never reported to the police, partly because victims know or assume that if their claims become public, they will be put under a microscope -- their own behavior scrutinized. They will be shamed for their sexual history, and they will be labeled as hysterical or crazy, psychotic, attention-seeking, paranoid, manipulative or vengeful.
Why Speak up Now?
Why talk about it now? Why dredge all this stuff up? When a radio conversation makes you cry, and thinking about something 20 years past makes you panicky, you're obviously not "done."
And because I want it to stop.
Look, I know guys sometimes think we women send, "mixed signals." I raised two boys now in their 20s whom we have tried to educate on the concept of "consent."
Consent means two adults have agreed to have sex when they were cognizant of doing so. Period.
If you have any question as to whether you have given or received consent, then you probably should stop before going any further.
Let's say a star athlete goes to a surgeon for work on his left knee. The doctor marks his left knee, and gives him anesthesia. While the star athlete is out, the surgeon not only operates on the athlete's left knee, but replaces his right hip as well. It's pretty easy to understand that is wrong. There was no "implied consent" just because the guy agreed to surgery, and accepted anesthesia that he wanted anything other than what he had asked for in the first place.
We can all agree with that, right?
Even if the guy agrees once he's under anesthesia, there is still no consent.
Let's refer to our definition of consent.
Consent: Voluntary acquiescence to the proposal of another through an act of reason and deliberation. A person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another. Consent assumes a physical power to act and a reflective, determined, and unencumbered exertion of these powers.
We write about wine, spirits, and beer...drinking. So let's get something straight. If you have been plying someone with drinks, in hopes of "getting lucky" there is no luck involved. And you do not have consent.
But what about "implied consent?"
Implied consent is consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather inferred from a person's actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation (or in some cases, by a person's silence or inaction).
Implied consent is not consent when it comes to sex.
- Wearing make-up does not imply consent to sex.
- Wearing a short-skirt does not imply consent to sex.
- Having a drink, or two or several does not imply consent.
And saying "NO" NEVER implies consent.
Fathers and mothers please explain this concept to your sons and daughters: If you do not receive or give consent prior to the point where consent is no longer possible, because one or the other of you is impaired beyond the ability to reflect, to reason, to deliberate and to agree...
There is no consent.
If you feel you are a victim of sexual assault, you can ask for help. Visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Don't wait 20 years to tell your story.