The “Gray Area” Of Sexual Assault (Is There One, Really?) – Let’s Talk Labels & Consent and Such

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Kind of picking up from yesterday –

Sexual assault is so odd because it’s the only crime I know of that people view as so subjective.

I sat here for a while, and I started writing out this post about how it’s the only crime I know of with a “gray area.”

However, I’m not 100% sure that’s true…

I think there are maybe other crimes where people have questions… For instance, if people get into a fight at a bar, because someone instigated and someone else fought back – is the instigator charged with assault? What about the person who fought back? Were they merely acting in self defense? Or are both people in trouble? Or neither?

So, I guess there are some gray areas that we could point to in other crimes…

But, to me, it feels like there’s more grey area in sexual assault than there is with other crimes.

I’ve been reading a lot about assault over the past number of months. And it’s amazing the different definitions across the internet (and in people’s minds). There are so many different stories, all with different details, that are all viewed differently by different people…

For instance, I read of a woman specifically asking a man not to finish inside her. But he did, and when he did he flipped her two middle fingers and boasted about it. He directly laughed in the face of an expressed wish about her body, and he put her in potential danger by doing that (pregnancy, STDs, etc). Some people don’t think that story’s a big deal at all. I think it sounds terrible… Look at the comment section of nearly any assault case, and it’s all over the map!

Heck, look at the man who raped a woman when there were witnesses(!) and medical reports… But he was a good swimmer who people liked. So, there are people out there wrote it off as merely a “young mistake.” “Boys will be boys,” and all of that. I understand empathy and I don’t want to crucify anybody, but come on!

That girl lives with the repercussions of that. I don’t think it’s fair not to label it as assault… (And it was indeed labeled a crime by a court of law.) And yet…

Some people have a strong belief that there is no gray area in sexual assault – that no one should have a hard time understanding whether they have consent or not. And if consent is not there, a crime is being committed, period.

And that’s when some people get hung up on what the definition of “consent” really is.

I’ve heard people talking about being afraid of accidentally crossing a boundary and not even realizing it… And while I guess I kind of understand that sometimes there may be nuances or miscommunications (I guess?), (And of course I like the idea of people not wanting to accidentally hurt anyone…) I think for the most part, it shouldn’t be all that super hard to be able to tell if someone is consenting or not. Right?

(I think this is a pretty good video that easily shows the difference between yes and no without always using those exact words, because I think people sometimes fall into the idea that “anything other than a “no” is a yes… whereas I don’t believe “eeeeeh, I really don’t know about this” without any follow-up questions or addressing of concerns constitutes a yes.)

And this is where I’ll pick up tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “The “Gray Area” Of Sexual Assault (Is There One, Really?) – Let’s Talk Labels & Consent and Such

  1. Kevin

    Very good post. I’ll fess up to having one grey(ish) area in my distant past (We’re talking my early 20s). This woman I had a casual sex thing going on with was sort of drunk (6 or 7 drinks, maybe. My family barely drinks, and I personally had never drunk more than 1 drink at a time, so had no direct experience beyond a very minor buzz.) Her speech seemed fine, and she was totally mobile. Anyway, I drove her back to her place, and she basically dragged me into her bedroom, ripped off her clothes, and begged for a quickie. So I went for it, and it seemed to go fine.

    The next day she called me up and said “You totally took advantage of me last night while I was drunk!” It’s not like she was all that upset (It was neither our first nor our last time.), but it definitely weirded me out a bit to be like “Woah. Apparently sometimes ‘yes’ isn’t actually ‘yes.”

    1. Aurora De Lucia Post author

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kevin!

      This is such a tough subject because there’s part of me that really wants to believe that there is “no gray area,” because people either have consent or they don’t… Buuuut then there’s a part of me that hears a story like this and it’s like, “Well… Hmmm Is there a gray area after all? I see where he was coming from…”

      Completely tangenting off of your specific example, and talking broadly about the issue…

      I hate making people “villains.” And I love when people are trying to do the right thing… It doesn’t make me happy to think of anyone living with a label of “sexual assaulter” or something like that because of some actual honest mistake.
      (That sounds like a terrible burden to bear for a lone time)… However, being the survivor of an assault is also a horrific burden to bear that potentially never goes away, and I never want to invalidate any person’s experience, or make anyone afraid to speak out for fear that things will just be seen as, “eh, a miscommunication” or “an honest mistake”…

      And, of course other people might not agree with me here on this next point. But I think the way people communicate after any potentially bad or iffy or dangerous or whatever situation matters a lot. For me, an apology (and actions to try to make sure a “miscommunication” never happens again) means a lot – a lot, a lot. Depending on the situation, it might not fix everything… But, it can go a long way… I dunno.

      It is kind of incredible how many scenarios – all with various details exist…

      It’s so hard that I feel this is an important conversation… So, I like having a somewhat public conversation on my blog about it. But I’m also so afraid of saying – or even thinking – the wrong thing…

      While I feel a conversation about sexual assault (and even the way we generally treat women in society – though I totally admit that sexual assault is not merely a women’s issue, for sure) is important, I think it can be a messy and hard conversation to have… *Sigh – has no idea how to end her comment* haha But thank you for commenting on my blog! 🙂

  2. Kevin

    Thanks, Aurora! Just to clarify, at the time I didn’t feel like a sexual assaulter and it wasn’t a big deal to either of us at the time (Things continued unabated for month, ending when I moved to another city; we’re still friends.), And it wasn’t like she was unconscious or telling me to stop or I was hurting her etc. It did make me realize, though, that going forward it would be a VERY good idea to err on the side of sobriety (and crystal clear communication).

    On your main point, yeah sexual assault is complicated. Nobody ever voluntarily gets punched in the nose or has their window broken, so in those cases all you have to do is establish that this other person did it. People do, however, have sex voluntarily so it becomes all about situation and intent. Nonetheless, it’s awesome that you initiated a conversation about it!

    1. Aurora De Lucia Post author

      Hey Kevin! Yes, I hope(?), I made clear in my comment that when I pivoted away from your uncomfortable situation (or whatever the most appropriate way to describe it is) that I in no way was implying you were a sexual assaulter 😛 (And I’m so sorry if it seemed for a second that I was implying that.) I was just pivoting and talking more broadly… I’m so glad you two were able to talk about that night and still remain friends. It’s lovely when things work out and people can communicate well 🙂

      Also, what a super interesting thought you added – in a much more concise way than I’ve been able to talk about it (even in non-blog real life haha)… That part of the reason it is so different than other crimes is because it is sometimes done voluntarily… That seems like such a simple (and known) idea, and yet seeing it like that really crystallizes some part of it for me.

      Thanks again for commenting 🙂


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