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Dear NYT: No Means No; Shoving A Dick Into An Unconscious Person Is Rape. Any Questions?

December 29, 2010, 1:59 PM
Condoms

Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times has a heartwarming piece for anyone planning a New Year's Eve hookup.

According to Bennhold's friends, consenting to any sex with a dude is the equivalent of giving him an all-access pass to your orifices for the rest of the night, if not the rest of your life.

This is a true VIP pass. His privileges don't lapse if you're unconscious, even if you ordered him not to touch you in a certain way before you fell asleep.

Bennhold writes:

PARIS — Is it rape when you have sex with someone who didn’t tell you it was O.K., but told you it was O.K. earlier that night?

[...]

According to a leaked police report, Swedish prosecutors want to question Mr. Assange on allegations of rape in only one of the two cases: The woman in question, a WikiLeaks groupie, let him spend the night at her apartment and had consensual sex with him at least once (reportedly with a condom). She then testified to falling asleep and being woken later by him penetrating her (without a condom).

She only went to the police days afterward, when she discovered by talking to another woman with whom Mr. Assange had stayed that the second woman, too, felt violated after he was reluctant to use a condom and then allegedly “did something” to make it break. (The allegation here is sexual molestation.)

In recent conversations, reactions among my girlfriends — all in their 30s, and most in steady, heterosexual relationships — were forceful, and almost unanimous.

“It cheapens rape,” one said.

“Why get the police into the bedroom over something like this? Grow up,” said another.

“He sounds really sleazy,” said a third, “but not exactly like a rapist.”

When we think about rape, many of us still imagine a stranger jumping out from hiding and violating a woman with a severe degree of force.

[Emphases added.]

Bennhold's lede lies: "Is it rape when you have sex with someone who didn’t tell you it was O.K., but told you it was O.K. earlier that night?"

Wait a minute. According to the author's own scenario, Assange's accuser, Ms. W. did not tell him that it was okay to have sex with her without a condom. On the contrary, Ms. W. categorically refused sex without a condom. She was reportedly so firm in her resolve that Assange initially gave up and fell asleep rather than accommodate her desire for protected sex.

Later on, he changed his mind and agreed to protected sex with her. Still later, he allegedly took advantage of the fact that she was asleep to do to her exactly what she'd ordered him not to do. When she woke up and asked Assange if he was wearing anything, he allegedly replied, "I'm wearing you."**

Bennhold goes on to discuss implied consent. This is a total red herring, unless her unstated premise is that all women lapse into implied consent the minute they fall asleep.

There is no question of implied consent in this scenario. Instead, we have an explicit refusal for a particular sex act, a refusal that remains infuriatingly, inexplicably invisible to many people even after they acknowledge that i) she repeatedly refused sex without condoms and demonstrated that her consent was conditional upon condoms, and ii) she was unconscious when her partner penetrated her without one.

Penetrating a sleeping person is rape all by itself. Unconscious people can't consent to anything. I've heard a million specious counter-examples about a bedmates propositioning their sleepy partner for the same kind of sex they just had. Seducing a sleepy but responsive partner is not even in the same conceptual universe as shoving your penis (or anything else) into someone who is out cold.

Even in a sleepy sex scenario, the argument is that if someone enjoyed the last sex act, you have a little more leeway to assume that they're okay with a repeat. That's a dangerous assumption to make even with a long-term, trusted partner. It's an utterly reckless thing to assume about a stranger.

But even in these sleepy sex scenarios, the seduction of someone who isn't quite in control of their faculties is justified by the notion that they consented to the exact same thing earlier.

According to Ms. W., Assange foisted a kind of sex on her that she had explicitly refused.

What if the roles were reversed? Suppose a woman has consensual intercourse with a man who specifically requests that she not shove a dildo up his ass. She gives him several chances to change his mind, but he keeps saying no. So, she waits until he falls asleep and shoves the dildo up his ass.

Obvious rapist, right?

Somehow, the fact that the victim had one kind of consensual sex with this woman and let her fall asleep in his bed doesn't confuse anyone.

I've heard it said that what Assange allegedly did to Ms. W. is just "bad manners" in the bedroom, not something for the police to be involved in. Penetrating someone against their will is "bad manners" in the bedroom like a punch in the jaw is "bad manners" in a barroom.

**We don't know if Assange did what Bennhold alleges. My point is simply that if these allegations are true, then he's clearly and unequivocally a rapist. More over, if he did this, he's not just a rapist-under-weird-Swedish-law. Someone who did what Assange allegedly did to Ms. W. in America would be a rapist under staid U.S. rape laws.

 

Dear NYT: No Means No; Shov...

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