Posts Tagged ‘consent’

Helen Mirren’s recent comments about date rape tap into something Molly discussed in her post called Sex, Consent and Expectations.

I’ve always liked Helen Mirren. To me, she has always seemed like a woman in total control of her own career, unlike the slew of robot actresses happy to be the Hollywood equivalent of a Malibu Stacey doll (“Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl!”). Here is a woman who can flit from risqué flicks like Caligula and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover to effortless Shakespearian heroines with the blink of a heavy-lidded eye. And she has never considered TV too shabby, especially when Prime Suspect made her such a recognised star. So as a long time fan, I’m hugely disappointed with her recent remarks about date rape. In an interview with GQ magazine, Mirren confessed to her own experiences of rape, but then questions the validity of whether you can claim it as such when “a woman voluntarily ends up in a man’s bedroom with her clothes off”. She goes on to say that while these incidents weren’t brutal or violent, they consisted of being “locked in a room and made to have sex against my will.” Eh, sorry, but the last time I checked, force and lack of consent in sex equals rape.

In the same week, the Irish Rape Crisis Centre’s Annual report warned that fewer victims are stepping forward to report their rapes. In the GQ interview Dame Helen admits that she didn’t go to the police about the attacks, revealing that while a woman “has a right to say no at the last second…I don’t think she can have that man in court under those circumstances.” Why the hell not? Anyone who says no to sex in any situation – even at the last second – and has their objection overruled is a victim of rape. Once consent is removed, it isn’t an act of free will; it’s a crime. And a crime of that seriousness should most definitely land the perpetrator in court. We can all understand that Helen Mirren’s experiences took place 40 years ago when the world was a different place. But then, as now, victims still run the risk of not being believed, especially if the Prosecution in court wants to run a fine toothcomb over their character, lifestyle, the company they keep and their relationship history.

Mirren’s comments are even more surprising given the type of steely roles she has played. From the ballsy DCI Jane Tennison to no-nonsense monarchs (Elizabeths 1 & 2), you assume that in real life she is rarely intimidated. Contemporary audiences have never been more receptive to the thoughts and opinions of those in the public eye. Given the totemic position of celebrities these days, Dame Helen’s comments are, at best a drawback for rape victims who are reluctant to speak out, at worst downright miscalculated and dangerous.

Everyone has the right to say no to sex, just as every rape victim should have the right to prosecute their rapist. And a smart woman like Dame Helen should know that.

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Reading this article in the Daily Mail made me wonder about the nature of sexual assault. Halfway through it, a memory from a few years ago crept into my head and wouldn’t go away.

One New Year’s Eve, I was offered the chance to work for the night instead of partying. Not a terribly tempting offer, but when an astronomical amount of wedge was mentioned, the work was easy and that taxis would be guaranteed for all staff, I wrote off my NYE plans. The job was to help out at a bash thrown by a corporate organisation who wanted people to top up glasses and make sure the bigwigs were happy. This wasn’t my usual line of work, but the pay was too good to be true for one night’s work, as it was probably what I earned post-tax in one week at the time. I showed up, slightly regretting my decision, thinking about the various invites clogging up my phone. Relief gradually settled over me, when my fellow workers all seemed to be young, fun and doing it for the same reasons as me.

As it headed towards midnight, things relaxed a lot and we were allowed to avail of the free bar, not to mention the ubiquitous champagne. One of the guys working was from New Zealand, and we got on really well all night. He was quiet, almost shy, but very charming. Gentle and polite, it seemed, and I’m a sucker for those guys. We flirted innocently for most of the night, and when all the Auld Langs Syne stuff was over and done with, the music started and the staff were allowed to join in. We danced a lot, laughing and circling each other in a cloud of chemistry, before he eventually kissed me. Easy work, a free bar, a big pay cheque AND a snog – what a great New Years, I thought.

When it came time to pile into taxis, cabs were thinner on the ground than the so-called guarantees. Australian guy lived very nearby; not near enough to brave the Baltic weather conditions, but enough for me to philanthropically donate my taxi to someone else, and agree to go home with him. He told me that all his housemates were away, and despite the fizzy champagne head, I made clear that staying over was not necessarily a precursor to sex – I wasn’t really in the habit of sleeping with people I’d met three hours before. Disclaimer provided, we went straight to bed as it was an old house, full of draughts and the cold was almost as big a distraction as him. There was kissing, passion, some wriggling, but underwear stayed on and we fell into a cosy sleep on that icy night.

The next morning I woke up with my back to Aussie boy and a couple of things hit me simultaneously. One; the gargantuan nature of my hangover and two; how cold it really was in that old house. Then I felt a sense of something not being quite right and it took me a few seconds to realise what it was. His hand was in my underwear, poking and fidgeting and my heart started to race. Not in some just-awake fit of desire, but in the way that it does when you feel uneasy, flustered. As far as he was aware, I was still asleep, so why was he doing this without my consent? In a flash, I remembered that we were the only two in the house and that no one I really knew was aware of where I was. I lay there in a panic, while all the while he kept probing and prodding, his barely palpable breathing a little erratic.

The mood of the night before evaporated, and yet here I was, a willing entrant to this man’s bed. Did I have any right to be outraged? Was my being there – albeit asleep and still in my underwear – consent enough for him to doing what he was doing? It was the morning after the night before, so was he right in assuming that my presence there was a green light to continue where we’d been the night before? Either way, all I wanted to do was go home. I didn’t even know what to say to him. I feigned “waking up” and dressed quickly. I remember that I was polite to him while trying to work out what had happened and quell my disquiet. Violation is probably too strong a word for what I felt, but to me, he had definitely crossed a line. I caught a bus home, and stopped in the only open shop I could find to buy juice and comfort food to lie on my couch and contemplate the night before.

Lots of us have found ourselves in bed with people that we don’t necessarily plan on sleeping with. Not every co-sleeping arrangement has to mean sex, but if you share a bed with someone, does that mean you’re automatically putting yourself in a situation that sex is expected of you? Even if you declare your – no pun intended – position, before anything happens? I’ve shared a bed with men I had only recently met many times, and while most guys hope you’ll sleep with them, no one has ever pushed the issue. If you’re asleep, you’re not consenting with words, but by physically being there, are you consenting with your body?

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