Rape Accusations and Your Reputation: A Lesson on Consent and Risk
Have you been pondering over the grey areas of consent or struggling with the newfound society in which women seem to be standing up right and left to scream “rape” over something that seems…less than? I recognize that the world we live in has suddenly flipped upside down on you and you might be anxious. I’m here to help you navigate the #MeToo New World Order.
Why should you learn about consent? Well, unfortunately, when women seized a long-awaited opportunity to stand up and speak the truths they’ve held in their whole lives, we altered the landscape of daily life for about half of the population. And while some of that population needed their landscape to drastically shift, a vast majority of men could never have imagined worrying they might be – gasp – rapists. If you’ve read this far in, you can consider yourself part of the latter group: You would never intentionally rape someone, and you want to know if you’re at risk of engaging in something that could label you a monster.
How are we, as a society, affected by non-consensual sexual acts? For starters, as a man you can also be a victim, as you are more likely to be raped than you are to be falsely accused of rape. A single incident of sexual assault can damage someone for a lifetime: They may relive the trauma over and over and find their entire world turned upside down. They might begin to injure themselves, develop an eating disorder, abuse substances, struggle with normal sleep, dissociate, or even commit suicide. I probably don’t need to tell you the financial and social impacts of mental health and addiction, nor the tragedy felt by loved ones who grieve over a suicide. Sexual assault victims may also assume hasty generalizations by deciding that an entire group (all men, all men of a particular race or age or career, etc.) are problematic, a fallacy that promotes division, prejudice, and hate. Or, worst of all, they may become raging, man-hating, lesbian feminists – and, gosh, I know the last thing heterosexual men want is less available sexual partners!
Rape is rare, though, isn’t it? And dramatic? It happens in dark alley ways, loud dance clubs; it happens when a perpetrator breaks into a woman’s home at night while she thought she was safely sleeping. Sorry, but no – sexual assault weaves in and out of our normal lives like an invisible thread. Heck, in the United States we didn’t even recognize the possibility of marital rape in every state until 1993 because we have allowed our ideas about rape to be extremely limited. Despite our finite beliefs, eight out of every ten occurrences of rape happen between two people who know one another, and thirty-three percent of rapes are committed by a current or former partner (RAINN).
But, you’re not a rapist and you never want to be. When you read about cases of “rape” in the media, things seem unclear. Redditors still disagree about the case of Aziz Ansari and “Grace” despite a clear lack of consent and an existing power dynamic that evokes coercion. There are even women who will argue the victim’s responsibility in clearly delineating between consent and non-consent. You believe you’re a good guy, and you wonder if it’s possible that somehow, some day, you might find yourself in front of a pointed finger as a woman shouts: “J’accuse!”.
You know, I don’t wish this fear upon you. I really don’t. As a woman, I’ve spent my entire life fearing the possibility of sexual assault. I weigh my risks with every decision and every step I take, even when I’m unaware of it. I’ve been conditioned to live in fear as a means of survival. Can I go out alone? Can I trust this man alone with me? How intoxicated can I get and who can I depend on if I become intoxicated as a result of being drugged? Am I strong enough to fight someone off if he corners me alone somewhere?
Not only have I been engulfed in a lifetime of nightmares in which I am trapped, unable to move my legs or scream, as a strange man forces himself upon me, I have also had to become a waking warrior at a young age – consumed by the knowledge that at any moment one of my friends may have their lives changed forever in the one of the worst possible ways. The answer to this problem should not be about shifting that fear onto you; and I feel genuinely hurt by the idea that causing more people distress will somehow relieve the struggles women face about sexual assault.
Rather than creating more pain, I want to help you prevent the possibility that you receive an unjust and extremely damaging label. I want to empower you.
Step 1: Recognize the pervasive yet invisible nature of nonconsensual sexual experiences. You cannot see what happened behind closed doors, you do not get an opportunity to be the judge and jury of the experience between two people, and you can never confirm a truth that may be suppressed, manipulated, diverted, or coerced into a new truth later. Embrace the unfortunate knowing that rape is more likely than you think and if someone said it happened, the statistics support it.
Step 2: Challenge your ideas about women crying wolf about rape. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen – there are shitty people everywhere – but I am saying that, due to the prevalence of nonconsensual sexual acts, the math errs on the side of the accuser rather than the accused. Don’t eat the propaganda you are being fed that women benefit from making false allegations. It harms you to let a scare tactic like this persuade you into believing your biggest concern should be having lies told about you; your focus should not be on parsing out a situation that happened outside your purview, but rather on whether or not you might possibly (and maybe unknowingly) violate another human being.
Step 3: Decide the level of risk you want to take when it comes to your sex life. You have the autonomy to navigate this world and make decisions, and you aren’t all going to buy into this idea that “enthusiastic consent” is the end all, be all of sex. If you’re not much of a risk-taker or you don’t trust yourself enough to read between lines, stay there. Get a “yes, yes, yes!” every single time and even check in during the experience. Women tend to like communication anyway. You’re welcome.
Step 4: Use this roadmap to address possible grey areas of consent that put you at risk of committing sexual assault:
Is there a possibility for an abuse of power?
Ask yourself if you have the power to coerce someone’s decision-making:
- Is your partner legally old enough to consent?
- Do you have the ability to alter your partner’s life in some way (such as by firing them from their job, preventing from reaching a goal, ruining their social status)?
- Do you hold a certain position in life that might cause your partner to disregard their feelings or become manipulated by your actions?
- Does your partner view you as a mentor?
- Have you considered the possibility that your partner might want to impress you or not disappoint you, and that you can unintentionally coerce your partner due to that relationship?
- Is your partner cognizant (awake, sober, and in the right mind), or has your partner previously provided consent to engage in sex acts with them when they are not cognizant?
Does your own intoxication play a role in your ability to care about the consent of your partner?
If it does, consider yourself at risk of perpetrating a rape due to your inability to trust your behavior once intoxicated.
Has your partner in anyway indicated no?
Consider things such as:
- Did your partner outright say “no” but then acquiesced or changed their mind later?
- Did your partner give any clues in their body language that suggest they may be uncomfortable?
- Did your partner ask to slow down or indicate they aren’t ready?
- Did your partner previously tell you they didn’t want to do something but then allowed it to happen?
Are you sure your partner wants it?
Even if you never became accused, how would you feel if you found out later that your partner wished they didn’t engage in a sexual act with you? Have you confirmed your assumptions or are you allowing your ego to drive your beliefs? Challenge yourself to assume it’s possible someone doesn’t want to engage in a sexual act and work backwards. If there isn’t clear enthusiasm, consider yourself at risk.
Remember, this road map of grey areas presents the possibility of risk. If you are not comfortable with the idea that you may one day be accused and you fear your inability to navigate the landscape effectively, then just don’t. Embrace enthusiastic consent and enjoy knowing that your partner utterly, truly wants to experience sex with you. Good luck out there to those of you willing to take risks under the #MeToo New World Order.