Pub date January 11, 2011

Dear Readers:

For weeks I’ve been trying to say something about Julian Assange and certain people’s eagerness to believe him yet somehow even eagerer eagerness to believe horrible things about his accusers, but I keep not having the heart. The whole story is just so discouraging — have we really come no further in our understanding of what constitutes nonconsensual sex? Is it really still necessary to vilify the accusers? Are we really still wondering if in fact no really does mean no? Apparently so. And are there really very many people smart enough to read a blog but stupid enough to believe that sex without a condom is prosecuted as rape in Sweden? Again, yes! No wonder everything about this story depresses me.

The main thing keeping me from commenting on the story, though, isn’t the fact that watching progressives happily dismiss serious allegations against one of their heroes as long as they come from women throws me into a funk. It’s the other, less convenient one that this is a rape case and ought to be treated as such (provided, of course, that he did it). I can’t say what I keep wanting to say: “It is perfectly obvious when something is rape and when it isn’t, so why are we even arguing about it?”

Let’s first be sure that we understand that Miss A’s allegation is that she said, “Stop, not without a condom,” and he held her down and did it anyway, without a condom and without her consent, IOW, rape.

This brings us to this utterly creepy other category that rarely gets discussed: quasi-nonconsensual or barely-consensual sex. I wish it didn’t exist. It muddies the waters and gives ammunition to the would-be dismissers of sex crimes and lionizers of sex-criminals. But sadly, not all of what we usually end up labeling “bad sex” and filing under “Did that, don’t do it again” is as simple as anorgasmia, raw spots, premature ejaculation, or cases of beer goggles in action.

Everyone had had an experience, sometimes many, where they consented to sex they had no question they didn’t want, often in hopes the pursuer would fall asleep so they could go home. Most did it because trying to convince somebody probably drunk and maybe a bit belligerent that sex wasn’t going to happen was going to take much longer and be more emotionally taxing than just getting it over with.

Did anyone consider these experiences to be rape? Nope. People who have been raped, however, have no trouble determining the difference. For themselves.

It’s when you try to apply your own standards or your own experiences or your own sense of how things should be to other people’s realities that you run into trouble. As most of us know, there is another category, that of consent given grudgingly to avoid a situation perceived at the moment as potentially even ickier than giving in to what you have no desire to give. But it’s because there are such gray areas, not despite them, that it’s a good idea to actually listen to someone who tells you s/he was raped.



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