There’s been a lot of talk about consent lately. If anything positive comes out of the Ched Evans case, then it’s a greater awareness of the law around sexual assault, in particular, the seemingly revolutionary idea that if someone is too drunk to consent then it’s rape. I must confess that this case has increased my knowledge on this issue too. Before I started engaging with rape apologists online, I hadn’t read the Sexual Offences Act either. I wasn’t aware that the Act had been updated in 2003, clarifying the matter, and giving greater protection to potential victims of rape and assault. If you don’t already know the law, then the Act outlines how people cannot consent to sex unless they are over 16 and in full possession of their faculties, ie not unconscious or so drunk that they can’t walk. Protecting drunk women from sexual assault seems to me to be an indubitably good thing, but the notion that women who are too drunk to tie their own shoelaces might not be in the best position to make decisions about engaging in an activity that may potentially lead to the creation of new people, remains controversial.
The objections to the idea that it’s not okay to rape drunk people, seem to come from those that are worried that young men will be vulnerable to women waking up the next day, regretting their decision to have sex with them, and then crying rape. The idea that perhaps a woman is the best judge of when and if she has been violated, doesn’t seem to matter. Rather than thinking about the psychological trauma that women might have to endure after being raped, we’re encouraged to think about the poor boys whose futures are at stake, and to view women as capricious promiscuous liars. It’s not a coincidence that the people that seem to hold these views happen to be male. If I was being kind, I would put this down to an utter lack of awareness of what it is like to grow up as a young woman in a patriarchal society, but if I was being honest, I would say that it’s because they’re privileged entitled idiots.
The pressure to acquiesce to male sexual desire starts at a young age. I was 11 when I had my first grown up kiss with a boy. It was not an intimate, romantic or spontaneous moment, but rather a pre-arranged rite of passage, something to get over and done with, rather than enjoy. I met him as agreed in a local park with the express intention of ‘getting off’ with him. I can’t remember who suggested this or how it came about but it was all the rage. ‘Getting off’ with someone meant kissing like grown-ups, complete with faux passion and tongues. We met, exchanged few words, but as agreed, we did the deed. I remember his tongue pushing its way into my mouth, and I fought the urge to gag. I left the park feeling violated and never spoke to my ‘boyfriend’ again.
The following year at secondary school, the pressure intensified. Everyone had boyfriends and girlfriends and everyone seemed to be getting off with everyone. I had no desire to do that again, but I did have a boyfriend. He bought me soft toys, sent me a Valentine’s day card and I actually liked him. But there was no way I was going to let him shove his tongue down my throat like the last one. I resisted the continuing calls to join my peers and avoided being kissed. This did not go unnoticed and the boys in my year began to call me ‘frigid’ because I wouldn’t play ball. Some of my friends were not only getting off with boys but they were also letting them touch their burgeoning breasts. It was clear that my unwillingness to conform was not acceptable. Eventually, after months of nagging from my boyfriend’s go-between, it was agreed that we would kiss at the school disco. I was horribly nervous and not keen, but at least they would stop calling me frigid. I didn’t really even understand what it meant, but ‘Frigid’ was obviously a status to be avoided. The night came, and I remember being told it was the ‘time’ and I was led over to the corner where my boyfriend was waiting. His best friend whooped with joy as once again I submitted to male pressure, and allowed myself to be kissed.
From the very beginning my sexuality was defined by others. I kidded myself that I was doing what I wanted, but the pressure was always from boys. Boys that wanted to kiss me and touch me and later fuck me. I acquiesced because being ‘frigid’ was a bad thing. A few years later in my University days I considered myself sexually liberated and empowered, I saw no shame in casual sex and I was the Queen of the one night stand. I don’t like to regret the things I’ve done, but now, in the light of the Sexual Offences Act, there are moments that I have come to question. At the time, I thought I was exploring my sexuality and having fun. I liked the power of being able to walk into a nightclub and choose the person I was going home with (a part of being a woman that drives pick up artists mad). But sometimes I didn’t do the choosing, and sometimes I wouldn’t have made the choice if I’d have been sober.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had a lot more drunk sex than sober sex, but one particular night has stayed with me. I’ve thought about it a lot since the furore over the Ched Evans case and I’ve tried to figure out if what happened to me constitutes rape. I had spent the night partying after appearing in a production at the university theatre. I drank a lot and remember snogging various people in the course of the evening but I suddenly found myself being walked somewhere by a guy I knew. He was the producer of the show, a sweet man who I considered a friend, but I didn’t fancy him. I was so drunk that I walked into a wall on the way back to his house. I don’t remember making the decision to go back with him at any point and the next thing I do recall is waking up next to him naked the following day. I realised what had happened and had an instant sense of regret. There was no way I would have slept with this guy if I had been sober, but I felt responsible. I was used to having one night stands so I didn’t particularly feel violated, but when he woke up, I had sex with him again because I didn’t want to seem ‘rude’.
Victim blaming is still horribly prevalent and I’m guessing that a jury in a court of law would rule that the man in question had reasonable grounds to believe that I had consented to sex – I apparently went willingly back to his house anyway. The fact that I have no recollection of ever agreeing to do so or wanting to do so seems a little irrelevant. Under cross examination, my colourful sexual history would emerge and I’m sure the judge would be unsympathetic. A girl like you was obviously asking for it. The fact that I didn’t feel like I could even say no when I was sober in the morning, is testament to the years of social conditioning that women are subjected to. I was worried about hurting his feelings and had sex with him to avoid social awkwardness. I had sex with him because I didn’t want to have ‘led him on’. I had sex with him because I didn’t want to be a ‘prick tease’. I had sex with him because I was a sexually empowered young woman who was anything but ‘frigid’.
This story is not unusual. I’m sure thousands of women could tell you a similar tale and they are far more likely to do what I did, and chalk it down to experience, rather than report it as rape. I wasn’t angry with the man in question, I think he was actually in love with me, so I picked myself up and carried on with my day. The fact that I did so however, only demonstrates how low my self esteem really was. I didn’t feel that my right not to have sex was as important as taking care of his feelings. Women are continually conditioned to put the needs and feelings of other people first, and this is why so many women put up with unwanted sexual advances without ever doing anything about it.
As a child I learnt about the mechanics of sex, but nobody ever told me I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to. I had the right to say no to all those men that wanted to kiss me, touch me and penetrate me. The people that are worried about all those poor young men that might get ‘caught out’ by the Sexual Offences Act, should spare a thought for all the young women who don’t realise that they have a choice. Society has a responsibility to ensure that young men are actually aware of what rape is before worrying that they need to be protected from the law. This brilliant blog post that uses making a cup of tea as a metaphor to talk about consent should be compulsory reading – maybe if I’d read it as a kid things might have turned out differently.