From one extreme to the other

The gamut of responses to the NRL rugby sex scandal runs from the outrageous misogynist extreme of “a woman wearing revealing clothes going into a room with footballers is asking for it” to the puritan extreme of “group sex is always rape”.

It would be unfortunate if, in responding to the former with the contempt it deserves, and while expressing in this particular instance sympathy for a person who may have been abused and anger at someone who may have abused her, and seeking that the specific incident in question be investigated appropriately, we found ourselves inadvertently jumping to the latter position for the general principle – denying women who know exactly what they’re doing the right to make up their own minds on what they want, patronisingly asserting that they’re incapable of making such a choice and treating them as overborne idiots by definition if they do.

We’re not, are we?

UPDATE: I might just have to come back to this one – the number of people who don’t grasp that it’s all about consent, and that in any sexual activity consent can be withdrawn AT ANY TIME and that in a situation in which one or more parties may reasonably feel intimidated the other parties need to bend over backwards to compensate for that, to make sure that the withdrawing of consent can be safely and practically communicated – well, the number of people for whom that’s not obvious, in 2009, astounds me.

Looks like there’s a lot more education required.

In the meantime, Sarah at The Voice of Today’s Apathetic Youth has a good post up on the subject.

UPDATE #2: I’ve written two Pure Poison posts on it – one on Andrew Bolt’s creepy dismissal of the issue of consent as a “furphy”, and one on Margie McDonald’s offensive blame the woman effort. And another post here on the fallout.

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39 responses to “From one extreme to the other

  1. I think that the issue of consent gets clouded when there is such a power imbalance between the participants. That is part of the problem here, you could argue forever over whether “Claire” was coerced, or felt unable to refuse once she became aware of the situation she was in.

    I’m can’t say if the power relationship would be different if the participants weren’t high profile sportsmen, but I suspect that it would.

  2. I get that, and I can see it’s a dangerous situation – but you also can’t deny adults the right to make these decisions.

    Young women like “Clare” should feel that they CAN say “no” in such a situation, whether they’ve said “yes” earlier or not – and to a certain extent I think the response to this has made it worse. By telling young women that if they find themselves in this situation that they’re victims as soon as they’re there, they don’t feel they have the power to say NO when it goes beyond what they actually want. They feel that everyone’s going to see them as stupid for being there, because “no reasonable woman could make such a choice”.

    That’s a real problem.

  3. thevoiceofreason

    If she is claiming she has been raped we need to have a court case and let the court decide with all the evidence. No court case is the problem.

  4. Captain Suburbia

    The trouble with this is what we’re blowing up over. I don’t have a problem in principle with a consensual threesome at all.

    But the idea that that gives anyone else the right to wander in and get into it is abhorent, really. And the pressure she would’ve been under…•shakes head•. If anyone in society thinks that consent to sex with two specific men is code for an open invitation, they’re sick, and that is worth blowing up over.

    I also understand Matthew Johns feeling a bit targeted. At the moment, he’s had the whole thing dumped on his shoulders, and unless someone else owns up, it’s not going to change any time soon. Yeah, he deserves to feel shit about it for not doing anything about it at the time, and for his unfaithfulness. But he doesn’t deserve to take all the blame for the actions of his teammates.

  5. Yes Jeremy, your post does cover the range of responses to this story and guess who the most rabid puritans are on this issue?
    Mainly your Latte sipping pals who seek to show their “feminist credentials” by expressing the appropriate “horror” at the incident in question.

    One thing that is clear from the 4 Corners report is that there is a lot of casual consensual sex on offer to footballers. As you say young women should feel able to draw the line when they want but if they don’t actually do so are they not tacitly consenting ?

  6. No, they’re not. The footballers should be making sure the woman is consenting – absence of comment does not equal consent. EXPLICITLY consenting. There’s no room for assuming “she doesn’t mind” at all. Unless she’s made it very clear that she wants to have sex with a particular person, that person should not be engaging in any of that conduct with her at all.

    And nice work trying to make a non-partisan issue about “left and right”.

    CS – “But the idea that that gives anyone else the right to wander in and get into it is abhorent, really.”

    Of course. That’s rape.

    TVOR – The NZ police don’t believe there’s enough evidence to charge someone with rape. There’s not much point running a criminal trial if there’s no prospect of a finding of guilt.

  7. No, they’re not. The footballers should be making sure the woman is consenting – absence of comment does not equal consent. EXPLICITLY consenting. There’s no room for assuming “she doesn’t mind” at all. Unless she’s made it very clear that she wants to have sex with a particular person, that person should not be engaging in any of that conduct with her at all.

    From a strictly legal point of view I am sure that you are right but just how many people are as explicit in their negotiations for sex? Come on be real here have you ever been so lacking in subtly that you went up to a woman you wanted to bed and directly asked her if she was consenting to sex with you?

  8. Drunk footballers should not be assuming anything, particularly in that situation.

    On her version of events, these men had no basis for concluding she wanted to have sex with them at all and wasn’t simply intimidated.

    This isn’t a case where the other footballers and this woman had flirted, or she’d said anything positive to them at all, or winked or smiled or given any other reason to believe she was consenting. Failure to forcibly resist or scream is not “consent”, and only a thug would think it was.

    Are you telling us that you’ve ever gone “up to a woman you wanted to bed” and started fucking her without her giving you any reason to think she was consenting to sex with you? Not even a wink, a smile, anything?

    If “Clare” is correct, these footballers simply assumed that if she was having sex with two footballers, she was automatically consenting to sex with all of them. If that’s what they thought, then they are WRONG. And should be punished.

  9. Jeremy you are missing the point of my analogy, you suggest that there should always be explicit consent, and on one level I agree with you but we both know that much of the negotiation for sex in many circumstances is not explicitly spelt out at all.
    For the record I agree that the footballers assumptions are faulty in your scenario but as we both agree that rugby players are meat heads perhaps “Claire” had some responsibility to actually say “no” if that was what she meant.
    Or do you expect meat heads with a hardons to be able to read her mind?

  10. They should be warned not to try.

    No, Clare did NOT have a responsibility to explicitly say “no”. The footballers had a responsibility to make sure there was consent. The default position is “no”, not “it’s okay unless she says anything”.

    And of course consent doesn’t have to be the clumsy signing of a document – it can be expressed many ways. Agreeing to have sex with *other* men is not one of them.

  11. Pingback: Consent is not a “furphy”, Andrew - Pure Poison

  12. No, Clare did NOT have a responsibility to explicitly say “no”. The footballers had a responsibility to make sure there was consent. The default position is “no”, not “it’s okay unless she says anything”.

    Jeremy we are not all on planet barrister, since when has anyone relied upon keeping quiet about what they want (or don’t want) in the the hope that others will know the strictly legal interpretations of rights and responsibilities?
    Just what is wrong with expecting that anyone should speak up and assert their rights before something happens that they presumably don’t want.

  13. Are you saying that if you were in the room with “Clare”, and had seen her having sex with two other men, that without any kind of positive indication from her that she was interested, you’d just assume she wanted to have sex with you as well?

    That’s what the other footballers were alleged to have done.

    “Just what is wrong with expecting that anyone should speak up and assert their rights before something happens that they presumably don’t want.”

    Just what is wrong with expecting that anyone should speak up and check that the person with whom they’re about to do something actually does want it?

  14. I don’t know with this one, there is no legal case to answer?

    Johns has stated that she was saying “no not you, you” when picking the next guy. Then this article
    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/sport/nrl/story/0,27074,25486111-11088,00.html, makes me think this is a setup.

  15. However is dodgy still this group thing, and when you think about it very gay. I think these boys have feelings for each other.

  16. There’s a few problems with this issue. The first is the issue of consent.

    Iain, you need to realise that in a group situation, consent or lack of becomes even more important. Group sex – particularly where a female is outnumbered eleven to one by large, muscular men – could be intimidating, and whilst someone might be okay with having sex with two men, taking that number from two to eleven without taking a second to check whether everyone is comfortable with that is immoral – and stupid – at best, and an offence at worst.

    Secondly, this moralising about whether a woman who consents to sex with more than one man must be having advantage taken of her – because no woman in their right mind would consent to that kind of thing – is insulting to anyone who does go into it with open eyes. What two – or three, or eight – people get up to in their bedroom is not for debate by the rest of the world, as far as I’m concerned.

    If there is an issue about consent, that’s another thing altogether.

  17. @Anthony “If such a terrible thing happened, does it take five days for it to set in?”
    Actually yes it does, reporting delays are quite common in rape cases, and doesn’t suggest that the report is false

  18. thevoiceofreason

    “TVOR – The NZ police don’t believe there’s enough evidence to charge someone with rape. There’s not much point running a criminal trial if there’s no prospect of a finding of guilt.”

    Well then it smacks of a media beat up. I still think the public derserve to know what public procecusions thinks.

  19. Always with the lattes.

  20. @Cheshire “Actually yes it does, reporting delays are quite common in rape cases, and doesn’t suggest that the report is false”

    True, but normally the ‘victim’ isn’t heard bragging about all the sex they had in the interim

    http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25486564-952,00.html

    Of course at this stage it’s unsubstantiated, but at least the woman has made her name public. It makes it a lot harder to claim that ‘consent’ was ever an issue in this instance.

  21. There is a huge difference between having sex with one partner and more than one partner.
    A one on one encounter is normaly associated with love, or at least a close familiarity between partners.Even in a bar pickup scenario there would have been a some flirting / negotiation. However with two partners the dymanic is completely changed.

    Is there love and or attraction or is it just a form of sport? If it is a close personal relationship, I fully understand the violation one might feel if a second or third partner may arrive on the scene. However if it is just bed sport, then is the same level of consent (for a second partner) really required? A lawyer would probably say yes, but ask yourself the question as a layman. Really think about the mental state of someone who has just agreed to have sex with TWO or MORE partners at once. Is a third partner such a leap? One partner to two I can see easily. But two to three?

    (p.s this is just a hyperthetical. I don’t personally make a practice of jumping in un-invited…;-)

  22. “Really think about the mental state of someone who has just agreed to have sex with TWO or MORE partners at once. Is a third partner such a leap? One partner to two I can see easily. But two to three? “

    Yes, it is, if you HAVEN’T CONSENTED TO IT.

    End of story.

  23. “However if it is just bed sport, then is the same level of consent (for a second partner) really required?”

    Um, YES.

    How is that even a serious question?

  24. Flippant answers like the ones given by Keri and Jeremy tell me the have not really thought about the participants real mental states. Perhaps they need to go and get some real life experience, then offer their more considered answer(s) again?

  25. Captain Suburbia

    However if it is just bed sport, then is the same level of consent (for a second partner) really required? A lawyer would probably say yes, but ask yourself the question as a layman. Really think about the mental state of someone who has just agreed to have sex with TWO or MORE partners at once. Is a third partner such a leap? One partner to two I can see easily. But two to three?

    What they said. YES. How can you qualify uninvited sex?

    (I’m trying to think of a better way to express “uninvited sex” but it’s just not coming to me right now. You know what I mean.)

  26. Risiblequest

    From personal experience on ‘adult’ dating sites (I’m female) – professional footballers seem to have a strong investment in believing that they’re irresitable studs, and in ignoring any cues to the contrary (if they’re so irresistable – why do they need to hang out on those kinds of sites anyway… but I guess that’s another issue entirely) As long as that kind of attitude prevails in professional football, situations like this – where the poor dears are confused about consent – are going to keep on occuring.

    Iain – Reckon if I was in this situation I would have felt a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Fear can make you lose your voice. If the guys were such meatheads that they didn’t realise the young woman wasn’t into what was happening, I can understand how she might – in the heat of the moment – have believed that active resistance might make things nastier. ‘Safer’ to disassociate and pretend it’s not happening. Being a drunk meathead is no excuse for interpreting this as consent.

    “However if it is just bed sport, then is the same level of consent (for a second partner) really required? A lawyer would probably say yes, but ask yourself the question as a layman.”

    – Well, I’m not a layMAN – but yes, consent is required. Personally – if I want ‘bed sport’ with six people at once – they should be six people of my choosing – on my terms.

  27. Captain Suburbia

    Risiblequest – Well said. The whole of the second paragraph particularly – that was what I was trying to get at with my “the pressure she would’ve been under” comments, although words weren’t flowing very well. My brain is still on holidays in New Zealand, I think.

  28. “Flippant answers like the ones given by Keri and Jeremy tell me the have not really thought about the participants real mental states. Perhaps they need to go and get some real life experience, then offer their more considered answer(s) again?”

    Unbelievable.

    There’s nothing flippant about our responses.

    THE ANSWER IS CONSENT.

    “Really think about the mental state of someone who has just agreed to have sex with TWO or MORE partners at once. Is a third partner such a leap? One partner to two I can see easily. But two to three?”

    You appear to be making all sorts of weird assumptions about “the mental state” of someone who has just agreed to have sex with TWO (CAPITALS) or MORE (CAPITALS) people at once.

    Do you not understand that consenting to sex with two or more specific people is not consenting to sex with completely different people?

    Frankly, that you can even ask these questions is baffling. What part of “consent” do you not understand?

  29. Steve C. Wow, just wow.

    I have tried to think deeply about these issues, at least as much as more whore-arsed mental state would let me, and yeah, it still rape (and I am still now a lawyer)

  30. I think what a lot of people are missing is that the problem is with *presumed consent*. I.e. it might be fine for the guy(s) who a girl heads to a room with (with the obvious intention of having sex with them) to presume consent without having to get her to sign a contract, but for anyone who walks in that door after the fact to presume that because she’s putting out for one (or however many) she’s putting out for everyone? That’s not on. I mean, can someone walk in 5 minutes after the first guys have left and ‘have a go’ just because she’s already put out for two guys? How about half an hour? Three, four, five hours? At what point do guys who do that become creeps and racists and not ordinary blokes? When does this ‘presumed consent’ that women who have sex with more than one guy supposedly extend to *all other males* actually expire? I can’t believe that anyone can seriously argue that there isn’t a problem with a whole bunch of guys walking in and expecting to have sexual contact with a girl just because she’s up for it with a given number of other guys?

    ===============
    A one on one encounter is normaly associated with love, or at least a close familiarity between partners.Even in a bar pickup scenario there would have been a some flirting / negotiation. However with two partners the dymanic is completely changed.

    Oh what a bunch of crap.

  31. I’ve unmoderated some pretty offensive and defamatory slurs about the girl that were left here this afternoon.

    It’s really surprising to me that the issue of what “consent” is could conceivably be controversial in 2009. That anyone could fail to grasp that a woman consenting to sex with two men is not automatically consenting to sex with anyone else, and that silence in an intimidating situation is not “consent” either.

    Sounds like this needs another post.

  32. ‘No, Clare did NOT have a responsibility to explicitly say “no”. The footballers had a responsibility to make sure there was consent. The default position is “no”, not “it’s okay unless she says anything”.’

    Exactly. Perfectly correct.

    I am astounded by some peoples replies to be frank. Astounded but not shocked as they are in general what I expected.

    Steve C I decided who I have sex with, when, how many at a time and whether or not anyone can watch or rub themselves in my face. I HAVE THE RIGHT WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Does this answer your question?

  33. Jeremy, I understand everything you say about consent and withdrawal of consent, but you have yet to comment on the other article (not Bolt’s) in the Herald-Sun, alleging that she bragged about it to her coworkers. Changes things a bit, doesn’t it?

  34. @Benjamin

    1) Why do you believe her co worker but not her?

    2) If it happened as it has been reported, that is that the majority of men in the room did not ask for, or receive consent, the no matter what she did after that, she did not consent and therefore a crime was committed.
    Maybe she did brag
    maybe she tried to reclaim the experience so that she didn’t have to fact the fact she had been raped. She wouldn’t have been the first or the last.

  35. “Jeremy, I understand everything you say about consent and withdrawal of consent, but you have yet to comment on the other article (not Bolt’s) in the Herald-Sun, alleging that she bragged about it to her coworkers. Changes things a bit, doesn’t it?”

    Not in terms of the general point, no. Since none of us are speculating on the Johns incident specifically – largely because there’s no way of knowing what happened seven years down the track – but are instead talking on the issue in general, it doesn’t really matter what the co-worker said. It’s got nothing to do with the wider point the “scandal has exposed”, which is – are there really people, in 2009, who think that a woman who agrees to have sex with two men has agreed to have sex with anyone else?

  36. Defamatory slurs about ANY of the parties in that incident will be deleted.

  37. …you have yet to comment on the other article (not Bolt’s) in the Herald-Sun, alleging that she bragged about it to her coworkers. Changes things a bit, doesn’t it?

    I’ve avoided commenting on the specific incident rather than the issue at stake, but I’ll take it:

    Seeing as no-one, Johns or anyone else actually involved in the incident, is denying that two players entered the room with the girl, followed later by nine or ten others, no. It doesn’t change *anything*. Every guy who entered the room later had already *assumed* that she was there to put out for them, simply because she was having it off with the first two guys. Whether she said something about it to her co-workers afterwards is irrelevant; whether the guys involved in the incident knew it or not, the mindset that they entered the room with was one conducive to sexual assault.

    I think Jeremy is wise to encourage you to see the broader issue at stake here, one the media aren’t too keen to take on, with their talk of ‘group sex culture in sport’. It’s clearly not just an issue of sports culture. Why else are so many ordinary people are prepared to condone rape as long as the victim was willing to engage in sex with more than one guy at a time? Or doing it in a toilet cubicle, or being a bit too drunk, or dressing/behaving provocatively (just a few of a varied selection of excuses from the Daily Telegraph’s comments page on one of these articles)? Unless these pages are frequented by huge numbers of professional athletes, I would say it’s pretty damn obvious that the real problem lies in the attitudes of your average Aussie.

  38. You have a licence to drive, fish, so why not a licence to bonk, and to breed. Just think of all the unlicenced bastards in Australia today—-just vile, disgusting—all these unlicenced humans walking the streets of Australia—asking some of them who their father was, would be like asking which bean caused the fart—it’s not on.

  39. WHEN a man talks dirty to a woman, it is sexual discrimination. When a woman talks dirty to a man it is five dollars per minute, mobile extra.

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