Friday, July 12, 2013

Relationship ≠ Consent: The body language of 'No'

A guest post from contributor Steph;

So, you're lying in bed with your long term partner of several months, years or even decades. You're near asleep or perhaps just lying there thinking. And your partner reaches over, rubs against you, touches you intimately, kisses you. You lie there unresponsive. Passively accepting by virtue of not saying no, possibly with your body screaming out against their touch while your mind desperately searches for escape. And intercourse happens because that's the way it's always been. And rape? No, it's a secure relationship, of course it can't be rape - right?

We've moved on from the image of rapists being solely the image of solitary men stalking silent streets for prey. Its accepted and known that most rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows. Date rape is common, if still under-reported and under-prosecuted. But what I think of as 'passive rape' within an established relationship is possibly moreso.

I've been there. It's unlikely I'd write about it if I didn't. And I acknowledge that my particular perspective is very damaged. I have been subject to extremely violent rape, passive rape, rape when I was too drunk or high to know what the hell I was doing and statutory rape, earliest age around nine. I am undeniably damaged. But passive rape is concerning me at the minute and there is very little written about it that I can find. So you can have my damaged viewpoint and take from it what you will.

It's a difficult call, if you're in that situation. It comes down to the reading of non-verbal communication, I think. Having been there, having allowed intercourse simply by not saying no, I can honestly say it should have been obvious. If someone doesn't respond to your touch, if they're stiff and unresponsive, perhaps turned away and not even obviously awake it is not OK to go ahead and continue anyway. There is an element of 'but I should have said no'. Fear, guilt and not wanting to hurt someone you care for all play into that. You can care for someone, love someone without wanting sexual relations with them. And when you've always been willing to make love, suddenly screaming 'no' at your partner could be extremely hurtful. Who wants to hurt someone they care about like that? I didn't. But I still blamed him for going ahead when I didn't respond to his touch. I still felt violated.

Should I have said something? Hell yes. Of course I should. It's my body to decide with whom to share it, and I absolutely should have said something. But for a variety of reasons I didn't, mainly to do with not wanting to hurt him. Should he have stopped? That's another 'hell yes'. If she doesn't respond and doesn't encourage, that's a very clear 'not interested'.

Its possibly worse for men, in the sense that men are expected to perform and to provide and are arguably more conditioned to think sexual abuse is something that doesn't happen to adults of their gender. I've known men who would be entirely unable to achieve and maintain an erection when they didn't want sex. But I've also known men who respond physically without any mental desire to do so. I am firmly on the side of 'yes she can' when it comes to the question of 'can a woman rape a man with conventional intercourse'. Because yes, there are guys who can and do 'get it up' without mentally or emotionally wanting sex, it's purely a response to physical stimuli in that instance. And a woman using the ability to provoke an erection and - to put it crudely - ride it, when there's no other signs of desire or encouragement is no better than the man who 'sticks it in' his unresponsive partner.

And I find it difficult to believe someone can 'not notice' a partner being curled up as far away from you as they can get and failing to respond positively to your advances. Yes - it can hurt to think your partner or spouse doesn't want you, but it hurts because you love them and why on earth would you want to subject someone you love to that? Having a partner or spouse does not give you any entitlement to their body. It still needs to be given willingly. Every, single time. Even if you're desperately trying to delude yourself that everything is as it always has been, at the very least there has to be a tiny voice in the back of your head mentioning it. And that voice is more important than your sexual desires because it's the one that is screaming at you that rape is wrong.

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