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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
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(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
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Consent, Coercion, and Consumption

Attitudes supporting a rape culture begin shockingly early. As you carefully peruse the following material, think about your own attitudes and challenge them. This section lends support to the proposition that sex education teaching healthy respect for girls and boys cannot start too early. We know that much about our attitudes is taught - our hope is that in this area, harmful attitudes can be untaught.

Attitudes of Adolescents

In a survey of high school students, 56% of the girls and 76% of the boys believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances. A survey of 11-to-14 year-olds found that 51% of the boys and 41% of the girls said forced sex was acceptable if the boy, "spent a lot of money" on the girl; 31% of the boys and 32% of the girls said it was acceptable for a man to rape a woman with past sexual experience; 87% of boys and 79% of girls said sexual assault was acceptable if the man and the woman were married; 65% of the boys and 47% of the girls said it was acceptable for a boy to rape a girl if they had been dating for more than six months. See AMA Report, "Facts about Sexual Assault."

This 1995 survey of 1,965 8th and 9th graders reveals the early establishment of gender stereotypes in the context of rape:

· 11% agreed that if a girl said "no" to sex she usually really meant "yes."
· Nearly 27% agreed that girls who get drunk at parties or on dates deserve whatever happens to them.
· Over 46% felt that being raped was sometimes the victim's fault.
· 40% agreed that girls who wear sexy clothes are asking to be raped.
· Over 33% felt that they would not be arrested if they forced a dating partner to have sex.
· More than 20% agreed that when a girl wears sexy clothes on a date it means she wants to have sex.
· 36% agreed that when a girl agrees to go into a bedroom on a date, it means she wants to have sex.
· Over 15% said that forcing your date to have sex is acceptable in some circumstances.
· Over 7% said it is acceptable for a boy to force a girl to have sex if she got the boy sexually excited.

See Pamela McMahon, "Facts about Sexual Assault"

Lois Pineau, in her article "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis," states that "the reasoning that underlies the present criterion of consent is entangled in a number of mutually supportive mythologies which see sexual assault as masterful seduction, and silent submission as sexual enjoyment." Pineau argues that male aggression and female reluctance are widely believed by both society and the courts to be normal parts of seduction. On the basis of this model, sexual aggression "cannot be inconsistent with the legitimate consent of the person allegedly seduced by this means. And if it is normal for a woman to be reluctant, then this reluctance must be consistent with her consent as well." (p.485) Lois Pineau, "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis" in Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women's Lives: Sex, Violence, Work, and Reproduction (1996).

From "Unwanted Sex," by Stephen Schulhofer (Atlantic Monthly, October 1998):
on coercion and force:

"In most states, a sexual-assault charge normally requires proof that the abuser used physical force or threatened the victim with physical injury. Submission to avoid other kinds of harm is not enough to meet the statutory requirement of intercourse 'without consent.' …

"… Rape laws have moved far since the days when women were required to resist 'to the utmost.' Today 'reasonable' resistance is supposed to be sufficient. In the more progressive states no resistance is required at all. But in nearly all states intimidation short of physical threats is still treated as if it were mere 'persuasion.' When it succeeds, courts will usually say that the victim 'consented.'

"We have all heard of cases in which the police, judge, or jury refused to believe that a woman's 'no' really meant no. But he problems run deeper: even when jurors are convinced that a woman was unwilling, unwillingness is not enough. IN the face of clearly expressed objections, intercourse is still not considered rape or any other form of felonious assault unless the assailant used physical force or threatened bodily injury. And the law's definition of physical force remains extremely strict. The physical acts of lifting a woman up or pushing her onto a bed and accomplishing sexual penetration usually aren't enough. The 'force' must be something beyond the acts involved in intercourse-something that physically 'compels' the woman to submit.
"Because nearly all states require proof of physical force in prosecutions for rape or sexual assault, many serious abuses are classified as 'nonviolent' and penal sanctions are assumed to be inappropriate. The abuses are not really nonviolent, of course. It is more accurate to say that they don't involve what the law regards as the required kind of force. The force they do involve is seen as normal and therefore permissible." (56)

and on sexual autonomy:
"Respect for sexual autonomy requires safeguards against abuse and exploitation. But-equally important-it requires that the law protect our freedom to seek emotional intimacy and sexual fulfillment with willing partners. Despite decades of discussion and years of ambitious feminist reforms, adequate protection of sexuality remains elusive, in part because freedom from unwanted sex and the freedom to seek mutually desired sex sometimes seem to be in tension." (58)

"Few of our other personal rights and liberties-perhaps only our right to life itself-are as important as our right to decide whether and when we will become sexally intimate with another person. The emotional vulnerability and potential physical danger attached to sexual interaction make effective legal safeguards at least as important for sex as they are for the sale of land or the purchase of a used car. Strangely, in the list of fundamental entitlements that the law grants us as free and independent beings, sexual autonomy is somehow left out.

"There is nothing intrinsic to sexuality that requires this constricted pattern or protection. Violent threats are just one possible source of a defect in consent, and the law already recognizes a few others in the context of sexual relations. The best-known example is immaturity: the law has long prohibited consensual intercourse with a girl who is below the legally prescribed age of consent. The law likewise punishes acts of intercourse with a woman who is sleeping, unconscious, mentally incompetent, or unaware that a sexual act is being performed.

"Traditionally, the law draws no formal distinction between cases of physical violence and exceptional cases like the ones just mentioned; all are classified as rape. Yet our terminology keeps force in the forefront. In ordinary language 'rape' means the imposition of intercourse by force. The terminology influences assumptions about the proper scope of rape or assault, for judges, legislators, ordinary citizens, and committed anti-rape activists alike. Rather than asking whether certain sexual advances unjustifiably impair freedom of choice, we have asked only whether the conduct is so bad that it is equivalent to violent compulsion-whether it is tantamount to rape.

"Sexual autonomy should not exist so precariously. Attention should no longer focus exclusively on whether a man's behavior is aberrant, egregious, or potnetially lethal. Instead the proper questions for debate are whether each participant in a sexual encounter had a meaningful oportunity to choose, and whether a meaningful choice was in fact made before sexual pentration occurred. In connection with criminal sanctions the law must also consider whether the defendant can fairly be considered culpable. But culpability cannot be confined to cases of aberrant physical violence; there is ample reason to find criminal responsibilty when, for example, a man commits an act of sexual penetration knowing that he doesn't have the woman's consent." (63)

on affirmative consent:
"The silence-means-consent assumption draws support even from some rape-law reformers. They worry that treating passivity or ambivalence as nonconsent will patronize women, who should be assumed to be capable of asserting their own wishes. But we seldom think it patronizing to insist on permission, not just silence, when the interests affected are ones that men can easily recognize. When a doctor asks if a patient wants a probe inserted into his rectum to check for tumors, the patient's silence is not assumed to indicate consent. The patient's willingness must be made explicity. Yet rape law doesn't require us to obtain actual permission for intercourse; it prohibits penetration only when there is clear evidence of nonconsent.

"…To rminimize the risks, many reformers propose that nothing less than verbal permission-an explicit yes-should ever count as consent to intercourse. The drawbacks of such a rule are evident. If body language cannot be a legally effective way to express consent, many common modes of indicating a desire for intercourse will have to change radically, or-more likely-the verbal-permission requirement will simply be ignored by spouses, lovers, daring partners, and perhaps courts and juries as well.

"To signal affirmative consent, body language must be unambiguous. Sexual petting does not in itself imply permission for intercourse, any more than does inviting a man in for coffee or permitting him to pay for dinner. A woman who engages in intense sexual foreplay should always retain the right to say no. If she doesn't say no, and if her silence is combined with passionate kissing, hugging, and sexual touching, it is usually sensible to infer actual willingness. A verbal-permission rule would reduce the risks of a possible misunderstanding in this situation, but at the cost of imposing a degree of formality and artificiality on human interactions in which spontaneity is especially important.

"The verbal-yes rule thus seems many steps beyond the level of regulation that contemporary courts are likely to entertain. And a verbal-yes rule is not mandated by a commitment to respect sexual autonomy. The central point is that sexual intimacy must be chosen freely. The first priorities are to stop insisting on proof of the woman's opposition, and to stop requiring her to take actions clear enough to overcome the law's presumption that she is always interested in sex-at any time, in any place, with any person. The legal standard must move away from the demand for unambiguous evidence of her protests and insist instead that the man have affirmative indications that she chose to participate. So long as her choice is clearly expressed, by words or conduct, her right to control her sexuality is respected." (66)

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