Lesson #1: Mariska Hargitay is a goddess.
In addition to being effervescent and flawless, she is also an outspoken activist against sexual violence in real life, creating The Joyful Heart foundation and appearing in ads for the No More organization:
SVU has been raising awareness about sexual violence and rape for 15 freakin’ seasons. And while I may never get over the abrupt exit of Detective Stabler (SERIOUSLY CHRIS MAOLNI WTF?! WE NEED SOME CLOSURE!) the show has continued to grow and evolve. We said goodbye to a some of the shows most beloved characters this season (I will always love you Dan Floreck), and Olivia got the bump up to Sargent. And episode #14, Comis Perversion, employees one of Law & Order’s favorite tactics: a story ripped from the real world headlines.
This is Daniel Tosh, he has a show on E!, and he’s a comic. He got in hot water awhile ago for making a rape joke. It was a bad rape joke. To be clear, I don’t think that rape is always off the table for a comedy show. Here is a rape joke I find quite hilarious, smart, and on point, from Louis CK:
Ok so let’s put aside the issues of comedy and free speech. Feminists aren’t humorless bitches who want to take away an artists right to explore whatever topics he wants. But I kinda think comedy should be funny and healing, and making the victims of a violent crime the butt of your jokes isn’t funny. At least not to anyone with a single empathetic bone in their body. But you can say whatever the hell you want. That issue isn’t what got to me about this episode.
These are the main players in the scenario, the comic (who does in fact turn out to be a rapist) and his college student victim:
The show does a great job of showing how our culture functions to discredit rape victims. In this case, the girl had been drinking heavily. She flirted with her assailant and even went back to his hotel room and drank champagne. At that point she blacked out and when she regained consciousness he was raping her. She never denied being intoxicated or interacting with him previous to the attack. Despite the fact that she was honest about these details, the defense uses them against her to paint her and her allegations a bright shade of red with a very important underlying philosophy: sluts deserve to get raped.
Let me put this in some really simple language: Flirting is not consent. Accepting drinks is not consent. Going with someone to where the live/sleep is not consent. So basically, she can in fact get drunk and flirt and go home with you and then say no. In this case, it’s likely she passed out, in which case it was absolutely un-consensual because an unconscious person cannot give consent. And any person at any time can say ‘No.’ It doesn’t matter if its a male or female bodied person, it doesn’t matter if it’s a first time sexual encounter or if partners are in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if that’s frustrating or hard to understand.
Now look. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get super wasted and go to new places with strangers. It’s playing with fire and it’s immature. I wish we lived in a world where people were more open about their sexual desires and more forth right when discussing sex and consent. I wish college kids in particular would be more careful, and indeed feel more free to experiment and play without needing to get wasted. Also, shit happens, and I do not think that all drunk sex = rape. But. The statistics that link binge drinking to rape should not lead you to think ‘Oh, girls who drink should know better.’ The appropriate reaction is ‘Oh, predators are using alcohol to pick on already impaired victims and create a built in defense for their crime. What assholes!’
And with all this talk about consent, how to we define it? When I Googled ‘sexual consent definition’ I got a lot of articles seeking to define sexual assault as an act without consent, but consent itself was not immediately defined on clear terms. I did find a great article from Safer Campus.org that attempts to define consent using examples from various university policy statements, but that same article makes the excellent point that lots of universities use the term consent in their policies without attempting to define it at all. There’s also the ubiquitous portrayal of women who at first say no, but are then coaxed into a sexual encounter. This is often a scenario in romantic comedies. But coercion is not romantic, and women are not all playing hard to get because it’s just so much more fun to ‘get convinced.’ (Although that isn’t entirely uncommon because in our culture women are supposed to be sexually available but also not want sex too much or we risk the slut label so all of this can be linked back to that over arching villain: patriarchy.)
I personally love the idea of enthusiastic consent. This article from Persephone magazine says “The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement.” Word on the street is that some people think communication is ‘too much work’, or ‘breaks the mood.’ Sex shouldn’t be easy (not if you’re doing it right) and if talking breaks the mood you should get some tips on dirty talk and how to make consent/communication sexy.
This episode did a fantastic job of forcing us all to put ourselves in the seats of the jurors. When the opposing counsel was describing how the victim was drunk, how she’d flirted, I was shaking my head and thinking ‘Come on guys, don’t do that.’ And part of me stands by the advice that people, especially college aged people and especially college aged women should be way more careful about how much they drink. But that advice comes up short as a solution to the sexual assault epidemic, because we should all be equally worried about personal safety and women shouldn’t be burdened with the added worry of sexual assault when it comes to how much they drink or where they go. The threat of sexual assault does indeed police the lives of women, 24/7 and from a disturbingly young age. It’s unfair. And transgressing those rules of where to be and who to be with and how to act do NOT mean that a victim deserves or was asking for a violent act to be committed against them. As I’ve said before, the only people responsible rape are rapists, and the only advice we can offer to prevent more rapes is ‘Don’t rape anybody.’