Today is the third time in under a month that a story of sexual assault by a prominent dance figure has arrived in my newsfeed. That is extremely maddening.
To be clear, I’m not taking a legal stance on whether or not the assaults in question ‘actually happened’, though my personal opinion is that the facts presented seem rather plausible in all three situations. But, that’s not my point today.
My point today is to talk about how every person in our community has an obligation to always ensure they have a willing partner in every sexual encounter they have.
Sexual assault is a very simple definition. It is any sexual contact or behavior that happens without the express consent of the other person.
There is absolutely no excuse for knowingly sexually assaulting someone, male or female. It doesn’t matter if they were in your room. It doesn’t matter if they were in your room, naked. It doesn’t matter if they were in your room, naked, and consensually making out with you. The second you go beyond their consent, it is sexual assault.
Even if your behavior doesn’t meet the threshold of ‘assault’ and is merely ‘harassment’, it is still wrong and inappropriate.
“But I thought they wanted it!”
If you ‘thought they wanted it’ when they didn’t, in 99% of cases you’re either:
- an irresponsible idiot, or
- a liar.
If you’re selfish, you decided that you would take what you wanted anyways, since they didn’t explicitly tell you that they didn’t want it. Since they didn’t say ‘no’, you convince yourself you’re under no obligation to see if they really wanted it. Basically, you knew you might be assaulting them – but your guilt doesn’t kick in because you talked yourself into thinking they were OK because there was no struggle or verbal ‘no’.
If you’re an idiot, you’re so bad at reading body language that, despite all the signs being there that they were not consenting, you decided to do it anyways without getting verbal verification of consent. It’s OK to be bad with body language – but that means you must ask directly and be extra careful to not push people past their limits. In which case, you should not be doing anything physical with anyone unless you get a very, very explicit ‘yes’.
If you’re a liar, you knew they weren’t consenting but are trying to use a ‘loophole’ or a lie to cover up the fact that you know you assaulted someone. Shame on you.
At the end of the day, you still sexually assaulted someone in all three scenarios.
“But some people make things like this up!”
If there are people making this stuff up, stop – now. You’re creating an almost impossible situation for people who have truly been assaulted. If you consented to any sort of sexual interaction, own it – even if it’s a mistake.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
Even if there are some people making up some stories, you are not absolved from your responsibility to obtain clear consent. Plus, if so many of the cases do actually rise out of ‘regret’, you should be happy to be getting consent. It’s a lot harder to lie convincingly about something you explicitly said than something that was implied through body language.
Saying “yes” forces a person to take ownership of their decision. This includes in sex. If you refuse to continue until there is an explicit and convincing “yes”, the chances that your partner will make up a story about how you assaulted them plummets. If you’re that scared of (rare) false rape accusations, start taking more steps to prevent situations of ambiguous consent/non-consent.
“But some people play games!”
You know what stops games really fast? Not playing back. If you’re worried that someone is going to ‘change their mind’ and feel assaulted later, don’t play the game. They say no? Stop. The ones who are playing games will change that ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ really fast, once they realize that you’re not going to keep going otherwise.
This includes “I don’t normally do this…” and other variations. If they really don’t normally “do this”, you should find out if they actually do want to “do this”. If they are trying to play coy and you back off, they’ll usually say “oh, no, it’s ok. I want it.”
If you both like playing games, you better make sure you’re able to read body language well. You better make sure that you’re so sensitive to the person’s needs that you know exactly when a ‘no’, ‘stop,’ or other behavior really means ‘no’.
Taking a page out of the BDSM community’s playbook, a ‘safe word’ is one option for clarifying these games.
“But I don’t know if the stories I hear are true!”
Again, I’m not talking about other stories. I’m talking about you. You have an obligation to make sure that every person you are intimate with is consenting. You have the obligation to make sure you know how to tell if your partner is really into it. You have the obligation to say that sexual acts without consent are not OK.
It’s too late to stop assaults that have already happened. But, if enough people change the expected behavior, we can stop (most of) them from happening in the future. Sexual consent should be a concept so clear that it’s inconceivable for someone to ‘misunderstand’ whether the other person did or didn’t want something.
“But I can’t tell!”
If you are clueless about other people’s behaviors and body language that you truly can’t understand ‘what they want’ and see ‘mixed signals’, you shouldn’t try to negotiate consent through body language. You have to ask. Just like if you have bad eyesight, you are responsible for wearing glasses while driving.
If you want to have naughty times without having to specifically ask questions, you better be damn sure that you’re able enough to read body language well enough to get the intention right 100% of the time.
If you think the person you are sleeping with is likely going to resent the encounter or be otherwise unhappy at its conclusion, stop. Do you really want to be the regrettable one-night stand? Do you really want to have people resent sleeping with you, even if it was ‘consensual’ – but with reservations or pressure?
(I sure wouldn’t.)
If you choose to hook up with people through dance, that’s fine. It can be quite fun for all involved. But, be the person who can confidently say all your partners were happy to be with you. That you know each and every partner really wanted you.
“But other people want to sleep with me!”
Ok. So, go find one of them instead. Leave the person who is ambiguous or not really into it alone.
“But they’ve slept with other people!”
If you’ve had sex, does that automatically mean you want to sleep with everyone at the event? (Didn’t think so.)
“But people need to protect themselves!”
Sadly, they do, because there are enough people who are willing to sexually assault someone that it’s a risk. And yet, almost all of us are offended or upset when someone doesn’t trust us right away.
So, there’s a balancing act between “likelihood of assault” and “having fun”. Before we become intimate with a person, we have to decide if that person is someone who will stop if we ask them to. We have to figure out if a drink in a hotel room is a hook-up, or if the purpose is simply because booze in someone’s room is cheaper than bar booze. We have to decide if the private lesson invitation in a secluded area is actually a lesson, or if it’s a way to get us alone.
It’s always a guessing game. It’s especially difficult in the dance community, where many of those requests are, in fact, legitimate. I’ve been invited to rooms to grab a drink very frequently – and almost every single time was without a sexual intention.There was only one time when the purpose was a guise for getting intimate. Upon realizing that I actually thought it was a drink, the person very kindly provided me with the drink and escorted me back to the ballroom.
Sometimes, some unfortunate people guess wrong. They end up with someone they thought was trustworthy and decent, only to find out that kissing means “you must have sex with me”, or “a drink” means “you don’t get to leave my room without giving me a blowjob.”
We can only do so much to protect ourselves without compromising the trusting, open community we have. Sure, we can stop socializing, having sex, sharing hotel rooms, and dancing. We can wear burlap sacks, and only have dry events. But, our openness shouldn’t be the issue – consent should be.
Time for a Change
This needs to stop – on all levels. We need to expect better from our stars and our social dancers. The easiest place to start is by making sure we manage our own behavior, and explaining to our friends that they – and only they – are responsible for making sure they get the full consent of their partner for every sexual encounter.
Great read. Thank you for sharing
Fantastic. Thank you!!!
very good visual representation of the same thing… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGoWLWS4-kU
“Sexual assault is a very simple definition. It is any sexual contact or behavior that happens without the express consent of the other person. No excuse.”
Honestly I dont think the definition is so simple. (it is very simplified)
Hopefully this wont be too controversial response. I dont want to excuse the assaults in any way. When it happens it is wrong. But the definition is giving space for personal interpretation. So it is simple and very clear to the person who writes it. It is simple and clear to everybody who reads it. The problem is that each of these persons can feel and understand it little differently. And in real life this can lead to issues where we can make someone uncomfortable without meaning any harm. And in my opinion without anybody being to blame.
Of course Im not talking about direct assault like Trumphs “Just grab her by the p***y”. I guess that everybody knows this is clearly behind the line. And I guess that this is actually the main behaviour the article is talking about. And as long as we are talking about assaults that involves directly touching genitals, penetration, or even any move where you just go under any clothing layer, etc then I completellly agree with the article.
But when you start defining it with words “Any” and “No excuse” I have few issues.
1) You are using term “any sexual contact”. What exactly is this? How would you define it to apply for everybody and every situation? For some people sexual contact starts by touching genitals. For some by gently brushing the hair. For some with full body contact and for some it can be basically any unwanted touches. Seuxal contact definition varies by person.
And here you are getting into troubles with rule:
“If you’re selfish, you decided that you would take what you wanted anyways, since they didn’t explicitly tell you that they didn’t want it. Since they didn’t say ‘no’, you convince yourself you’re under no obligation to see if they really wanted it.”
(because I believe each and every of us is potentionally breaking it all the time. We are just lucky we dont encounter people who mind it.)
As example: I have several non-dancing friends who saw pictures from the parties and were like “Wow. They dont mind being touched this way? I would not let them. Maybe only if I dance with my boyfriend”. I mean just simple contact dancing (Im not talking about sensual) can be percieved as sexual behaviour by some people. And honestly, when I ask uknown lady for a dance and she sais yes I just simply assume she knows what it involves. It never even occured to me (and I guess to nobdoy here) to doublecheck like “Sorry I dont know you, so I have to ask. Are you aware that during basic step I will have to step by my leg between your legs? are you aware the leading is done by body conenction? Can we do it or should we find some other way? How about my hand. Is it ok to place it on your back?”. By the definition Im just selfish and as long as she does not say no, Im going to dance with her. And if she finds it uncomfortable because she had no idea what it involves Im not going to feel like I made anything wrong. Sorry.
2) Also the “express consent” is not always so clear what exactly is this. I have met people with opinion, that verbal content is not sufficent. Because there can be situation where lady response “Yes I want that” but in reallity she does not and she may be just afraid to say no. Or dont want dissapoint the guy. Or any other reason why she is doing it against her will. According some people in case the guy is not able to read her mind, he is actually assaulting her in this case.
Just his extreme (and im my opinion absurd) and unfortunatelly real view can simply lead to the very bad situation where lady (with such opinion) feels raped and yet the guy has absolutelly no idea.
I know Im pulling out extermes. But I just want to point out that definition is not so simple. Many different people understand it in many different ways. And when two people have very different perception of this you can basically have a assault situation without anybody to blame. Just because one partys comfort zone is too bellow average.
Honestly you can not treat everybody like the “most shy catolic schoolgirl who may be on the party by mistake” just to be safe. by doing so you would be totally weird and probably made all the other 99,9% people very uncomfortable by all the consent request. (imagine every single guy on party asking you for consent for everything that someone may theoretically find sexual. And then doubting your response. Because that is exactly what such “no excuse” “no exception” “nothing that makes her uncomfortable” rules are asking for)
Thank you for your thoughts.
I still stand by the premise that sexual assault is simple to define. When I say any unwanted sexual behavior or contact, I really mean that. It includes catcalls, stroking the hair, or otherwise touching with any sensual/sexual intention that is not expressly consented to.
To define expressly, it means clearly and indisputably. So, if a person is ‘vague’ on whether something was consensual in any way, shape or form, it is not consensual.
Re: your dance examples: most social dancers are able to tell when a behavior is unwanted. So yes, if there is a person who doesn’t want to dance close hold with you, then you should be able to pick up through body language whether or not it’s OK. If you aren’t, you need to expressly ask permission.
And yes, you should feel bad if you *truly believed* it was consensual – but you find out she was uncomfortable later. It *was* your wrong – because you misread something. So, it’s time to learn from that behavior and *change it next time*.
Further, if the interaction is done without a sexual intent, it isn’t sexual assault. If anything, it would fall under general assault, which includes unwanted touches *not* of a sexual nature.
Re: your sexual examples: if she doesn’t want the sexual interaction, it is sexual assault. Plain and simple. What you are listing are something called ‘mitigating factors’.
In the vast majority of situations, those ‘mitigating factors’ are the result of what I listed in the article: selfishness, idiocracy, or lying. And yes, if you can’t tell reliably if your partner really wants it, you *really have to confirm it so that there’s absolutely no room for a misinterpretation*. Full stop.
You’ll notice I said 99% of the time. Perhaps there’s a theoretical situation where the woman has been threatened with death if she doesn’t give you a blowjob and act like she likes it by a third party you have no knowledge of. Sure, in that case, you have a real mitigating factor on why you *really didn’t know*.
If she is afraid, the partner needs to figure out *why* she was afraid. And yes, it’s still sexual assault, and yes, you should have taken more care. As for not wanting to disappoint: if you think your partner is doing it for that reason, you need to stop (otherwise you’re selfish).
If she seems completely willing and into it, the chances that she is going to feel violated or assaulted are very low. She may *regret* it, but that is not the same as assault – and it usually doesn’t involve a person feeling violated. It is simply a ‘why did I do that? I feel bad’ moment.
Basically: if she ‘feels’ raped, it probably was sexual assault. And yes, it is up to the perpetrator to take responsibility. And no, there is almost never a situation of sexual assault ‘without anyone to blame’.
Now, as for “asking consent for everything”: if you don’t know how to tell if someone is into something, *yes you need to*. If you can’t figure out if a partner wants a dip, *you need to verbally confirm*. If you can’t tell when close hold is unwanted or when they don’t want to be touched, *you need to ask*.
Of course, those aren’t usually sexual assault. That’s just good practice in dance.
If I’m dating a guy who can’t tell if I want to be kissed, *I expect to be asked*. Always, and without fail. Of course, most people have a basic enough grasp of how to read body language that they don’t need to ask for *everything*, like holding hands, etc. And, the more “sexual” the behavior, the higher the stakes.
And please note, I never in the original article said ‘her’- because these things can happen to both guys and girls.
Laura, I appreciate your enthusiasm in trying to eliminate sexual assault. I also appreciate that you’ve put some guidelines which will lead to less confusion and hopefully less sexual assualts.
I think your definition of assault is not the traditional one, and I think trying to add to the traditional definition is NOT helping the situation.
From google: a physical attack.
From doj (sexual assault): Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
From wikipedia (sexual assault): Sexual assault is a sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or non-consensual sexual touching of a person.
Catcalling is not sexual assault. Touching the hair is VERY IFFY in being called sexual assault. By including all these behaviors into sexual assault, you dilute the term and make it easy for you to be called an extremist who’s out of touch with reality.
If you want to label catcalling and touching the hair as bad behaviors, please use the term sexual harassment. They fit that definition much better.
The Criminal Code of Canada, and I believe the US as well (though I’m not as familiar with that jurisdiction), includes behavior and sexual contact. Which we are in agreement of, and which I mention in my article.
As you stated, catcalling is usually placed under ‘Sexual harassment’, which typically encompasses less severe and arguably non-criminal forms of assault. So, in this I concede the point that it is not ‘sexual assault’ as defined by criminal law, strictly speaking. But, it certainly meets the threshold of ‘assault’ in civil law.
In common law, assault is the tort of acting intentionally, that is with either general or specific intent, causing the reasonable apprehension of an immediate harmful or offensive contact.
The definitions for assault vary from state-to-state, but assault is often defined as an attempt to injure to someone else, and in some circumstances can include threats or threatening behavior against others. One common definition would be an intentional attempt, using violence or force, to injure or harm another person. Another straightforward way that assault is sometimes defined is as an attempted battery. Indeed, generally the main distinction between an assault and a battery is that no contact is necessary for an assault, whereas an offensive or illegal contact must occur for a battery.
I think you’re misunderstanding what the behavior has to be to equate to assault. The behavior has to show an intent to initiate unwanted (and usually injurious) contact. Catcalling usually does not fall into that domain.
Like I said, I’m not familiar with how it’s defined in the states.
And yes, for tort or criminal offence, there needs to be a reasonable apprehension of harm following the words – as well as the intent to make people feel as such. And, at times, it does not fall under that domain. At other times it does. We will have to disagree on whether it was appropriate to include in this article. I am not equating it on the same level as rape or molestation – but those behaviors are all part of the same gambit of behavior.
I don’t think people are likely to think the ‘point’ of the article is ‘rape and molestation are the same level of bad.’ The point is these behaviors are all *wrong* – and touching hair unwantedly is still *technically* assault, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty. Cat-calling may or may not be assault, depending on surrounding factors.
As my friends in your post pointed out, *technically* touching someone’s hair without permission would be assault or battery. But, simply unlikely to be pursued because of the lack of severity of the instance. It doesn’t make it ‘more legal’, simply because it was ‘less bad’.
Also note that NEITHER of these things are mentioned in the article – only in one comment thread below. 🙂
Also, from lawyers’ mouths:
I agree with my colleagues, that while unwanted or uninvited touching can constitute battery, unless such unwanted touching involves victim’s private parts or causes some type of actual injury, it is very unlikely that police or state attorney would choose to prosecute such unwanted touching as a battery, since if that was the case, any person who didn’t want to be tapped on the shoulder would have an option of criminally prosecuting the person who tapped him/her on the shoulder and our criminal courts (which are overwhelmed and overloaded already) would not be able to deal with other more serious crimes.
I laud that you’re trying to stop sexual assaults from happening, but I don’t think equating catcalling and touching someone’s hair with actual molestation and rape is the best method.
yes, i also heard about this one. Thank you for your post!