Consent. That’s the big word on college campuses in discussions about sexual assault. Consent at every stage of contact, ability to provide consent not impaired by alcohol or drugs, etc. Sounds simple.
Jian Ghomeshi was the Jon Stewart of Canadian public radio. Billboards featured his handsome face, and “Q,” his daily program on CBC, drew the coveted demographic of young adults. He was a fixture at art, music and literary events. He is also a sexual predator who was fired from his job last week.
Nine women have come forward to detail physical and sexual abuse by Ghomeshi. His defense? It was consensual.
How do you define consent? That is the issue for many.
Ghomeshi says he was very clear about his interest in BDSM (erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, etc.) when first meeting these women who were often young and star-struck on-line or at events. He says that if they agreed to date him, they were consenting to extreme behavior such as choking and beating. He often met them at the door and commenced activity without even saying hello. Some women returned for multiple dates before they told him to stop. He insists that when he was told to quit, he did.
If we are being generous, we believe Ghomeshi relied upon implied consent, which is consent defined by his own beliefs. He had given the women a warning, and they accepted it. Often, we make unilateral assumptions, too. Both parties have a little too much to drink. The woman is wearing a sexually suggestive outfit. The guy feels pressured by the woman’s behavior. The third date means sex. The woman knew he liked it rough. All of these ways of thinking result in a belief of implied consent, and lead to misunderstandings and claims of assault.
We need to change our belief in romance. Sexual contact must involve an active discussion between competent equals about what will happen at every stage. Make it sexy; make it fun, but talk it out. Respect the “no” from both sides; no one owes anybody anything.
Ghomeshi may be a creep, but he’d be in a lot less trouble if he assumed less and asked more. Power and fame won’t protect you. Consent is protection for both parties, because we often don’t know what we’re getting into, or with whom. That’s a fact of life. Believe it.