Thursday, November 09, 2017

An oh-so-honest exploration of issues of consent and sexual assualt

It's the second time I've listened to it, but the CBC Out in the Open documentary on sexual consent is, I think, terrific, and worth sharing.
The first part is a candid description of the 1996 rape of a drunk and incapacitated 16-year old Icelandic girl by an 18-year old upper middle-class Australian boy. It is a fascinating, revealing and oh-so-honest exposé of the kind of entitlement many young men feel, and the kind of denial (or at least time-lag in comprehension) that often occurs after a rape, both on the part of the victim and the perpetrator.
What is particularly poignant about this story is that, some nine years after the occurence, the victim reached out to the rapist, mainly as a way of processing the events for herself, little expecting a response to her email. What followed, though, was an eight-year email correspondence between the two, in which the rapist (now humbled, remorseful and full of guilt) and the victim (angry, confused and irreparably hurt) attempted to work out their feelings, and to come to grips with the forces and circumstances that could allow such a thing to happen.
While not expecting, or even asking, to be let off the hook, the honesty of the rapist is both touching and affecting, and he is eloquent in his public prostration. Here is a particularly poignant passage:
"I'm not offering this as an excuse, but it's the case that I was part of a social grouping of young men that's often unseen and unscrutinized, but very privileged and not questioned. And these notions of masculinity that you have a right to a woman's body, that misogynistic notion that women are of less value, and that you have a privilege that is almost a birthright, that you are deserving, or that you can have these expectations that are hugely damaging and destructive. And if I were to ask myself who am I speaking to as I am discussing this problem publicly sitting in this chair today, I would certainly like to reach young men who might harbour such damaging notions of entitlement to a woman's body that I did ... and say that this is just simply wrong."
The second section of the documentary is an interview with a Calgary man whose job it is to talk to talk to 14-year old school kids about sexual assault and, particularly, about consent. In it, he explains how "yes-means-yes-and-no-means-no" might seems clear and black-and-white enough, but in fact there is greyness even within that. He argues that just a "yes" is not enough, that an "enthusiastic yes" is needed. He also explains how communication between partners can take many forms, and the process may be different every time; the important thing is to take the time to go through the process, and to take nothing for granted. One little nugget from this section: "If it's not consensual, its's not sex, it's sexual assault".
The whole program is pretty heavy going at times, but it's thought-provoking, even enlightening. It should probably be mandatory listening for all school kids of a certain age.

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