Some Men can't Tell the Difference between Consent and Refusal
Yesterday morning during a bout of procrastination, I came across yet another headline of a male celebrity accused of sexual assault. This time, it was former Corrie actor Bruno Langley's guilty plea at Manchester Magistrate's Court that added him to a growing list of prominent men including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven and Ed Westwick accused of sexual misconduct.
It seems like a day can't go by without a man in the public eye being outed for sexual harassment - a trend of that many balk at but won't come as a surprise to the women who have been experiencing harassment at various levels for years; from annoying catcalls, being told to 'smile more' by strange men to more serious and damaging forms of physical assault.
Across the board, there have been many responses and tactics, from blatant denials, profuse apologies for their actions to mind boggling excuses about their sexuality. There is one thread in common (though not to all cases), some of the men accused believe the alleged encounters were completely consensual. Wut?
How is it that a man can believe something was 100% consensual when a woman claims it was a traumatic assault? It begs an important question, are men unable to tell the difference between what is consented to and what is definitely not? Or is this just a tactic?
A new study conducted in the US by a team of psychologists has attempted to identify risk factors in straight male students at university to predict how likely they'd take part in any sexual offence. The researchers discovered the majority of the 145 young men confused consent with showing sexual attraction. In other words, if a woman shows interest, most of the men took that as a green light for sexual consent. Which of course, it is not.
It was also discovered the way a woman represented her refusal of consent had a notable effect on the man's overall perception of the situation. The male awareness of consent changed the most when the women (in the hypothetical situations presented) verbally expressed that they had no interest in sex and refused consent. The actual articulation had a bigger impact on the male participants than the passive responses to their advances.
Shockingly, some of the men who took part also showed what the researchers called 'precedence' where past consent was seen as consent for future sexual activity, even if she said no this time. It also demonstrates that ambiguity in response was perceived by some men as 'no really means yes.'
It's important to note that some of these men really cared about consent and were actively seeking to ascertain it, albeit though they were still “relying on questionable sexual scripts to disambiguate the situation”.
The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)'s most recent available findings state that in 91% of assault cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim and in 2013, the helpline received 32,026 calls making the issue of consent a highly important one. The researchers behind the report state that as a population, we need to get to the point where regardless of gender, we actively seek and actively give consent with no ambiguity.