#4 Knees Together, Girls!

The  culture of rape, an insensitive judge, and the one word that stands between yes and no: consent.

It made CNN and all the big news outlets around the globe, the infamous ‘why couldn’t you just keep your knees together to avoid being raped’ case.  But, there’s always more to the story.

h: You should have been able to keep her legs shut to prevent the sexual assault said the judge to the victim.  How insensitive to re-victimizing and blame the victim.  It’s something we have seen throughout history. 

c:  Well there’s another side to the story.  A little background, judge Robin Camp, father of 3, is originally from South Africa. He had no experience at all in sexual assault cases. He was doing foreclosure cases. I’m not people know that South Africa ha one of the highest incidence of rape in the world.  It’s 12 times higher than in the United States.  So if you want to look at this man’s sensitivity to an act like this you have to consider where he is coming from. This does not pardon the judge, however, it’s background is a factor.  Interesting for me is that as a grown man, I have never had a conversation, either with a man, a peer, with a woman, about the subject of sexual assault.  How are men supposed to learn the nuances, this s not just black and white. 

h: It’s such a disservice the fact that our sexual education program hasn’t been changed in something like 30 years is truly astounding.  The Mask You Live is a documentary that looks at young boys and how they have compassion and joy in taking care in nurturing and respecting other beings.  Then as they are socialized, anger and aggression are some of the only emotions that are sanctioned.  With that sort of social fabric expressing emotions is not only not discouraged it’s downright abused if it comes out.  We’re not learning in school what personal boundaries are, or what consent really means. We need to start talking to our young boys at school age, but with parents even younger, that we could see some change.

c: What we focus on is what’s titillating, the knees together.  It’s what the judge said that is so provocative, however, the most important word here is consent. The law says sexual consent is a voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity; each individual with control over who touches one’s body lies at the core of human dignity and autonomy. 

h: Sobriety is important as well. Let’s face it, when people drink they get horny making it even more difficult to clear cut when both people are enthusiastically wanting this.  Sometimes the tipping point of they are no longer coherent becomes rape. Some of the women’s movements have said ‘no mean no’, but now we are getting to a point where only ‘yes means yes’.  That being an enthusiastic yes, not a coerced or assumed yes.  A lot of women think that if they give a man an erection, or that I’ve led him on, that they should do whatever sexual act has been initiated.   I would say to all people that you are within your right to explore where you want to and to withdraw when you want to.

c: I understand that but we are talking about human beings at the tip of the ultimate emotion; language sometimes falls to the background where heated action is taking place.  I know the law says that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and if a man respects a woman yes he would comply, however, you add other ingredients like alcohol and it becomes very blurred. I don’t know if it’s a reasonable expectation of all people under all conditions.

h: I think that as it stands we can’t but we have to get to the point where we can and do enforce that because the more than we give anybody the right to push beyond somebody’s comfort we’re just feeding into a rape culture that if you’re already expecting something that you should get what you deserve.  That’s BS in my opinion. 

c: one very interesting piece of dialogue in the ‘knees together case’ came between the Crown representing the victim and the Judge:

Crown: the accused has the obligation to insure that she (the victim) is communicating consent, the woman isn’t required to say anything…

Judge: so he must he ask?

Crown: he could say a number of different things, but he MUST ask if she is willing to engage in sexual activity.
Judge: where is that written, are children taught this at school, do they pass tests like drivers licenses, it seems a little extreme.  Is there some kind of incantation that needs to be gone through because that’s not the way the birds and the bees do it.

Crown: the accused admits he was drunk, the complainant was drunk.  He knew she had been drinking, the crown submits that it is incumbent on him to take reasonable steps to make sure that consent is obtained.

Judge: you’re saying that a drunk man has a higher standard, or the fact he knew she was drunk places a higher standard on him?  Is not the onus of her to be more careful?

Crown: no the onus is not on her the onus on him to make sure she consents, not that she says she doesn’t consent.

Judge: there’s not the equal onus on a drunk woman as there is a drunk man?  So there is a higher burden on the drunk man than on the drunk woman?  That doesn’t seem right.  Do you have a case that says that a drunk man has a higher obligation than a sober man? 

h: My initial reaction is that a sober man has the same expectation as a drunk man, but I can see that when both parties are drunk it can be harder to know the right course of action.  When it comes to onus it’s more on the person who is pressuring. If that’s the woman then that has to be taken into account.  Education is key to understanding that silence does not equal to consent, or the absence of a no does not equate to the presence of a yes.  I’ve also heard of a lot of cases where men have said, she didn’t say no and she seemed kind of into it — like what does that mean?

c: A study was done on counter motive questioning 610 undergraduate women.  They were asked if they had ever said no to sex even though they fully intended to have sexual intercourse.  
    – 68.5% answered no when their intention was maybe  
    – 39.3% answered that when they have said no it really meant yes  

The explanation was some women were fearful of being considered promiscuous so they would say no to preserve some honor, even though they may have meant something completely different.  Some claimed they weren’t comfortable with their experience.  Others answered that they intended to manipulate the man because they were angry, wanted him to become more aroused, or more aggressive as that’s how they got their stimulation.

h: now we are getting into some of the nuances.  This comes back to one of our archetypes the Virgin, that when we hold something like a woman’s chastity in high regard it doesn’t allow for consent to be so straight forward because she may really want to engage in sexual activity, but may not have the cultural or social approval to go forward.  But that should not negate from when a person says they are uncomfortable.  The stronger point is that she is not comfortable and pushing it, that isn’t right.

c: this simple thing we talk about, communication.  Have you heard of the 55 / 38 / 7 rule of communication?

    – 55% of human communication is delivered by body language

    – 38% by vocal signals 

    – 7% delivered by words

h: Yeah, how to read someone’s body movements. Sometimes our sexual urges can make us insensitive so that soon as you hear a yes we just take it and run with it.  Instead of listening at a deeper level not just to the words.

c: I found this site ( on it by Vickas Shah interviewed over a dozen feminist leaders and male supporters.  One particular comment struck me.

“You can only commit atrocities to another person if you don’t see them as human if you cannot empathize with them, cannot consider their perspective, and see them as being of no value.”

 c: also interviewed was Inna Shevchenko.  She’s an activist and the leader of the international women’s movement FEMEN. They are a group of women who go topless with pro-feminist slogans painted on their bodies — using their bodies to send their chosen message. 

Inna: “A female body is denied, used, sold, abused, considered obscene, dirty, and guilty. A female body is always too much, or not enough. This idea has infected women themselves. The female body is full of guilt, dirt, and sin. It should obey, remain silent, and be ready to be used. Its mission is to satisfy; its duty is to carry new generations. The female body is supposed to be hidden from the public and exposed only on private demand. It does not belong to its rightful owner; it has no freedom.  The key to the enslavement of women by men is the control men hold over women’s bodies. These methods of control include the glamor of the ‘beauty industry’. Historically, women have been deprived of their right to property, and today they are still deprived of ownership over their own bodies.”

h: That’s a disgusting energy, the power people feel over someone else.  I may not have power in greater social circles, but at least with you, I can take what I want when I want it and that makes me feel in control.

c: Ego wants that power.

h: It justifies itself all the time. One way I have seen some real change with people who have this mentality is allowing people to see and realize that what they do to others is what they do to themselves.  The shift is in men starting to see that the other person is just like them even though there may be physiological differences.

c: that’s a critical piece, respect.  We see the problems in our culture, but in other cultures, this problem is far more heartbreaking.  Leslee Unwin is a British filmmaker, actress, producer of films East is East, West is West, and the documentary India’s Daughter which is based on a 2012 gang rape and murder of 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi.  In talking about the film she says,  “When I interviewed these boy rapists in India, I expected monsters.  They were normal, ordinary human beings with what psychiatrist described as antisocial tendencies.  They had been hard-wired to view women as having lesser or no value.  

I was looking for a common thread that linked these 7 rapists.   It struck me that most of them had not finished secondary school.  I thought this was hugely significant until I interviewed their lawyers.  These so-called ‘educated’ men, with the benefit of education, were even more entrenched in their misogyny than the uneducated rapists.   

One lawyer told me that if his daughter behaved ‘like this’ [exercising her freedom and independence] he would take her to his farmhouse, cover her in petrol, and burn her alive in front of his family.”

h: it’s a disgrace, again that you don’t see this person as a human being.  You have completely stripped them from that.  I think some change can come when girls and women are seen as part of the family’s economy, part of the family income.  She’s a burden because she is not educated or cultured, but when her position in society brings money into the family we all know that money talks.

c: I understand that I just find it disheartening to think that the only way for a woman to earn respect is to go out and earn money for the family.  That doesn’t seem like a solution to me because she’s reduced to a commodity to be used by the family.  I don’t see where that earns her respect.

h: but it gives her power to leave if she wants to, to build autonomy.  There is so much that comes with financial autonomy. 

c: but again, this woman who was brutally raped and murdered, that’s all she was doing, exercising her personal freedom.  She was going to school, gaining an education and getting herself ready for the world.

h: I think for centuries that’s what scares men. How dare she take on her own life, her own autonomy, her own personhood.  Heaven forbid women  should have their own ideas about how they want to be treated, how they deserve to be treated.  I think it’s earth shattering to the system when women start to demand autonomy because who is going to make dinner, and who is going to tidy the house. I know it sounds trivial, but it is so ingrained. 

c: This is a very compelling topic, not one that will be easily remedied, however, it is one that needs to be talked about and understood.  We have to have those conversations.



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