Tag Archives: laws

Americans Love Rape

The worst part of the aftermath of being raped was being told over and over again that I must report the rape. Every health professional saw told me how important it was that I report the incident to the police. When I would tell them I had decided not too, every single one of the people who were supposed to be there as my doctor launched into trying to guilt me into doing something I didn’t want to do. “If you don’t report, other women will be raped.” “You have to report or you will never heal.” “The only way to be a true feminist is to report.”

Honestly, I have never wanted to kick more people in the balls than I did these “medical professionals.”

The thing is, I know what happens with rape reporting. In California, at the time of my rape, there were 35,000 backlogged rape kits. That means 35,o00 rape victims were in front of me to have their cases looked at. Even if I offered to pay for the processing of my own kit, I am not allowed to move to the front of the line. The fact that I was not conscious enough after being roofied to seek help for three days eliminated the possibilities of getting evidence.

If I would have reported the rape, then I would have been intensely questioned about my behavior, what I was wearing and if I had done anything that would have made my attackers believe that it was okay to roofie and gang rape me. The benefit of the doubt is always on the side of the rapist. Police are trained to look for reasons someone would want to be roofied and raped (hint: no one ever does this).

Finally, on the off chance the case ever made it to court (which would never have happened in my case) I would have been intensely cross-examined just in case there was some reason to let the rapists off. Even men caught in the middle of a rape serve no time in CA. Brock Turner is the most famous right now. He did three months and was caught sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman. This week in northern CA, a man admitted to police of going into rooms with incapacitated women and raping them. He is on probation with no jail time. In multiple jurisdictions it is now completely legal to force oral sex 0n someone drunk or asleep.

Judges, doctors, politicians and police are actively working to make rape legal, or at least one of those crimes where there is no punishment.

Rape victims are routinely implored to report, submit to physical and emotional probing by strangers, and are always told they have to prove they were raped. If we actually cared about rape victims we would do something to stop rape. Right now, we are creating a culture that encourages rape.

We do not process rape kits in any timely fashion. Several different jurisdictions have been pushed to process their backlog. Not surprisingly, the evidence reveals serial rapists. In Chicago, processing the kits finally found that one man had raped more than 100 women. But these kits sat on the shelf so long, no body intervened after 5 or 10 or even 50 rapes.

We allow rapists to go free or serve minimal jail time because rape is always the victim’s fault in the United States.

In CA, the state allocates less than $2 in services per rape victim per year.

If we wanted to do something about rape, we could. The thing is, people like to rape. They see rape as a sex act. They see rape as “legitimate” or a “misunderstanding.” Until we change this, it does not matter at all if I or any other rape victim ever report.

 

 

Protecting Men with a National Safe Word

 

By now, you have probably seen images from BDSM/kink movies or pornography. You may have tied up a date or given someone a spanking. It’s definitely fun and always feels a bit naughty. As a submissive myself, I love kink and BDSM. But beyond sexy times, BDSM offers something that the entire country could benefit from: a safe word.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of a safe word, it is pretty simple. A safe word is any word people agree on has the power to stop sexual play. It is a clear way of letting your partner(s) know that what is happening is not okay and you need it to stop now. No more negotiations, no more “just a little bit more,” no more “Please, I am so close!” but a definitive point to stop what is happening.

Most commonly, people use the word “Red.” Red is culturally associated with the idea of stopping. Additionally, “red” is not something that generally comes up in sexy talk. Unlike “no” or “don’t” or “stop” which can be confusing depending on context, “red” is only used when you need to stop what is happening. Additionally, “red” can be said at a social event (e.g., frat party, club) and the word stands out. If someone is at a party and says “Stop” it can go unnoticed because it is a common word and is used in many contexts. “Red” on the other hand, isn’t something that gets yelled out at a frat party very often.

Safe words are a clear way of letting your partners know that you are not okay with what is happening. Men have a hard road when it comes to modern sexual relationships. Sometimes it is unclear if someone is really okay with what is happening. Sometimes guys get mixed signals. Think about the times when you are with someone trying to be cute and teasing with, “Oh! Don’t! Stop! I am not that type of girl!” while giggling and continuing to touch you. It’s cute, but are you sure she isn’t serious about “don’t” and “stop?”

In New York and California, sex education classes now include the idea of affirmative consent. This is the idea that before you progress to each new sex act you have to get verbal permission. “Is it okay to kiss you?” “Can I touch your breasts?” “I want to have sex, do you?” It’s a good concept, but in practice can be onerous. Having to confirm consent for each new step can be cumbersome and what if you miss one? Is that now grounds to say “rape?”

A safe word is an opt-out option where affirmative consent is opt-in course of action. Sometimes it’s easier to get an okay to start making out and know that your partner has the power to say “stop” when they are uncomfortable. It is a clear signal you need to stop and stay on safe ground.

For a safe word to work, everyone has to know that they need to be respected and honored. If someone says “Red,” you can’t push for “just a little more” or finish what you want before stopping. Continuing action after “red” is akin to rape. If we treat it like that, then we make it clear when someone is okay and when you have reached a limit.

Men need a safe word more than women in some ways. Rape is horrible and as a survivor I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, I got the necessary medical and mental health help I needed and I can move forward with my life. If I call rape on a guy after something happens and he goes to jail, the long term repercussions for him are enormous. For men, trying to be good men and respect a woman, a safe word makes things much more clear. The boundaries can be seen in a way that you cannot without a safe word.

Implementation of a national safe word is simple and relatively inexpensive. However, finding the political will to give everyone clear power over their body will be difficult. The current structure of laws around sexual assault, the sentences associated with them, and the enormous backlogs of rape kits favor the rapist. We have politicians trying to justify “acceptable rape.” Giving everyone a clear way of saying “stop touching my body” where there are few grey areas will upset the people who don’t mind that over a quarter of all Americans are raped at some point in their lifetime.

Creating “red” as a national safe word would clear up many of the grey areas around rape. We need to empower both men and women to have safe, sane and sexy relationships. A safe word moves us closer to this.

 


Note: I submitted this piece to an online publication I respect. Initially, an editor reached out to me stating they were going to run the piece. Two days later I received a notice from the Editorial Board stating they couldn’t run the piece because they don’t discuss “Sexually explicit work.” I wrote back asking for clarification about where this was “sexually explicit.” The only thing I can figure is that they equate “rape” with “sexually explicit” which saddens me. Rape is not about sex. It is about power. And beyond that, as someone who writes sexually explicit romance literature for a living, I think I have a clue about what is sex and what is a violent crime.

Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation???

Vice.com just put out an article about people seeking to qualify polyamory as a sexual orientation. It’s not, but don’t stop reading.

Polyamorous folks seeking to qualify polyamory as a sexual orientation are largely doing so because they want political protections. I get that. I have fought most of my life to get protections for groups from bigots. Polyamorous folks need protection, but they are not a sexual orientation.

What’s the Difference?

Sexual orientation is defined by what gender(s) you are sexually attracted to, have sex with and want to form romantic, intimate relationships with. For many people, sexual orientation isn’t a choice. Whether you are gay, straight, bi, queer, pan or other, sexual orientation is about your romantic attraction to others. For almost all hetero folks, the idea of only have sex with someone of the same gender is unappealing. For gay folks, the other is true.

Polyamory is a relationship style. Regardless of your sexual orientation, you may practice polyamory. For some folks, they feel this is more “innate” that others. I have heard a number of poly folks argue that there need to love multiple people at once feels natural and has been present from early on in their lives.

However, I also read poly boards and pages. Many people in the poly world struggle with the relationship style. You see all sorts of permutations of struggle. There are plenty of couples who open up the relationship when something is wrong and it goes down in flames. You see one partner pressured into opening the relationship and does it reluctantly then posts lengthy paragraphs seeking help to continue in a relationship that they are uncomfortable in. You see folks who only date other poly folks. You see people who identify as ethical non-monogamists who disdain poly and critique its relationship styles.

Additionally, there are thousands of ways to do a type of open relationship. There is not a consistent idea of what “polyamory” is. This alone makes classifying “polyamory” as a protected political class a no go.

What do we do then?

I don’t believe people should be fired or not hired simply because they are engaged in a consensual healthy relationship. Religious beliefs have no place in the workplace. If you are not bringing in drama and your relationship is not impacting your ability to do your job, your employer should not be able to fire you. Period.

What we need is legal protections that put the onus on the employer to prove beyond legal doubt that a personal orientation or behavior is seriously detrimental to your ability to do your job. This would help groups across the board.

LGBTQ: In many states, LGB folks and in almost all states trans folks can be fired simply for being who they are. If your employer knows you used to be a man and are now a women, fired. If your employer finds out that you are marrying someone of the same gender, fired. It does not matter if this anything at all to do with your job performance.

If we created legislation which said employees could only be fired based on a individual characteristic which were documented and clearly interfered with their ability to do their job and there is not an option to alleviate the problem, LGBTQ folks would be more protected.

Of course, there would have to be a caveat that other employees’ bigotry is not a justification for someone being unfit for the workplace. We can’t have Jane in accounting complaining that Sally in HR is unfit for her job because Jane hates dykes. Jane needs to get over it and the employer could recommend counseling for Jane.

However, if Sally in HR has a documented history of sexually harassing women in the office, then she needs to go. But the onus has to be on the employer to document that and prove she is unfit for the office.

Poly Folks: Provisions that make it the employers responsibility to prove someone is unfit for a position would also help poly folks. Who cares what you do on your off time. I never worried about my employees’ dating lives as long as they showed up for their shifts, got their work done, didn’t leak stuff to the press and worked well with elected officials. They could go home, curl up with a nice cup of tea, and snuggle with their heterosexual partner they waited to have sex with after marriage, and I didn’t care. They could go out, get tore up at a dungeon by the four women they were dating. I didn’t care. None of that impacted their work. We should make all employers prove beyond reasonable legal doubt that the characteristic a person has is reasonably interfering with their job. That would protect poly folks.

Get Rid of Civil Marriage

The government needs to get out of the business of having to determine who is “really” married. Civil marriage is not about the sanctity of marriage. Its not about procreation. Its not about honoring love in the eyes of the lord. Its about legal benefits. That’s it.

Before it was legal for gays to marry, we had to do dozens of legal agreements to get even a few of the benefits for marriage. We filled out wills, powers of attorney, financial documents, designated people for inheritance purposes and all sorts of stuff. One major benefit of this over traditional civil marriage was it forced gay folks to look at some big issues. How do I protect my loved one if I end up incapacitated in the hospital? What are my end of life wishes? What do I want to leave to the kids versus my wife? These are big questions.

It would take a major restructuring of benefits and inheritance laws to get rid of civil marriage. That task needs to be done. Relationships now are very complicated. We have multiple serial marriages, we have couples who live together for 20 years but never marry, we have people with children by three, four and five other partners. We have poly couples. We have people who abhor the religious connotations of marriage by are monogamous long-term partners.

Instead of wasting time and breath on trying to justify a relationship style as a sexual orientation, what poly folks need to do is to begin to fight for some real legal protections for a broad base of humanity.

Unfortunately, what needs to be done to protect LGBTQ, poly, kinky and non-traditional folks in the workplace is a multi-phase, longitudinal strategy with many working parts. Its not sexy. There is not a clear language to rile up the base. So, my guess is instead, the poly folks wanting these protections will continue co-opting the language of the LGBTQ movement will push their cause and fracture the poly community. I hope not, but that is the trajectory right now.

 

Consent.

I was working on my next blog post about measures around sex and research findings and planned on posting it today, then the American legal system went and lost its goddamned mind – again.

Last week in Oklahoma, a judge made a decision that, “Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation.” Ummmm…. bullshit. He based his reasoning on the the argument that the 17 year old boy who forced oral sex on a 16 year old girl claimed she agreed to it while incredibly intoxicated. The girl reported no memory of consenting and passed out drunk before the encounter.

This part is simple folks– if someone is so drunk they pass out, they can’t possibly consent to sex. They simply do not have the capacity to make a reasonable and informed decision. Why? Because they are passed out drunk. Its really simple. If I am too drunk to speak or keep my eyes open, I can’t possibly consent. Period.

Then, a friend of mine posted a note from the Medford, OR police department who found that she did not have the basis of a rape complaint because she was asleep when the assault began. The denial of the basis for rape is based on the fact that she did not tell her attacker not to stick his dick in her mouth when she was asleep. WTF???? Continue reading Consent.

Yes Means Yes – Baby Steps

California has enacted SB695, a law which will now required high schools in California to teach students about the concept of “affirmative consent.” According to the law, affirmative consent is defined as “as affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

This bill was created and passed as an attempt to address the rape epidemic on college campuses. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that 20 percent of college-age women enrolled in post-secondary education report being sexually assaulted. I know there are a few vile articles, included a recent one in Time magazine trying to dispute that college women get raped at any significant rate. The BJS report only included women who reported being sexually assaulted. We know that rape is under-reported, so the numbers are probably higher. However, even if it was one in every hundred college students reporting rape, that is still too many people being assaulted.

The Good Stuff in the Law

There are a few good things in SB695. It requires that high school students learn about types of sexual harassment and assault, that they are taught the concept of “affirmative consent,” and that they are informed of resources for people who have been sexually assaulted. It makes vague reference to students understanding “boundaries” in relationships.

I am good with that language. Students need to understand the concept of voluntary consent and that some things are not okay – sexual assault, sexual harassment, coercion. These concepts are largely missing from current education around sex. Most sex education to this point has focused on the physical technicalities of sex and pregnancy prevention. We need to go beyond that and SB695 is a baby step in that direction.

What Affirmative Consent Fails To Do

Affirmative consent, both in high school education and college policies, fail to recognize the complexities of sexual interactions and fail to provide an option for people who need to protect themselves.

Affirmative consent is overly simple. “Yes Means Yes” is a reframing of the failed “No Means No” campaigns and techniques. Both fail to recognize how boundaries change and how people communicate about sex. Neither provide an option for someone to change their mind. Neither recognize that a “No” or “Yes” to sex does not cover the myriad of activities included in sex. Neither campaign provide an option for someone effectively stopping a sexual encounter

“Yes Means Yes” focuses on someone giving voluntary consent to sexual interactions. So let’s look at what this might look like on a college campus (since college aged people is the focus of this law).

Two people meet at a college party. They chat, flirt, and laugh. They have a beer or two. They are both sexually attracted to one another. Then comes the point where they want to kiss.

Affirmative consent, at least the way it has been written into college campus policies in California, require both parties to establish mutual, voluntary consent before the first kiss. Go back to your early 20s. How many times did you look at someone you wanted to kiss and stop to say, “May I kiss you?” It happens. Occasionally. This is not a widely spread practice. It is also horribly awkward.

Let’s assume the couple establishes mutual consent to kiss. Next, they want to move on to making out. The way affirmative consent laws are written in California, the couple has to then establish verbally that going on to something beyond kissing is okay. So, our couple is kissing. Then one of them stops and says, “Is it okay if I take off your top and play with your breasts?” This is less likely to happen then asking if it is okay to kiss. This same exchange is then supposed to happen before our couple moves on to having sex.

The reality of sexual interactions is that negotiations about each sex act are not negotiated throughout an encounter. Generally, a couple with start kissing and making out. One partner may move on to other touching and ask through panting breath, “Is this okay?” It is not uncommon to get to the point where the couple wants to have sex and one partner will either indicate verbally they want to have sex or that someone will say, “So, we are going to do this?” When met with some form of affirmative reply, verbal or a head nod or something else, the couple proceeds.

“Yes Means Yes” also assumes that the sexual interaction is linear. Once sex has been agreed to but before it begins, neither party will change their mind. This is not reality in a lot of situations.

Example: A couple agrees to have sex. They start making out. It comes to the point where a condom is needed. One partner hands the other partner a condom. The second partner tosses the condom aside and says, “There is no need for that,” then tries to proceed with having sex. “Yes Means Yes” does not recognize that this scenario may mean one partner goes from a “Yes” to “No” and could go back to “Yes” if the second partner agrees to use a condom.

How Do We Address Rape?

If “Yes Means Yes” and “No Means No” don’t work to effectively address rape, what can we do?

We need a National Safe Word. In the kink community, safe words are used to indicate that some activity is not okay with someone. Commonly, we use “red.” Red is a simple, single syllable word culturally associated with “stop.” Kinksters are taught that when someone says “Red” they need to immediately stop what is happening and address the needs the partner has. Red can end all action for the time being or the issue may be addressed then play can continue.

Red can be used when some action is not okay because it is physically or emotionally hurtful. Red can also be used when something is occurring that needs to be immediately addressed before anything else can happen. I have used it because of spiders. I HATE spiders. If I see one on the wall or the bed, I will call “Red” and everything stops until the evil creature has been killed and flushed down the toilet. Then things can proceed.

Unlike “Yes” or “No” “red” is generally not used in most conversations. Since we are talking about college students, at a party, the attendees are generally not going to be using the word “Red” much. “Yes, I would like a beer,” “No, the midterm went really badly,” “Yes, I think she is a gossip,” and on and on. If someone shouts “Yes” or “No” it gets little attention. Someone shouting “Red” will be heard.

Safe Words and K12

Creating a National Safe Word will also allow us to start educating students at a much younger age about body safety without talking about sex. When my godson started kindergarten in California, he came home the first day with the school’s sexual harassment policy and instructions for his parents to explain sexual harassment to him. I think this is stupid.

However, if we started a National Safe Word, we could talk to kindergartners about the fact that they have a right to keep their bodies safe as do their classmates. We could tell them that some girls don’t like their braids pulled and it is not okay to hug people without permission.

As students age, we can continue the discussion that their bodies belong to them. That everyone is not the same. We can talk about how some people like hugs and other people don’t. We can talk about how you need to check with someone before you kiss or touch them. We can empower our students with the idea that if something is uncomfortable for them, they have a right to say “No” and not be subject to unwanted touching. We can give them a word (“Red”) for when they are really in trouble and need to tell someone it is not okay without getting confrontational.

How Do We Get  National Safe Word

The “Yes Means Yes” law opens the door for a National Safe Word. We need to start talking about how we empower students to protect themselves. The curriculum for a safe word is simple and easily made age-appropriate. Unlike “Yes Means Yes” a safe word allows us to talk to young children without introducing advanced sexual concepts at an early age. We let students know they have to protect their bodies and respect other people’s bodies.

A PSA campaign would also be immensely useful.

The biggest issues I see with a safe word campaign are two-fold. First, the idea originates with the kink community. Many people are fearful and hold a lot of wrong ideas about kinksters. They picture some massive, muscle-bound man in leather pants beating some woman wearing a gimp mask and shouting at her. This is only part of kink. We would have to address people’s fears about kink in the curriculum. I have no need to teach high school students how to throw a single-tail whip or tell them the benefits of leather cuffs over metal handcuffs. I just want people to protect themselves.

The second issue is deeper. A safe word acknowledges that everyone has the right to protect their body. This is not a universally held belief in America. There are contingents that talk about “legitimate rape” and we still send girls home for wearing shorts because “boys can’t concentrate” if they see skin above a girl’s knee.

Regardless of the difficulties, if we really want to address rape, we need to get more sophisticated than “Yes Means Yes.” A National Safe Word does that.

For more information on creating a National Safe Word, see my page here.