Consenting adults: It’s a two-part test

 

Lately, there has been some confusion about when you need consent. In too many discussions of rape cases, people are blaming everyone but the person responsible – Miley Cyrus, say, or the “culture,” or the victim.

Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh recently let off with a 30-day sentence a teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, who raped a 14-year-old. And in the course of doing so, Baugh pointed out that the victim was “older than her chronological age” and that “it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

In apologizing for one of his lousy sentences, the judge later said that he was “not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.”

Which is pretty terrible as apologies go.

I’m sure what he meant to say was, “Women are people, rape is rape, I’m going to go rethink my life and, gee, these sentencing guidelines are kind of screwy.”

Not “forcible”? That doesn’t mean there was consent.

And consent is not optional.

People need to stop treating consent as if it’s nice but not required, like holding doors open for people or carrying mints. They also need to stop treating consent as if it’s implied if you are female and ever pick up a drink.

Consent is not . . . you are a woman who left the house wearing (item of clothing that my grandmother does not own).

Consent is not . . . you seem pretty mature.

Consent is not . . . you climbed out of the bowels of a teddy bear and gyrated.

Consent is not . . . you sang along with “Blurred Lines” and giggled.

Consent is not . . . well, I didn’t have to club you and drag you back to my cave.

Consent is not . . . you are my student.

Consent is making certain that the other adult you are about to have sex with wants to have sex with you. Notice: adult. Children and most teenagers cannot consent, and they especially cannot consent if you are their teacher, an adult in a position of power over them. At that age, brains are not fully developed even if bodies are.

There are many decisions that we as a society have decided teenagers are not capable of making, even if we allow them to dictate all movies that come to theaters. The fact that a teenager feels capable of making a decision does not mean that the teenager is actually capable, as anyone who has been a teenager or wrestled car keys away from a teenager will tell you.

And if you fail to get permission, because your partner is too young to consent, or too drunk, or any other reason — this is on you.

This should go without saying. But somehow, it doesn’t.

Excerpted from Alexandra Petri’s blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost

© 2013, The Washington Post.

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