D H Kelly in The F Word:
There have been many clever and undoubtedly useful attempts to describe sexual consent in a non-sexual way, such as Alli Kirkham’s cartoons and Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princesss’s tea analogy which has inspired a video now promoted by the CPS. The trouble is, people do override one another’s non-sexual wishes. Disabled people and others who are considered vulnerable routinely have their wishes ignored, often for what is perceived to be for our own good. Friends, family and even strangers take hold of occupied wheelchairs and move us about without asking. I once listened in horror to a friend describe driving his autistic sister to a cafe for lunch, but refusing to tell her where they were going. “She insists on knowing the exact plan all the time,” my friend complained, “She needs to lighten up, so I said, ‘Tough. It’s a surprise.’ And she completely lost it!”
Most people don’t do these things most of the time. Most of us really don’t need to be taught not to rape, as one student recently put it. Not that because – as the young man claimed – we love consent, but because we are horrified at the idea of doing something sexual which isn’t wholly welcome. However, cultural ideas about consent are muddy enough for us to feel confused and conflicted about other people’s actions. Sex in movies almost always erupts spontaneously, without much interaction, let alone verbal discussion. Journalists ask whether you need permission to kiss someone, and there are apps which claim to record sexual consent, as if that’s about one moment in time. When Julian Assange was accused of penetrating an unconscious person – unable to make a decision, let alone indicate her wishes – there was a national debate about whether this was rape or bad manners. This doesn’t mean you or I, exposed to such a culture, will then look at a lovely sexy person who happens to be drunk as a skunk and think, “Here’s my chance!” but when we hear that someone else committed rape in these circumstances, culture tells us they were succumbing to temptation.