By now we’ve all read the Babe article; “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari, and it turned into the worst night of my life” which described a detailed recounting of a woman’s experience of aggressive sexual behavior by Aziz Ansari.
The circulation of this article, and dozens upon dozens of articles analyzing and critiquing it has spurred some heated conversation. Particularly, the phrase; “If what Aziz Ansari did was sexual assault then every person I know has been assaulted lol. This was just a bad date. You gotta know where to draw the line” has been floating around quite a bit.
And though that phrase is extremely dismissive, there is a nugget of truth in there: we need to draw the line. No more confusion. No more ‘misunderstandings’ or ‘mixed signals.’ But where is the line?
This is a conversation I find myself having a lot these days. People who pose the question; “Well what’s the difference between what the media is calling sexual assault and [xyz regularly observed behavior that seemingly undermines that]” and my answer is always the same: consent.
Consent is always the difference.
A sexual act or behavior, degrading or otherwise, that unfolds between two consenting adults that are both comfortable with the situation IS NOT sexual assault. A sexual act, flattering or otherwise that unfolds between an adult and another person (adult or minor) without consent IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.
The issue that I think everyone is circling with the more recent Aziz Ansari incident is: Well if consent is the line, what is consent? And I think the reason this is even a question is that the interpretation of consent differs from person to person, but the definition is not up for interpretation.
Consent is when a sober adult acknowledges that they are comfortable with a situation and are willing to proceed with what is being proposed. If any part of the above equation is missing: IT IS NOT CONSENT. If the person is not an adult, not sober, not willing, OR NOT COMFORTABLE it is not consent.
This issue is objective, not subjective, which I think is where some people are disagreeing. If a person doesn’t want to engage in a sexual act but later coerced into willingly agreeing to it, that is not consenting, because the person was not comfortable. The person is uncomfortable by virtue of the fact that they have to be coerced.
With that being said, there’s a clear and understandable reason why someone who reads an account of mild sexual assault may disagree that consent was violated. There are many people out there who think of assault as something that is physical or threatening. They think of a person with their face ground into the tile of a public restroom or lying unconscious behind a dumpster. They think violence and malintent and alcoholism and predators. More than anything, they don’t think of people they know.
Acknowledging that sexually aggressive behavior that violates someone’s personal comfort is in fact assault, would entail revisiting their entire sexual history and realizing that they have experienced assault themselves, though they’ve never thought of themselves as a victim.
I empathize. I’ve done that song and dance – and it was fucking frightening. But I couldn’t deny that the psychological repercussions I was left with after the relationship that indicated trauma. There are always undeniable indicators like suicidal thoughts, crying after the encounter, nightmares, evidence of conditioned thought patterns, panic attacks that are triggered by sexual acts, and much more.
But even if you decide for yourself that you’re personal experiences in aggressive sexual situations did not make you uncomfortable enough for you to want to consider it assault-like behavior – this doesn’t mean that someone else in the same situation, under similar conditions and environment, would not find the behavior uncomfortable.
Your own personal level of comfort is the only subjective area of consent, which should not be taken into consideration when assessing someone else’s announcement that they’ve been assaulted.