No Always Means No

According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, an astounding 44% of American women reported experiencing some sort of sexual violence. On the other hand, the Department of Justice reports that only 16% of women experience rape or attempted rate in the most recent year studied – and that the incidence of reported rape is declining.

Despite these statistics and a slew of television shows that feature rape as a plot line, many Americans like to think about rape as something that happens elsewhere in the world. And, it does. For example, India is confronting a series of horrifying gang rapes. A few years back, a ten-year old Somali rape victim was stoned to death.

But, recently attention has been focusing on the issue of rape in high school and college campuses in the United States. A good friend who used to prosecute rape cases says that, in general, they are often difficult to prove and obtain a conviction. I can imagine that the he said/she said nature of date rape could blur the lines even further.

Rape is one of the issues explored in Dead of Autumn. In the book, I’ve kept the plot issues relating to rape deliberately ambiguous. I want the reader think about the incidents and consider the nuances.

But, in real life, I worry that lines that should be clear have become blurred. I am concerned that the topic of when “No” means “No” between young people on a date or with other acquaintances has even become necessary to discuss. Even more discouraging, some young men seem perfectly content to sexually assault young women who have passed out – as if loss of consciousness signifies assent. And then memorialize the entire event with a selfie!

Perhaps this highly sexualized environment that we live in today has erased many of the boundaries that used to exist. In a world of racy movies, sexting, and 24-hour internet porn, some young men appear to have lost the ability to respect a young woman’s humanity.

Remember the days when the rules were so clear that the language of dating and locker rooms acknowledged the well-defined stages of physical intimacy – always in the girl’s control? All you guys who never made it past “first base” may recall those days well.

Of course, the idea that “No” is just a tease to “Yes” has been a staple of romantic literature and films for ages. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins at first refuses to believe that Elizabeth is turning down his marriage proposal saying, “it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept.”

I just watched the old classic movie, The Long Hot Summer. For the young married Varner’s, their entire approach to foreplay seems to involve the sexy Eula fleeing her husband until he carries her off to bed. More telling is the core premise of the central romance between Ben Quick and Clara Varner -- that the whole time she’s saying “No”, the important men in her life know that she really means “Yes”.

It’s time for the Long Hot Summer to end. In the 21st century, women and girls are not malleable chattel who don’t know their own minds. So, it’s really quite simple. If a woman says “No” that’s exactly what she means. And, for those guys who need additional guidance: if she‘s drunk or passed out and for some curious reason you still are considering sex, just assume that the answer is “No.”

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