Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Violence And Consent

Our language talks a lot about consenting to sex. We have words for sex without consent - rape being the most obvious and the nastiest.

It's generally felt that you can consent to sex, and that sex without consent is "wrong" - although there's a lot of discussion about what constitutes consent and whether certain forms of sex without consent aren't as "bad" as others.

What we don't talk about as much is that in our society we also have situations in which we consent to violence.


Yesterday, 12 NFL games were played in America. On November 29, American television will show five "sets" (Sorry, I don't know the correct term) of boxing matches.

There are three laser tag, 6 paintball and 1 airsoft arena listed in the immediate Google search for my area.

And I would bet that quite a few of the people who read this blog post will, at some point over the Thanksgiving weekend, sit down and play a violent video game. Some of them at least will be playing against other players.

When we play a contact sport, enter into a wargame arena or "live fire" LARP or even play a violent video game, we are consenting to violence. If we watch a contact sport, we are acquiescing to the fact that the competitors in football, rugby, hockey, polo, martial arts tournaments, fencing tournaments, etc are consenting to violence.

This consensual violence is, of course, under strict rules. NFL players wear armor. Paintball and airsoft players wear eye protection. We take steps to limit injury. But it is still violence. It is violence that is okay - because the participants have agreed to be involved in it and agreed to accept the risks of being a victim of controlled violence.

But as a society we don't talk about consensual violence. We don't talk about the fact that we pay boxers to beat each other up for our entertainment. I suspect that even the people going to one of those paintball arenas this weekend wouldn't say they "consented to violence" even though they've consented to have people shoot non-lethal guns at them and are calling it fun. (I've never done paintball, but I've done laser tag and airsoft stuff).

We don't talk about it being a thing, even though it is. It's okay in our society to try your best to beat somebody up if they agreed to it and you both think it's fun - and it should be.

But now, let's get back to that sexual non-consent thing. Violence without consent is assault. Sex without consent is rape. Rape is seen as a kind of assault.

Rape, though, isn't seen as quite the same kind of assault as, say, punching somebody. And I don't mean at the level of it being a worse violation. Society excuses rape. She was "asking for it." Her skirt was too short, or she drank too much alcohol, or he's in prison for something.

There's that tragic feeling, sadly common, that you can consent to sex without actually specifically consenting to sex.

And I think there's a parallel here. When somebody gets raped, people look for a way to excuse the perpetrator.

This happens with violence too. Now, to be fair, sometimes the victim of violence really is asking for it. If you point a real, realistic or realistic non-lethal gun at somebody and they shoot you, that's not the same thing.

But if somebody is a victim of violence and the excuses come out - sadly almost always when the perpetrator is white and the victim is black - some of them become very close to the excuses for rape. "He should have pulled up his pants/not worn that hoodie/stayed sober/not walked in the road."

Consenting without consenting. "Asking for it."

We need to have this conversation as a society. We need to turn around and say nobody is ever asking for it. People can consent to violence. People can also do things that remove their right not to consent to violence - usually by attacking or threatening first.

But nobody "asks for it." There are only two justifications to use violence against another person - either it's consensual violence with rules and everyone agreed to it or they are a genuine threat to yourself or somebody else.

Wearing gang colors does not make somebody a threat. Pointing does not make somebody a threat. Not pulling your pants up is unsightly (but I'm sure some people would say the same thing about the eyebleeding purple shirt I'm wearing right now) but doesn't make you a threat.

Let's bring the conversation about consent out of the sex arena and apply it to everything. Let's understand that violence is something that can be consensual and then look at the ways people use another person's behavior as an excuse to commit violence on them...and let's say that hitting somebody for their clothes or because they used a word you didn't like is no different from trying to rape a woman because her skirt is too short. No different and no better.