Understanding “no means no” is an important step in eliminating rape culture. It’s a simple enough concept. If someone says that do not want to have sex, they do not want to have sex. You should stop trying to have sex with a person who says they do not want to have sex. Easy, right? Tell that to the judge.
No, really. Tell that to this Swedish judge. From The New York Daily News:
A rape suspect has been freed in Sweden, after he convinced a court that a women’s screams of protest were part of a kinky game and even though she had said she did not want sex.
The 27-year-old told police that his female companion enjoyed rough sex. The woman screamed so much that she lost her voice.
The man told investigating officers that “I recognised the way she said no as part of the sex; I recognised it from other girls,” The Local reported, citing Sweden’s Metro newspaper.
The pair met through a mutual acquaintance at a restaurant and went back to his apartment.
The couple kissed, but the woman said she made it clear she did not want sex.
“I expressed very clearly that I didn’t want to, so there was no way he could misunderstand me,” she told police.
And the judge’s rationale for acquittal? “If the thought had not occurred to him, that she did not want to have sex with him, then he didn’t have any intention to do what he did.” Now, as Tracy Clark-Flory notes over at Salon, “an Amnesty International report on sexual assault in Nordic countries put it, ‘To convict a person of a crime it has to be proven that the person was acting with intent; i.e., that he intended to commit a crime or realised that the act actually constituted a crime.’” According to Swedish law, the judge is correct. Morally and ethically? This is some sick shit and the law needs to catch up.
Ending rape culture will require moving to a conversation about enthusiastic consent, about toxic masculinity, about sexual boundaries, about power and domination, about sexual aggression, about kink. There’s a whole advanced class we should have graduated to by now–one that would shift us from rape culture to consent culture.
But we can’t even get “no means no” right.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.