The Year In Consent
Lessons learned from 2009’s high-profile rape cases.
This was the year of the armchair rape analyst (ARA). If you’ve never run into such a person, here’s a job description: While men across the globe generate allegations of rape, ARAs are charged with casually dismissing the problem from the comfort of their living rooms. They sit back, stroke the chin, and plant gray where black and white work just fine.
ARAs have a field day when high-profile alleged rapes surface in the media. Though they always concede that “no means no,” in such cases it’s not always clear who said what. The ambiguity allows ARAs to decide matters of consent based on the suspect’s skill on the football field, the victim’s blood alcohol level, or the presence or absence of a rope.
Verdict: He could have sex with any woman he wanted.
“Most girls would feel lucky to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.” That’s what a Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino rep allegedly told Andrea McNulty, a hotel employee, when she reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback had raped her in his room.
When McNulty filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger this summer, Big Ben’s fans assumed the armchair position with one foolproof excuse. After all, “He could have sex with any woman he wanted” functions outside the realm of facts.
Fans said that same thing when Kobe Bryant was accused of rape: “Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to rape any woman. They would gladly throw themselves at him,” wrote one supporter. And Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock: “It’s not like he had to make somebody have sex with him,” said Up Records owner Pete Ritchey. “He could have sex with anybody he wanted.” And magician David Copperfield: “I hardly think he needs to rape anyone, surely there is plenty of willing participants out there,” wrote another ARA.
So: Every woman in the world chooses her sex partners based on how far they throw footballs, how many Bukowski references they can work into their indie rock records, or how effectively they can make shit disappear. Actually, simple name recognition is enough to make any woman want to fuck you. And another thing: Men rape women only because they can’t get sex anywhere else.
These assumptions aren’t just wrong. They’re dangerous. Let’s think of another reason why a man might rape a woman: because he assumes that he can have sex with anybody he wants. He has a recognizable name, and every woman wants to fuck him. At that point, why bother to gain consent? He’s famous. The consent is implied.
Verdict: Oh, what could have been!
When Roman Polanksi was finally arrested in Switzerland over his 31-year-old guilty plea in the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, the arguments in Polanski’s defense began to stack up like so much snow in the luxury Alpine village of Gstaad: The 76-year-old Polanski is a victim of America’s puritanical sex laws; having survived both the Holocaust and Charles Manson, the man has suffered enough; he didn’t know she was 13; Polanski is genial and intelligent, nothing like a rapist.
But the most absurd excuses in Polanski’s defense enter a Twilight Zone of rape apology, where the real price for raping a child is not serving time in prison but rather depriving the public of a couple of great movies. These excusers are loath to imagine a world where cinematic geniuses are forced to craft brilliant films without raping anyone along the way. What if, by systematically putting its convicted rapists behind bars for years at a time, the United States has denied the world more Pianists?
I have seen The Pianist. It is not worth raping a child over. Entertainment industry luminaries disagreed. Swiss erotic photographer Otto Weisser had this to say upon Polanski’s arrest: “I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss is doing such a thing to brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work,” Weisser said. “He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.” Hundreds more—including Woody Allen, Natalie Portman, and Pianist star Adrien Brody—added their names to a petition demanding Polanski’s release that painted Polanski as the victim: “Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.” After all, if Polanski were forced to serve time over the child he raped, maybe he never would have made the Pianist, Adrien Brody’s career never would have taken off, and the world would have been deprived of Adrien Brody’s turn as “Bloom” in the Brothers Bloom. And that’s the real tragedy.