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Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm with the Banned

Today I took part in a rally in Rittenhouse Square Park to restore the right to make music there without a permit. This right was being exercised frequently until a recent incident in which one singer, Anthony Riley, was told to stop and was arrested when he refused to, spending eighteen hours in jail. A group called the Philadelphia Artists' Rights Coalition has been formed to reestablish the principle that you don't need a permit to sing in public.

Thinking Straight About Consent

I've just sent the following letter to the Philadelphia City Paper, in response to this guest commentary:

Amy Jersild's commentary is riddled with illogic.

For her own ideological convenience, she tries to squeeze the public discourse over the recent serial rape trial into a dichotomy of "bad" vs. "good" men/women. But it really shows that considerably more complex issues were considered by the jury as well as observers of the trial.

For instance, she claims that "media attention surrounding [the] case ... perpetuates the myth that accused rapists are usually monsters" because the defendant's attorney called him "a playboy, not a rapist." This is nonsense. Does Jersild doubt that a woman accused of embezzlement might be described by her advocate as "a loving mother, not a criminal"? Would anyone think this implies that one can't be both? Of course not.

That the jury didn't believe in such a dichotomy is demonstrated by the very question Jersild laments: whether one who is legally intoxicated can consent to sex. Obviously, if the defendant's character were all that mattered to them, they wouldn't have bothered to ask this.

But Jersild is too busy twisting definitions to notice. She claims the state's rape law answers the question, when its actual language is "engag[ing] in sexual intercourse with a complainant ... who is unconscious or where the person knows the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring." This is plainly a stronger criterion than mere intoxication, which is defined by a blood alcohol level. Everyone knows one can be "drunk" without being unconscious or unaware.

She similarly twists the issues when claiming the verdict implies that "if one consents to drinking, one consents to sexual intercourse." More nonsense. What it implies is that if one consents to ingesting alcohol or another mind-altering substance, as opposed to being given it covertly, then whatever one subsequently chooses to do is also consensual. This is only logical since, after all, that might be why one chose to ingest it in the first place. Jersild may consider this a questionable choice -- one she wouldn't make herself -- but who is she to deny it to others? And that's effectively what one does if one makes others, simply for cooperating with such choices, subject to felony prosecution.

But there's an even more blatant inconsistency here: Jersild repeatedly poses acquaintance rape as a matter of "poor judgment made poorer by substance use." Whoa! Wasn't she just suggesting that any woman who's intoxicated is incapable of consenting to sex? Then how could a man who's likewise intoxicated be responsible for subjecting her to it? Can we say "double standard"?

A female friend of long standing has described to me how, on two separate occasions, she witnessed "enthusiastically consensual" sex in a party or group dating situation, only to have the women involved complain to her the next day of how they'd been "raped." Ideologues may prefer not to know about it, but cognitive dissonance can be a powerful motive for false accusations in this area (and even more so for informal claims, which might account for the disparity between survey data and actual prosecutions). While Jersild urges women not "to abdicate responsibility for their own safety," she might also urge them to take responsibility for their own sexuality, and accept that it may sometimes take them places they hadn't expected to go.

Eric Hamell

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