Wednesday, February 08, 2006

No. Don’t. Stop.

Apathy Jack writes:

So, this guy has ignited some debate on the issue of when-is-it-too-late-to-say-no?

Of course, it is never too late to say no.

I know at least one person who has decided, mid-coitus, that she’d rather be elsewhere, so put a stop to things. That sounds reasonable to me – certainly, I imagine the guy in question felt quite hard done by, but he knew the rules.

However, in the comments section here, some chap called Justin raises the point (to paraphrase): If someone asks Man X to stop mid thrust, is it rape if he finishes the thrust? (Not, in this specific example, because of malicious intent, more, I believe the point was, due to physics.)

It certainly should be a black and white case, but when you get to that level, it does become grayer: Once you take it as read that you can stop halfway through – and we do take that as read – you then have to start talking about timeframes. Obviously sooner is better, and equally as obviously we are dealing in time-spans of seconds or less here, but, as I say, while not completely gray, not completely black and white either...

I think we need to make it very clear that it is a bad idea to let people into your bed if you don’t intend to sleep with them. Of course, as Span points out in the above link, it’s a trust thing – you don’t imagine you’re going to get raped by the guy you kindly let crash in your bed. (Certainly my student who was in this situation a while back didn’t – but the rapist got a slap on the wrist and some community service because this naivete meant it was only kinda sorta rape – a rape-esque incident - in the eyes of the law.)

Part of me wants to say “Don’t trust him the moment he’s in your bed.” But the other part of me remembers a march against rape that happened back in my Uni days. A bunch of activists and I asked if we could help out. Not only was our offer turned down, we were told that we could not walk in the march, because, as men, we were potential rapists, therefore everything that the march stood opposed to.

That lack of trust – that implicit accusation that I was the worst sort of criminal simply because I have a chromosome in common with three billion-odd other humans – still sticks in my mind all these years later.

I also remember a friend of mine who passed out on a bed at a party, and woke up to find that he was having sex. Specifically: a young woman had pulled his pants down and climbed on, not caring that he was unconscious, until the motion woke him from whatever sort of dream you have in that situation.

Again, a gray area: I know a bunch of guys who would be thrilled at such fortune, or at least would take it as good anecdote fodder. This guy, however, while not being as traumatised as some of the female rape victims I’ve known, did take it very, very seriously, and saw it as a horrible violation.

Y’know, I’m completely out of answers for this one. Thoughts?


span said...

Thanks for the link, and for your thoughts.

When I was writing my reply to Justin I rewrote it several times as I first started along the lines of your post - how many seconds would be reasonable, how could you measure that, and how does it compare to the length of a Barry Manilow song? But it was too hard so I flagged it.

As with most crimes, guilt can depend on circumstances. In the mid-thrust scenario whether or not it was rape would depend on circumstances too. I suspect it would turn partly on whether the partner who wanted out felt violated, or whether they felt that the other partner ceased as soon as humanly possible.

The issue about the anti-rape march is difficult, because I know that there are men like you who are "safe" (and I don't mean that in a demeaning or patronising way).

But, having been involved in organising some of those Reclaim the Night events, there were some women in the organising groups, and on the marches, who were totally and utterly incapable of trusting men, in any context, and for good reasons (i.e. not some unhinged male hatred). They felt that their event, their march, was being invaded by men, and the correlation with male invasions that they had felt in other parts of their life just made it all too much. For these women Womenspace was an absolute haven, in the difficult environment of university, and the marches were a literal chance for them to reclaim the night, for one night anyway, and feel comfortable out on the street.

On the flip side of this, I was involved in another women's group where the group actually broke-up because there were a group of women for whom it was important that men (in a very specific and limited context) could be involved, while others wanted it to remain purely a women's group.

Anonymous said...

If someone wants to organise a march, and feels that it's not appropriate for men to be there, then of course it's fine to politely tell a group of nice, well-meaning, supportive men that you'd rather they didn't come along. There are some circumstances where men (or women, for that matter) are quite rightly not welcome.

What's not alright is telling them it's because they're all potential rapists.

And I really don't see Jack's grey area. The correct answer as to when to stop, having been told no, is as soon as humanly possible. Now maybe the exact number of seconds that would take might vary, depending on circumstance, physics, and the overall athleticism of the exact activity involved but, realistically, that's just quibbling over a detail. I don't think anyone's gonna be pulling out stopwatch.

As soon as possible seems a plenty accurate enough measure to me.


The Hand of Morthos said...

Yes, Hewligan is right, it's a matter of practice rather than theory (see, philosophers don't think that theory is everything either). When told 'No' you stop. It might take a few seconds; you might thrust a moment later. The important part is that you stop. This kind of debate is a classic case of trying to apply theory where it is inappropiate (much like almost all of Sociology, really).

Apathy Jack said...

Ah, Womenspace - I still remember the filthy looks I got on my occasional foray thereinto...

Hewligan, your point of "asap" makes sense to me, but I worry about it for one reason: As Span says, a lot of it at that juncture depends on circumstance. The question that keeps percolatiing in my mind is this: the woman asks the man to stop, and he's on the other side of the bed within, say three seconds: How long does three seconds feel to the man, and how long does it feel to the woman for whom sex has turned to rape?

I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, this is just the question I find myself asking: Could a difference in perception lead to an accusation?

Anonymous said...

Jack, I feel you may be overthinking this one. Stop it - you need your beauty sleep.

And just to put your mind at rest, let's try again:

Right, so you're in bed with this bloke. And you're having a bit of the sex. Then you decide, for whatever reason, that you don't want to be having the sex, so you tell him to stop. And he does. Now, it takes a few seconds. I mean, he was a little distracted, and it he didn't quite realise what you said. The he was in mid-stroke, or something, and momentum carried him in again. Then he had to pull it out, dive across the bed, and put his sulky face on.

None of that was rape. He stopped when you told him to. If what you're worried about is whether it took 2.5 or 3 seconds, then it is quite clearly you that has the problem.

And if you hadn't agreed to the sex in the first place, then it would have been rape no matter how quickly he stopped.

Either way: no grey area.

Sure, I can guarantee you that under these circumstances both of the people involved are going to feel absolutely, appallingly awful. But, hell, feeling bad because of sex is a pretty common problem. Still doesn't make it rape.

Rape is when she says no, and you carry on anyway.


The Hand of Morthos said...

Aye, it's a simple matter of causation (says the philosopher, slinking back to theoryland(TM)). The causal chain works like this; Man is engaged in the pelvic thrusting (insert Rocky Horror joke). Woman says 'Stop.' As long as we can show that there was a causal link between the saying of 'Stop' and the cessation of the pelvic thrusting action (which might take a second or two, seeing that we are dealing with what is largely an autonomous action) then there is no rape. As a bad analogy it is similar to being caught speeding; you can't stop moving instantaneously (for one, you will die); it takes a few seconds to go from your 120kmph to 0. But the important part is the series of actions that lead to your slowing down. If caught speeding the first thing you is slow down then good. If you keep speeding then that is bad. In the same way if a woman (or man) says 'Stop' and the first action you perform is that of cessating your activities then good. It might take a second or so. If you keep going then it is rape.

But, basically, Hewligan and I said that before without having to get into technicalities.

Blair said...

I hate to piss all over your little "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" type conversation, but if you are already inside a woman and she changes her mind and asks you to stop AND you don't, that may make you an arsehole but it doesn't make you a rapist.

Rape is an horrific crime where a person does not want a penis (or any other object) inserted into their oriface and it gets forced into them anyway. It greatly belittles the crime of rape to extend it to a situation where a woman changes her mind mid-coitus. If we don't accept that a woman is raped if she changes her mind after sex, then to change her mind during does not cut much ice either.

It may be immoral to continue after being asked to stop, but it's not rape. Rape is a foreign invasion, not a guest that wears out its welcome. Sex you regret is not rape. That may sound insensitive, but the only thing that's as bad as being raped is being accused of rape after you thought everything was cool.

Josh said...

Well, I happen to be reading, so I'll respond:

"Rape is an horrific crime where a person does not want a penis (or any other object) inserted into their oriface and it gets forced into them anyway."

Indeed, and in the "changing her mind halfway through" scenario, the woman has now decided that she does not want a penis in her orifice. Should the man not stop, how can he not be "forcing it into her anyway"? By your own definition, it still sounds like rape to me.

The Hand of Morthos said...

Agreed. If someone tells you to cease a consensual activity and you don't then you are guilty of doing something non-consensual. Rape is non-consensual sex. Therefore (simple syllogism), you commit rape if the sexual act you are involved in becomes non-consensual.

Kate said...


Reading your comment makes me very worried.
If you are having sex and either partner withdraws consent - that is rape full stop, no grey area here.
Once consent it withdrawn - that is it- no more.
I am really concerned about your comment and hope that you will accept you are wrong with what you said.

span said...


Kate said...

In solidarity sister! I just about had a f**king heart attack when I read Blairs comment!

Ben Thomas said...

" If we don't accept that a woman is raped if she changes her mind after sex, then to change her mind during does not cut much ice either."

Sex isn't like skydiving – it's not too late to change your mind once you've started to go down.

Oddly enough, though, I think the invasion metaphor is quite a good one. Rape isn't like assault – it's not legally possible to consent to assault, whereas it's not logically possible to consent to rape. Rape seems to most closely resemble trespass. If someone comes into my house without my permission, it's trespass. If I invite someone into my house, they have every right to be there – until I tell them to leave. The licence (to be on another person's property) can be revoked at any time by the proprietor.

The trespass parallel clears up the problem of 'when is it rape?' You can't get off someone's property instantaneously, but you can make a direct path out. It also allows future commenters to make hilarious jokes about entering through people's back doors while they are asleep.

The view that a person can't change their mind after sex has been agreed to may make more sense if you are assuming sex occurs primarily within the contractual relationship between a client and prostitute. Here, the client may say they have a right to completion of the contract, since they have given consideration – ie a fee. In reality, however, commercial contracts are repudiated all the time. The usual remedy is damages, ie money, not performance of the contract by an unwilling party.

RSJS said...

Blimey, it's practically a debate... Personally, I think there IS a time after which point you cannot say "No". that is three months down the track when you've got a book offer pending based on your shock allegations of rape by some celebrity cock.

Regarding the subject of the agreement to fornicate derailling mid-happy-slapping, shoudl the woman realise the male is a) too rough, or b) bareback or c) any one of a thousand other reasons she has every right to tap out. The only instance in which a man might legitimately claim that upon the commencement of coitus he must be allowed to finish eve nwhen the woman mid-thrust goes "I don't think so Tim", is when he's the type to get halfway to balls-deep on his first press-up and he's already crossing his eyes, filling his condom and crying for his mother.

...not saying Blair is like that, of course. Not AT ALL.

span said...

Ok I'm perturbed that Blair doesn't seem to have come back...

Good comment Ben, although it does eerily remind me of the origins of the crime of rape - one man trespassing on the property of another man. Not that that is your fault of course ;-)

Blair said...

I'd forgotten about this actually, but interesting to read subsequent comments. On reflection I think the trespass analogy is a good one. I was just trying to reconcile in my head how the same action was fun one minute and a crime the next, but trespass is precisely that.

It is of course an academic argument, as the kneejerk reaction of a jury in such a case would, unfortunately, probably be similar to mine.

RSJS said...

'Course, about 8 people all of whom are of age to serve on a jury think Blair's a nitwit, suggesting a jury's kneejerk reaction would to be other than his...

The Hand of Morthos said...

Aye, me colourful friend, I must agree. I suspect that a jury would think that as soon as consent was withdrawn the sexual activity would be considered (rightfully) rape.

Anonymous said...

ahhh, are you aware of the original article that spawned this debate morthos? a man who was given permission to sleep in a ladies bed (under strict instructions that there would be no hanky panky) was found NOT GUILTY of rape, by a jury of our peers, because although he penetrated her against her will, she had sent him 'mixed' signals, therefore no rape.

If a person is found not guilty in that situation, what chance a person is found guilty of rape after both parties consented and then one of them changed their minds mid-thrust?
a) it would never get to court and b) if it did I give you about a 0.0000000000000000000000001% chance of the 'non-stopper' being found guilty.

but anyway, anyone read this:,1518,377361,00.html

an update on Abu Ghraib and a profile of an American soldier and an Iraqi prisoner who both got churned up in that place

The Hand of Morthos said...

I obviously think more highly of our fellow potential jurors than I possibly should, or it might be that usually such cases are treated as rape (at least, in my experience).

Also. don't make up statistics.

Blair said...

Anonymous is quite correct. No jury will convict under these circumstances, unless it is filled with wet liberal Brain Stab readers ;-)

HORansome said...

We're not wet; we're moist, like a well-turned on sexual partner. You also say 'liberal' as if its a bad thing. Last I heard the whole point of the Enlightenment was liberalism, or do we want a return to that great theocracy that did so well for us in the past? Still, better the Catholics with their hyprocrisy than the Protestants with their puritanism.

anth said...

It isn't that hard to think of other examples where an action becomes legal when you're given permission and stops being legal if that permission is revoked. Driving past a red light is illegal even if the previous intersection was green, or that very same intersection had been green when you were a couple of hundred meters away and driving towards it. It doesn't even matter if it had been green when you drove through it earlier that day.

The jury deliberated for an hour and three quarters, so their decision wasn't a kneejerk reaction.

Based on that rather short news item it seems like they reached the wrong verdict, so I think there must have been more to this case than what we've read.

span said...

Let's hope so anth, but having been on a jury and experienced the strange thought processes some people seem to have ("but he hasn't proved he's innocent!!" exclaimed juror X who'd already been on a jury on FOUR previous occasions...) I doubt it. :-(

(which is not to say we shouldn't have juries btw)

RSJS said...

Examples of legality switching to illegality at a word include but is not limited to: "Dear Sir, demolish my house!" and "Hit me baby one more time". Basically anything involving approved destruction, desecration, dissemination and the like probably can be cited, though verbal contracts carry more weight in terms of "Feel free to destroy my Valiant with a sledge" than in "Feel free to destroy my vagina with a sausage".

Blair said...

Nothing wrong with being liberal, although I consider myself a dry one.

Maybe that's what makes it rape... :oP

Kate said...

Blair - that is not fucking funny - not. at. all.

Josh said...

Ah, it's kinda funny. Crude sexual references are kind of our thing here, so I don't see how I can complain at any rate.