The Default Answer.

I’ve been reading about the horrifying ordeal endured by Australian woman Laura Bushney on a Malaysian Airlines flight to Paris. She states she was sexually assaulted by a member of the flight crew on an overnight flight to Paris. The staff member in question has been remanded in custody in France. It has been immensely brave of her to speak out about the assault.

 
I was struck by a question that Ms Bushney was asked by Seven reporter Ross Coulthart. He asked her why she didn’t scream for help.
She is quoted as saying the following:

“I just keep saying: ‘Why didn’t I scream, why didn’t I shout? Why didn’t I stop it? I am a strong person because I can do that, I know I can…
When I was in the moment, I couldn’t. I felt so scared, so petrified.”

She is not the only victim of such a terrible act to be asked to explain why she didn’t somehow prevent or stop the attack that happened to her. I wish I could tell her that the burden of stopping or preventing this is not and was never on her.

In my opinion, it’s wrong to question the victim of a sexual assault about why she or he did not physically or verbally act to stop the unwanted assault like this. It implies blame- they did nothing to stop the assault from occurring, therefore they bear some responsibility for it or somehow consented through inaction. I used to think this way, too. It is a fine example of rape culture conditioning us to accept such things as the norm. But when you really stop and think about it, it doesn’t make sense. It is well documented that victims of sexual assault report feelings of paralysis. In fact, not screaming or struggling a common response to sexual assault as the victim is literally unable to move or even to speak, let alone scream, with fear. I think it’s really important to know that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line, the idea that ‘yes’ is the default answer has come into play.

Say nothing? That’s a yes. Do nothing? That’s a yes. Don’t move? Yes. Don’t fight? Yes. Be asleep? Yes. Unconscious? Yes. 

NO.

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Saying YES means yes. Oh god, YES. Hell, YES! There are other variants and sure, it might not always be a verbal shout to the rooftops but what I’m getting at is enthusiastic consent.

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It’s a concept involving a paradigm shift from the “No means No” concept  I was taught as a teen (which is still relevant) towards a “Yes means Yes” concept as well. What I like about this idea is that it is based on the idea that one should actively seek consent from their potential partner rather than just avoiding a “No.” This shift has also become evident in all states of Australia, with a shift toward what is referred to as a “positive model of consent” which you can read about here (in particular, the section titled “Consent and actus reus”) which is a big step forward but is still not wholly reflected in community or media attitudes. I hope that changes and one way to be a part of that is to be mindful about teaching this to our kids. I know I will be. 

Click here for Sexual Assault Support Services throughout Australia.

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