Some days ago now I attended a snap-protest to speak out against the ill-treatment of a rape victim by our Government.
Rape is something awful. It is the touching of a person in a very personal and familiar way without their consent. It can be violent, but it isn’t always. Sometimes it’s coercive. Sometimes it’s sneaky.
At the rally, I went too far into the direction of the very thing I was there protesting; I touched a woman without her permission.
Her tag was sticking up.
Usually, tucking someone’s tag in for them earns a smile and a thanks. But, as I learned, just because most people don’t show disapproval when you tuck their tag, that doesn’t constitute consent, and most people isn’t all people. It also got me thinking, do most people feel awkward about it, and just don’t show it? Or is it me not picking up on the awkwardness?
I touched her on the arm to get her attention, and then I said something like “excuse me, do you mind if I tuck your tag?” but instead of waiting for an answer, I tucked it as I asked the question. But you aren’t allowed to thrust before you get consent. You just aren’t.
She didn’t say anything, but her body language said it all. It was quite obvious that I had stepped over a boundary and all I could do then was apologise. But god, I wish I could have done that properly. The awful irony of the situation I was in had dawned on me and my badly worded apology – something like “I really should have waited for an answer before I did that, shouldn’t I?” – was accompanied by one of those horrible nervous self-conscious laughs that just makes you sound like you thought it was funny, rather than conveying the truth of the matter: that you really really wish you hadn’t.
Until the person has said Yes, without coercion or force, and without underhandedness, you haven’t had consent. They haven’t said yes. And that means no. no No NO.
To that lady at the rally: please please accept my apology. I am terribly sorry I invaded your personal space. I’m sorry I touched you in that way without permission.