NY Times, 10/10 Article by Graham Bowley on “Consent.”
Sadly, The NY Times misquoted me and grossly distorted CAN’s mission in the article that appeared in the Sunday, October 10, 2021 Arts section.
“Yes” is an affirmative reply. There is nothing unambiguous about saying “yes.” It never means “maybe,” and it never means “no.” Unless “yes” is used as an interrogatory, for example, if I called your name and you asked, “Yes?”……. yes always means yes. But yes does not always mean, I consent.
CAN’s message has always been: “Consent is freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement.” As such, it is the influence of the party seeking sexual engagement that determines whether or not you consent. They cannot achieve your consent by malicious or derisive influence.
The current bill pending in NY Assembly, #A6540A (and its companion in the NY Senate, #S6200A) clearly state that consent is freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement. CAN crafted that language and the wording in a similar bill for Pennsylvania which has yet to be introduced.
Regarding the NY Times Article
Mr. Bowley wrote a supportive article about Andrea Constand’s new book, The Moment. He approached me for a comment and, as we spoke, he enthusiastically stated that he would also like to write about #A6540A. I spent numerous hours responding to his questions by phone, text and email.
Instead of his article focusing on #A6540A, which he barely mentioned, he focused on a contrary concept which currently exists in law, and which some additional states are currently considering for their statutes. The underlying concept of the contrary law is that consent depends on an unambiguous yes.
Since all “yeses” are unambiguous, as clarified above, this vicitm-blaming concept means that anytime you say “yes” you are consenting. CAN is emphatically opposed to this concept, but Mr. Bowley’s article falsely makes it seem that we support it.
What seems to escape the understanding of supporters of the unambiguous yes concept, is that if your actions or words are affirmative, but you are being forced, tricked, or scared into those actions or words, you are not consenting, no matter how emphatically you are stating “yes.” Because the definition for consent never changes, consent is the same when giving consent for medical treatments, protecting your data on the internet, and is the determining factor in every other crime…. including sexual assault.
By defining consent simply and correctly as freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement, society would be enabled to see that there are different types of agreement, but only consent legalizes sexual conduct.
An “unambiguous yes” achieved through fraud is “assenting”; providing agreement on the face of it.
An “unambiguous yes” achieved through forcible compulsion or threat of harm is “acquiescing”; providing agreement under duress.
But neither assenting nor acquiescing are consenting; providing agreement that is freely given, knowledgeable and informed.
Mr. Bowley frames my opinion as supporting “unambiguous yes,” when, indeed and emphatically, I do not!
Over two years ago, when CAN was speaking with legislators in Pennsylvania, I invited Cheryl Carmel to join us. Cheryl was the Foreperson for the 2nd Bill Cosby jury. She watched my TEDx Talk, which is clear about CAN’s position, and agreed to join our meeting.
First-hand accounts are more impactful than third person stories. My interest in inviting Cheryl was for her to relate to the legislators we had gathered that the Cosby judge could not respond with a definition for consent when the jurors asked. When I saw the jaws drop of all the legislators and staffers around the table, I felt assured I’d made the right call by inviting Cheryl. I conveyed this to Mr. Bowley.
Mr. Bowley quoted me as saying: “I recognized it was important to bring Cheryl to the meetings with the legislators because she could really explain,” said Ms. Short.
What Cheryl explained, which I had made clear to Mr. Bowley, was solely the specific description of what the jury asked about consent, and what the judge responded. She had no part in defining what consent is, or should be, and neither stated a preference for “unambiguous yes,” to the legislators in Pennsylvania, nor to CAN’s representatives. She did not do so at the two meetings we invited her to, and she had no further discussions with legislators.
CAN worked diligently to craft the language that the legislative bill drafting committee used in PA, and has continued to fight for the correct definition for consent in additional states such as New York, New Jersey, and Utah. “Unambiguous yes” supports sexual predators who use all manner of malicious influence to drag a “yes” out of the mouths of their victims.
#MeToo’s Impact on Defining Consent
Bowley ties CAN’s efforts to #MeToo, which is another distortion. While we appreciate #MeToo’s ability to focus awareness on the volume of sexual assaults, our efforts to define consent in society’s laws long precedes #MeToo’s 2017 entry to the sexual assault narrative. We continue to fight for the correct definition in order to guide behavior and hold sexual predators accountable.
People Have a Right to Their Opinions
Unfortunately, opinions can be misguided, and I believe that the concept of unambiguous yes is a relic from an era in which women were chattel and sexual entertainment for their husbands. Unambiguous yes fails to hold offenders accountable for derisive or malicious influence. It puts the blame on the victim’s shoulders for their words and actions that result from such influence.
The one sure way of conveying what consent is, by law, is to simply define the word consent in our statutes. Anything short of that panders to predators. Doing so will be a paradigm shift that will affect how the public conducts itself.
Mr. Bowley’s article, rather than focusing on the clarity of #A6540A, (as he had stated he was doing,) conflates CAN’s mission with concepts we diametrically oppose….. giving oxygen to ignorance.