Your miniskirt is not a liberation flag

Oh hi, my name is Consent. What's yours?

Six years ago, a 20-year-old woman, named in court papers only as Jane Doe, went to a bar at Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. She was dancing and someone pulled her tank top down, and it was all filmed by a Girls Gone Wild video crew. The incident was distributed on a video called “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy.”

On July 22, a St. Louis jury ruled that despite saying “no” when asked to reveal her breasts to the camera, Jane Doe had given “implied consent” because she was there and taking part in the party.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Patrick O’Brien, the jury foreman, said: “Through her actions, she gave implied consent … She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

Allow me to express my outrage. This kind of reasoning makes me nauseated. If this case involved a guy unwillingly having his genitalia exposed to a video camera, I can guarantee that the outcome would’ve been incredibly different.

There is more than an undercurrent in our culture that says a woman “asks” for rape or other forms of sexual assault. It starts with snide comments about a woman’s wardrobe — a short skirt is apparently some kind of invitation to be harassed.

This is the beginning of a slippery slope, which ends in blaming women for rape. In feminism and feminist theory, the term “rape culture” is used to describe the commonness of sexual violence and how social norms, the media and people’s attitudes condone it.

The culture then teaches women how to avoid rape, through PSAs and self-defense classes and carrying mace and traveling in groups. This implies that not taking these precautions means that a woman deserves what she gets. Not that these precautions aren’t a good idea — I’ve taken a self-defense class myself — but that a woman must somehow be on guard against sexual attack at all times is ridiculous.

I spent one painful evening begging a friend to go to the police after an incident where her date just didn’t stop when she asked. She decided not to inform authorities and press charges against the guy because of the stigma of rape. Upon reflection, I find that a big part of her decision not to press charges was the fear that others would place the blame on her.

The St. Louis Girls Gone Wild case uses the illogic that Jane Doe was asking for it because she was “playing to the camera.” This is the same absurdity that would say a sexually provocative dress is “implied consent” for a man to rape the woman.

A girls’ night out usually isn’t a big deal. A woman wants a night out on the town with her girlfriends. She wears less clothes and higher heels than would be acceptable in the daytime. There will be dancing and a few drinks. A fun time will be had by all. I’ve been on these nights out, and they’re harmless.

Until someone pulls down a woman’s tank top in front of a Girls Gone Wild video crew.

That Girls Gone Wild, with its owner Joe Francis, is one of the most repellent companies ever to grace late-night television with its commercials is inconsequential. Pornography has been around since history could be recorded. I would even go far as to say that pornography, when made or consumed by consenting adults, can be empowering to women.

This jury’s decision is enshrining in legal precedent that being a woman in front of a camera at a party “implies consent” for having images of your naked breast distributed for profit. Girls Gone Wild made an estimated $1.5 million from the video in question. Someone pulled down Jane Doe’s tank top, and she said “no” to the camera crew. There is no evidence Jane Doe signed a consent form.

As Jane Doe’s lawyer, Stephen Evans, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Other girls said it was OK. Not one other one said, ‘No, no.’ She is entitled to go out with friends and have a good time and not have her top pulled down and get that in a video.”

Apparently not.

–By Erin K. O’Neill