This is a difficult topic to broach. I hate how polarizing it is. I know it will trigger an emotional response and that makes nuanced discussions almost impossible.
But this is extremely important, and the case that sparked this column is the perfect vehicle for shedding a light on something most of us think we understand but actually don’t.
I’m talking about consent.
Now I know what you’re thinking. We’re in the sports pages and you didn’t come here for an uncomfortable conversation about sexual assault. Or that I’m not really qualified to be the one directing it. I would argue that’s a symptom of the diminishment we show toward this subject, and if there’s a key to changing the narrative on something, it’s dialogue. That’s why I felt compelled to write this.
A federal civil trial against New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose began Tuesday in Los Angeles. A woman, who has remained anonymous and is being identified as Jane Doe, alleged that on Aug. 27, 2013, Rose and two of his friends broke into her L.A. apartment and gang raped her while she went in and out of consciousness.
Doe, who was in an open relationship with Rose for almost two years, said she was too intoxicated to give consent, and also claimed that the men had slipped something into her drink.
She is suing them for sexual battery and is seeking approximately $21.5 million in addition to punitive damages.
The litigation has been extremely volatile, and it would be really easy for me to get bogged down by the circumstances and all the he-said/she-said scenarios that are going to play out during the trial.
What’s important for this discussion is what Rose said during his deposition on June 17.
Lawyer: “Do you have an understanding as to the word consent?”
Rose: “No. But can you tell me?”
Lawyer: “I just wanted to know if you had an understanding.”
Until this story surfaced, I really didn’t know much about consent. In my mind, it’s pretty clear when things are heading toward sex, and you simply go with the verbal or physical cues. If she says ‘no’ at any point, you cancel the mission and prepare for an emergency landing.
As I’ve found out, it’s not that simple.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) defines consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity,” and the key is communication. When you change the type or degree of sexual activity, phrases like “Is this OK?” are paramount. Expressing affirmation, explicitly agreeing or even physical cues indicating you’re comfortable taking things up a notch work, too.
Mistaking a certain outfit or kissing as an invitation is not. Assuming you’re in the clear now because you have done it before isn’t either.
The sad reality is I was never told about consent, and that’s unfortunately the norm. A study conducted by Planned Parenthood last October found that many people, especially men, don’t understand the meaning of consent. It also found that most people don’t learn about it in school or from their parents.
And when drugs and alcohol are involved, it gets even messier. Things can be perceived differently by both parties and, after everyone sobers up, the outcome can go in any number of directions.
These days it seems like these cases are popping up more and more. Whether it’s the actual proliferation of a rape culture or the illumination of one that’s always existed is for someone more qualified than me to decide.
But we have to take this more seriously because the consequences can change the course of someone’s life.
Trust me, the last thing I want is praise or social justice brownie points for talking about the rape culture. I just want us to be better as a collective people. I feel it’s my responsibility to take these subjects on because I am cognizant of the fact that others won’t.
Now it’s on you to do the same.