The popular phrase, "not saying 'no' doesn't mean 'yes,'" is making the "Consent is Sexy" campaign just that sexy. This violence prevention effort to make consent both popular and sexy has finally come to drive a long awaited discussion around the principle of respect each person for their sense of pleasure and judgment. This movement is truly part of the larger gender equity discussion happening worldwide. Sadly, however, it hasn't quite permeated the discursive folds of the Indian constitution, nor its constituency.
Early this year the brutal rape of a young paramedical student, Jyoti Singh Pandey, had set the Indian officials on the right path toward making legal correction to its age-old laws on sexual violence. Well, not quite so. While the government made long striding changes to its rape and sexual assault laws dating back to 1860, it refused to recognize marital rape as a crime.
This is quite different from where the rest of the world is going. In 2006, almost 100 countries had prosecuted rape crimes against spouses. This infuriated several feminist activists who believe that Indian women, like men, have the right to their own bodies. Therefore, it's been widely argued that men should understand the concept of consent even in marriage, should be sought regularly, and be offered freely or withdrawn freely to ensure love making, and not rape.
A study found that 12% of Indian women experience coercive sex in marriage frequently and 32% experience it occasionally. This data is largely under-reported and is similar to the one in the United States. By legalizing marital rape in India, the government seem to motivate men to disregard a woman's right to her body and to continue to see her as a sexual object.
John Stoltenberg, a famous American feminist activist and a scholar, in his book Refusing to be a Man describes the de-personalization effect behind marital rape that makes violence possible. The assailant makes a person out to be an object, a thing less real than himself, only to incur a self-referential sexual experience that is imagined as sexual intimacy.
As expected, this form of objectification affects the victim severely. Many of them are unable to share their experiences with others, they suffer from trust and intimacy issues, are venerable to repeated assault from partners or strangers, experience low work performance, develop anxiety and other mental health disorders, among other problems. The research on victims has been immense. I, however, was saddened to find nothing that spoke about the effects of domestic violence, rape, or assault, on an abuser. Nothing held men (or the assailant) responsible for their insular and solipsistic experiences.
It's interesting that in all our efforts to promote healthy relationships between couples we haven't quite put into perspective the cost there is to an assailant when he or she fails to seek consent in a relationship. We haven't quite unpacked consent and some of its broad social implications. Marital assault is a choice one makes to exert power and control over their spouse. It is a learned behavior that uses violence to gain control, and this behavior can be un-learned. Part of the problem that dissuades people from being empathic is when they feel that there is nothing at stake.
Social scientists who have surveyed the attitude of sex offenders find them to be twice as likely to insist on victim blaming. Unfortunately, this rapist ethics are quite pervasive today. Note the remarks of a former Steubenville baseball player over the rape of a 16-year-old girl from Ohio who was drunk, "It isn't really rape because you don't know if she wanted to or not."
Now imagine the socio-ecological model. This form of "self syndrome" is sure to pose a heavy cost onto both one's marital relationship and other inter-personal and professional relationships. One is limited by self-perspective and learns to get what they want by betraying, humiliating and terrorizing others.
In a family setting, the assailant not only loses the trust and respect of his spouse, but also begins to lack perspective-taking skills. While trying to realize his male sexual identity, the assailant would inhibit his own actions, thoughts, and feelings to consider the perspective of the other. He becomes inflexible to see the situation in different ways, from the other person's position, and consider their thinking alongside his own. This sort of behavior doesn't just culminate behind closed doors; it's a patriarchal effect that transmigrates, and is practiced and reinforced over several relationships and professional settings.
At workplace, while female victims find their rapists as charming and persuasive, they are often described as hostile, competitive, and apathetic towards their colleagues. By carrying an ideology where one objectifies women, the assailants create a hazardously work environment where women don't feel comfortable or valued. Furthermore, their lack of perspective can be professionally disabling if one is to incur value for one's company and it's stakeholders.
So, consent does have far reaching implication than one would have thought earlier. Consent allows us to consider and reconsider how the other person feels, thinks, and acts about our own actions. It allows us to displace our self-syndrome or self-perspective, in order to gain a better understanding of our shared reality. Consent doesn't just provide basis for a healthy relationship, it allows us to have a relationship where we co-exists with others. It allows for a sexual relationship that is communicative and brings the two closer to each other.
Marital rape is devoid of consent. It implicates the other person as an object for the purposes of one's own subjective sexual stimulation. Marital rape impacts relationship with spouse, children, family members, peers, colleagues, and complete strangers, at home and at work. So before we are quick to dismiss domestic violence and marital rape as a private issue and only to be addressed by a few women, think again. Violence done at home travels out to work, meets friends, makes clients, shares hands, space, and attitude with countless other people. An attitude that lacks perspective is simply waiting to disregard you next. Therefore, it's important that consent is made popular not just by a few but by all, because it s not only sexy but it's also the right way to (co) exist.