Confusing Consent, what we can learn from Bill Cosby (An #SVYALit Discussion)
By now we are all very much aware that one of the icons of my childhood, Bill Cosby, has been accused by 40 plus women of drugging and raping them. This is a story that has been in the press for some a little over 9 or so months, but for others they have known about some of the accusations for more than a decade. Not all of them, but a few have very much been in the press for around 10 years or more.
A lot has been written about the Bill Cosby situation, ranging from defense of the icon himself to those who ask – and rightfully so – how many women must come forward before we choose to finally believe them. These stories and think pieces are out there, and they are so prolific that I can’t conceivably link to them all so I am choosing to link to none of them.
And this post today is not to discuss the guilt or innocence of Bill Cosby, though for the record I believe the 40 plus women who have accused him of violating them. I am here today to discuss one very disturbing trend I saw in the comments after court documents were released where Bill Cosby admitted that her had purchased drugs – quaaludes – to give to women and engage in sex with them. Apparently a couple of the women who charge that Bill Cosby raped them admitted that they voluntarily took the drugs, to which commentors tended to indicate meant that of course this means they were also consenting to have sex with Bill Cosby. But consenting to one is not, in fact, consenting to the other.
The comments tend to go something like this: “They took drugs that were given to them, of course they knew he was going to have sex with them . . . ”
People willingly take recreational drugs for a variety of reasons, doing so does not mean they are also consenting to having sex with you later. It just means that they are consenting to taking drugs.
People willingly drink alcohol for a variety of reasons, doing so does not mean they are consenting to having sex with you later. It just means that they are consenting to drinking alcohol.
At least one of the women was given Benadryl. I suffer from severe seasonal allergies and on many nights I ask my husband to please bring me some Benadryl. I take it primarily at night because it does in fact initially knock me out but also seems to be the best at blocking my allergy issues for the next day with little interference. When I ask my husband to please bring me some Benadryl, which I then willingly take, I am not also consenting to him later having sex with me while I am incapacitated. I am simply asking for some Bendaryl.
I am sure that there are people who consent to both taking drugs or imbibing alcohol AND to having sex, but it is incorrect to assume that because someone in your presence or at your party consents to taking drugs or drinking alcohol that they are also consenting to having sex with you without discussing whether or not they actually want to have sex WHILE THEY ARE STILL IN A MENTAL STATE TO HAVE SAID DISCUSSION.
And yes, we can argue about the wisdom of taking drugs or drinking alcohol. But we’re not doing that here. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about confusing consent. Consenting to action A – taking drugs – is not the same as consenting to action B – having sex. It wasn’t in the 70s. It isn’t in 2015.
Consent means that someone has to give you permission to have sex with them when they have the ability to do so. This means that the two people must be on equal footing, which is why age and power dynamics come into play as well as threats and coercion, and they must be of sound mind, meaning that they are not impaired by substances or some other condition that would make them unable to truly consent.
Just because someone takes drugs with you does not mean that they are giving you permission to have sex with them. If they take drugs and you have sex with them without their consent, which means they have to be clear minded, it is rape. It doesn’t matter if they are slipped the drugs or if they take the drugs willingly, it’s rape.
Filed under: #SVYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network