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Manipulation and Consent.


How many times has a partner talked you into doing something that you haven’t wanted to do? How many times have you said yes because saying no was not an option? How many times have you wanted to say no but been denied or convinced otherwise? How many times have you proceeded because doing so was safer than saying no? How many times has your silence been perceived as consent?


The word consent means permission to do something, agreeing. It seems like a simple concept where every person has full autonomy over their body and saying yes means yes and no means no.

Before I go any further, I want to share a quote that I found online.

‘Intimacy is a shared experience, not an exchange.’

A shared experience. Remember that. Shared.

With this in mind, we recognise rape as an instance where consent is not given and physical force is used. However, what is unclear is those circumstances in which one is manipulated to such an extent that they almost forfeit their right to consent. What do we call it when ‘yes’ is coerced?

But why or how would ‘yes’ be coerced? Why would someone not just say ‘no?’

The first reasoning is through persistence from the other party. For example, we often give in when somebody relentlessly asks for something, not because we want to, but because we are harassed to the point of being made to feel like we have to oblige.

Let me set the scene for you.

A man asks his girlfriend whether they can go to watch a movie.

Maybe tomorrow. I’m tired,’ she responds.

He asks again.

Not today, I’m honestly so tired.’

He says nothing for a few minutes and then walks out of the room. When he returns, he poses the question again.

We can go another day,’ she says. 

He shakes his head and frowns as she returns to her book. He taps his feet against the floor, growing louder until she can no longer read on.

He then takes the book out of her palms, listens to her sigh as he begins to play with her hair. He asks again.

Seriously, I’m too tired.’

He throws the book into her lap, stomps over to his desk where he loudly shuffles through papers. She returns to reading.

Come on, let’s go!’ he yells from across the room. She shakes her head without looking up until his footsteps become too close to ignore. Again, he reaches for her book.

You’re always reading! You never have time for what I want! Come on, let’s just go today.’ She feels the reverberations of his voice against her limbs, stares at him with vacancy.

Come on! Your book can wait. Let’s go!’

She sighs, waits for him to place the book down. He doesn’t and continues his plea until she reaches for her coat.

It’s the growing intensity and persistence that ultimately leads to us giving in because contesting is no longer an option. In fact, it is our own society that teaches us to never take 'no' for an answer. It is reinforced, over and over. Whilst this is an overly simplistic example, it demonstrates how when the prospect of saying no is taken away, the consensual boundaries can become blurred. 

The next coercion is through manipulation. This is something that can occur over time where the perpetrator gradually maintains control through distorting the other party’s self-worth and creating a world in which they are the only inhabitant. They use their power to undermine the other party’s ability to trust themselves and their own instincts, ultimately presenting them with statements like 'if you love me, then you will,’ or ‘if you respected my needs, you would,’ and negating their right to choose.

Let me give you an example.

A couple are reading in bed together when the man turns to the woman.

Can we?’ he asks.

Not tonight.’

Please?

It’s late, we should sleep.’

Come on, if you love me then you will.’

I do love you.’

If you did, then you wouldn’t say no. You’re so lucky that you have me you know, seriously there are so many other women who would kill to be here.’

‘I know I’m lucky. I remind myself every day.’

‘No you don’t. You take me for granted. You don’t even care or think about my needs.’

You know I do.’

How? You’re saying no now. Imagine how it makes me feel. Imagine what it does to me.’

I’m just not in the mood tonight.’

God you should be grateful that I’m even with you.’

I am, I’m so grateful.’

Then come on. If you care at all about making me happy, then you will.’

She puts down her book.

The problem is that the perpetrator will go on to argue that the other party could have said ‘no’ if they did not want to proceed. However, the issue is that the perpetrator creates a circumstance in which saying no is not an option or the other party's denial will simply not be heard. They have desires that they are fixated on and will not give up until they are fulfilled. Whilst they may not go to the extent of using physical force, they will use emotional force to provide the other party with an ultimatum.

Does the word ‘yes’ itself always mean yes?

If you truly unpack this, it is almost as if someone not explicitly saying no labels them as a ‘willing participant’ even when they were not presented with the option of making that choice. But does this failure to say no signify our willingness? Is that what we’re saying?

Let me take you back to the quote I mentioned earlier. Intimacy is a shared experience, not an exchange. So now if you think about the above situations where the word yes does not mean yes, you will recognise how intimacy in fact does become an exchange.

If you go on further to unpack your body’s response to this situation, it can freeze and dissociate, particularly if you have previously been exposed to trauma. This dissociation is your body’s way of keeping you safe by separating you and therefore preventing you from being able to feel the physical sensations. This can result in you looking vacant and unengaged, which again is not perceived as an explicit protest and so is coherently treated as consent.

Again, intimacy becomes an exchange.

The problem is that using the word ‘assault’ does not feel valid because it is something that we associate with physical force and a victim verbally saying no. It’s almost as if you don’t have the ability to classify yourself as a victim because you did not overtly object. However, if you were not a willing participant, how many of these things can you actually attribute to yourself? They were not decisions that you made, so why is there not a word for emotionally being coerced into something that your body has no desire for, but is not physically forced into? Why do we not recognise it as a form of assault? Why does this not constitute as rape? 

The perpetrator will never accept or understand their role in this but will instead become defensive and accuse the other party because it is easier than accepting the atrocity of their own capabilities. 

'She could have said no,' they will say.

But didn't she? A thousand times before giving in.

'I didn't force her,' they will roar.

But didn't you? Until she gave in.

In fact, let's look at the definition of the word 'force.' It is described as compulsion, coercion. It is described as making someone do something against their will. It is described as making it necessary to do something that the other person would not have done otherwise. It is described as making someone accept something that they would prefer not to. It is described as persuasive power, the mental or moral power, the strength to influence or control something. It is described as not providing someone with a choice. To compel through pressure or necessity. 

Let's go even further and look at what it means in science. Force is the influence which changes movement. In fact, Newton's first law refers to an object remaining in uniform motion (or at rest) until prompted by an external force. So again, force becomes a thing which alters and interferes with the course of something. His second law goes on to refer to the change in momentum being directly proportionate to the force that is applied. If we take this and apply it to intimacy, the surrender is directly caused by the external force and would have remained in uniform motion otherwise.

So again, tell me, could she have said no?

I write this because I want to make it clear that consensual boundaries should not under any circumstance become blurred in a relationship, regardless of how long you have been together or how happy you think you need to 'make' each other. 

So to you, the perpetrator reading this, remember that consent is valid and our bodies will always be our own to navigate. Re-read this again and again and again until you understand that we owe you nothing.

Do you hear me? We owe you nothing.

1 comment

  1. Consent is a very big issue when it comes to marriage or even relationships. However there is no one set formula for consent. I firmly believe its different for each person. It all depends on the kind of relationship you have with your partner

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