Textual Consent Does Not Always Mean ‘Yes’


Opinion Editor

Dave Chappelle’s “Chappelle Show,” now cancelled for five years, tackled issues, some serious, some preposterous. Told through short skits and spoofs, he transformed mucky societal issues into digestible, laughable bits.

In an op-ed to CNN, Roxanne Jones of ESPN suggests that sending sexual text messages can ultimately protect men from false accusations of rape.  (Photo by Elizabeth Zanghi/The Ram )

In an op-ed to CNN, Roxanne Jones of ESPN suggests that sending sexual text messages can ultimately protect men from false accusations of rape. (Photo by Elizabeth Zanghi/The Ram )

One issue he tackled was a contract of sexual consent. The purpose of this contract is to protect men from being falsely accused of rape through a formal consent from a female. In one featured sketch, Chappelle, playing a swanky, ambitious character, politely asks his female counterpart to sign a contract before engaging in further sexual behavior. “Sign here, initial here,” he tells the actress. Chappelle’s sketch, in all its humor, nodded toward a viable option to protect men from being falsely accused of rape. This is not something most consider as a commonplace solution, especially among college students.

However, it appears documenting consent has made a return.

Roxanne Jones, founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN, recently contributed an op-ed to CNN titled “Young men, get a ‘yes’ text before sex.” The piece presents a modern version of the consent contract from the perspective of a male college student’s mother.

Jones writes, just as she tells her son, that it is best to “never have sex with a girl unless she’s sent you a text that proves the sexual relationship is consensual beforehand.”

Jones continues, “And it’s a good idea to even follow up any sexual encounter with a tasteful text message saying how you both enjoyed being with one another — even if you never plan on hooking up again.”

The purpose of this is not to instruct her son on how to go unscathed in the case of rape, but instead to protect him from false allegations of rape. False allegations, for various reasons, are perennial in the world of athletes, an area she has personal experience in (covering Kobe Bryant’s and the Duke lacrosse team). Jones claims this type of precursor is an effective form of defense for males, especially on college campuses.

Technology is known for helping victims convict their offenders of crimes. Such was the case for students at Stuebenville High School, when a female student was raped by a group of boys who filmed the incident and posted it on the web. However, Jones proposes that technology can also be used as protection. A text message of agreement would prove consent, she supposes, if a man is falsely accused by a female. It would keep the man’s hands clean in the court of law in the unlikely situation of his being falsely accused, she argues.

In a perfect world, Jones’ suggestion would work every time. Should I even bother saying that our world, unfortunately, is far from a perfect one?

Consider a situation in which a female texts a male during the daytime, assuming both are sober. Suppose the two make plans for their nighttime activities, with the girl discovering, when the time comes, that the male is far different from what she thought. Her mind changes and she wants to revoke the consent she provided. Would a couple of texts still grant him the automatic “okay” for the girl for that night? Does one instance of consent guarantee consent any other time? How about the next night?

A single instance of granted consent cannot account for anything that happens after. “Yes” once does not and should not mean “yes” always. When circumstances and feelings change, saying “no” holds the same meaning as it would if there were no prior text messages.

Also, consider the flaw in equating a text message with true consent. Nothing stops a man from preying on an intoxicated female, simply grabbing her phone and texting himself a text of consent. If he slips it back into her purse undetected, would anything that happens thereafter be acceptable under the law because of the text she never sent?

According to Jones, this may be the case, all because of a single text not sent from the original sender. There is a slim chance of ever proving who sent the text message, leading to opportunities for perpetrators to further manipulate the victim during a time when decision making is already distorted due to alcohol.

Jones’ advice comes from a good place. She wants to protect her son from the “the party girls, the girls who thrive on attention.” I applaud her honesty with her son and her willingness to protect him from those she fears might want to convict her son of a crime he never committed.

Flirtatious texting cannot hurt a situation such as those Jones presents. But she is arguing that men can protect themselves with a simple text of consent. This dramatically oversimplifies the typical circumstances of these scenarios. A couple of text messages cannot and should not be considered a viable defense for males. Nothing stops a man from sending a message from a woman’s phone indicating that, “yes,” she would like to have sex with him. Nothing stops a man from pulling in the reigns after a woman says “no” even after texting “yes.” Placing trust in this technology is not without its flaws — some of which seriously endanger women.

Instead of providing advice to men on how to protect themselves from being falsely accused of rape, Jones should be lecturing her son and his male friends to be more careful about with whom they choose to spend the night. Such advice to young men should not circumvent the situation where they might falsely be accused of rape, but instead refrain from involving themselves with females who would stoop to such desperate calls for attention.

Joseph Vitale, FCRH ’16, is an English major from Staten Island, N.Y. 

Categories: Opinion

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