Jennifer O’Connell: Bill Cosby story highlights troubling societal attitudes to consent

A woman’s taste for Jim Beam or Pinot Noir does not make her fair game

Bill Cosby’s alleged victims’ drunkenness should be irrelevant to the case

Bill Cosby’s alleged victims’ drunkenness should be irrelevant to the case

 

Malcolm Gladwell calls it “creeping determinism”: the name for that knew-it-all-along feeling you get when you discover that a public figure, who was as much a part of the landscape of your childhood as Rubik’s cubes and Angel Delight, might have been a sexual predator.

To be fair, many people really did know – or at least suspect – it all along about Jimmy Savile. And the 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins, who was recorded by his ex-wife admitting to having inappropriately touched three children, always seemed, well, a bit sleazy. But Bill Cosby? The wise-cracking, world-weary all-American dad? Could anyone honestly say they foresaw he would be accused of rape by several women?

Cosby’s clean image is part of the reason why the allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted several women – allegations he has called “decades old” and “discredited” – were able to rattle around for years, culminating in a lawsuit that was settled out of court amid the threat of several testimonies from alleged victims, without ever really rubbing off on him. But it’s not the only reason. Probably more significant is the fact that Cosby’s alleged victims were often, by their own admission, either drunk or stoned (as a result, they say, of being drugged by him). As far as a significant proportion of society is concerned, rape allegations by drunk women – even those who are not drunk of their own volition – are inherently suspect.

Just ask the one in five Australians who said in a recent survey that a woman who gets drunk “is partly responsible” if she is raped. Or ask the 6 per cent of men who, in a 2002 survey, admitted having sex with a woman who was “too intoxicated to resist”.

Or take the comments by Stuart Gilhooly, a solicitor for the Professional Footballers of Ireland, who last week wrote in a blog about footballer Ched Evans that “if having sex with a drunk woman is rape, then thousands of men are guilty of rape every day”. Or ask Michael Buerk, the BBC commentator, who said Evans’s victim deserved “no credit” because she could “barely stand”. Or ask the CNN presenter Don Lemon, who, while questioning the actor Joan Tarshis, one of Cosby’s accusers, last week asked her why, if the actor had got her drunk and forced her to perform oral sex, she hadn’t used her teeth “as a weapon”.

The trouble with this analysis is that it is predicated on the belief that it is up to women to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted. This is dangerous nonsense. It is up to men not to rape. And by rape, just so we’re clear, because apparently a proportion of the population believes some rapes exist in a “grey area” of ambiguity, I mean having sex without meaningful consent. It’s funny how decent men never bleat about how confusing or unsexy the idea of meaningful consent is and how they’re never the ones who moan that they’re expected to keep a release form in their bedside locker.

For those of you still confused, here’s a brief primer. A woman’s taste for Jim Beam or Pinot Noir does not make her fair game. If she is too drunk or too drugged to give consent by explicitly saying yes, or by otherwise positively and unambiguously agreeing to sex, the sex is non-consensual. If you aren’t sure, if you have even the tiniest glimmer of doubt, she very likely hasn’t consented – so stop.

 

Uber threat to critics is a worry

Money talks, and in Silicon Valley, multibillion dollar valuations make their point persuasively. An $18 billion (€14 billion) valuation might be the reason why Emil Michael – senior vice-president of business at private driver firm Uber, which started up in Dublin last summer – was still in a job last week.

At a recent dinner, Michael outlined a startling, Putinesque plan to hire a team to dig up dirt on the company’s critics. The researchers, he said, would look into “[the media’s] personal lives, your families”. He later apologised, as did Uber’s chief executive and its communications people.

The remarks cemented Uber’s reputation as the poster firm for a new generation of brash, aggressive start-ups with a cavalier attitude to privacy concerns. Uber is not yet a Google or a Facebook, but it still has access to a broad wealth of data on its clients. I have used it once, and already it knows where I live, where I had dinner last Saturday and when I got home. Together with its ambitious plans for global expansion, this is the reason for its $18 billion valuation – and not the $12 it charged to get me there. The notion that it might use this data to “be evil” is frightening.

 

Brothers’ fairy tales too grim 

A girl held captive and impregnated by the man who rescues her; a mother who is so jealous of her own daughter that

she decides to murder her: that’s not the outline for a new Netflix Original series (although it might only be a matter of time), but rather the original plots of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, translated for the first time in their unsanitised version. Translator Jack Zipes says it’s time for parents to stop “dumbing down” bedtime stories. I agree we’re all a bit too keen to wrap our kids in cotton wool. But I’m still not sure I would read my infant daughter a story about an entire family killing each other in a bloodfest prompted by the slaughter of a pig.

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