A few days ago, an Australian jury voted to acquit 23-year-old Nicholas Gonzales of rape. This is not particularly surprising, because like most countries, Australia has a low rape conviction rate. But the reasoning behind this acquittal is more outrageous than usual. The jury, prompted by the defense lawyer, refused to believe that the alleged victim’s skinny jeans could have been removed without “collaboration.”
Ever since a 1999 case in Italy when a jury refused to convict an alleged rapist by saying that the supposed victim must have consented to sex, since her jeans could not have been removed without her cooperation and thus her desire to engage in sex, these cases have popped up a few more times, mostly notably in 2008 in Seoul. In this case, the court overturned a seven-year sentence of a man convicted of raping a woman wearing skinny jeans. In the same year, though, another Italian court made a small move forward, upholding a rape conviction with the ruling that “jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt.”
I find it horrifying that this needs to be said more than once, particularly in a court of law, but anything can be removed without a victim’s consent, particularly if the victim is drunk or on drugs (something that I don’t know about this case, but it’s important to point out, too, that it doesn’t matter if the victim took off her pants herself – removing clothing is not a substitute for consent). According to the 24-year-old plaintiff, she and Gonzales met for drinks and “then returned to his house to listen to music. Gonzales claims they had consensual sex together; the victim says she was raped and ‘I struggled to try to get up for a while and then he undid my jeans and he pulled them off.’”
What did Gonzales’ lawyer claim? That it would be “difficult for skinny jeans to be taken off by someone else unless the wearer’s assisting, collaborating, consenting.”
Needless to say, this is an extremely disturbing precedent. It undermines the idea of active, enthusiastic consent and instead establishes the idea that consent can be as ambiguous as removing clothing. I don’t know all of the facts of the case, but I do know this: just because this woman was wearing skinny jeans before her sexual encounter with Gonzales, doesn’t mean she consented to sex. And I am horrified that this Australian jury refused to recognize that simple fact.
Photo from Flickr.