First we heard that if you don’t want to be raped, you shouldn’t drink. Then it was suggested that protective underwear might be the answer. Or, if all else fails, perhaps we should just lie back and enjoy it.
The newest response to the global sexual assault crisis? Next time, just “close your legs.”
That was the recommendation of Keith Jefferies, a New Zealand attorney defending a bouncer at a club who was being accused of sexually assaulting a client who was inebriated. As Jefferies closed off his defense, he claimed that the sexual encounter must have been consensual, because otherwise the woman would have “closed her legs.”
“All she would have had to do was to close her legs? it’s as simple as that,” Jefferies said, according to the AFP. “Why didn’t she do that? The reason she didn’t do that was because the sex was consensual, as easy as that.”
The victim’s lawyer stated that she was terrified of her assailant, which is why she didn’t make noise or fight back aggressively at the time.
The case is just the latest in what is being referred to in New Zealand as a “national health crisis” regarding sexual assault. An ongoing investigation around a group of male teens accused of getting teen girls drunk and then gang-raping them has brought to light the horrifying fact that when one girl tried to report her attack, she was told that she wasn’t likely to get a conviction because she had been wearing a skirt and “went out in clothes that were pretty much asking for it.”
In both cases in New Zealand, the impetus appears to be falling on victims to prove they didn’t bring the attacks on themselves rather than on their assailants to prove the act was consensual. Defending himself against blowback from his “close your legs” remarks, Jefferies claims that “for anyone to fully understand what he meant they would have had to have attended the entire trial, which involved complex issues of consent,” writes the AFP. The question there is what makes consent “complex” other than attempting to muddy the waters in defense of his client?
Being unable to “close your legs,” especially when a person has been drinking and may not have full control over her body, does not imply consent. Especially not if the other person is no doubt both physically strong and intimidating, as most clubs seek out for their bouncers. The only “complex” question that can be asked about consent while drinking is whether a person is able to give consent at all.
Yet implying that the sex act was consensual is the default defense for all sexual assaults, and to the detriment of those who try to have their attackers punished. Just recently we saw the Alabama case where a man who was convicted of multiple sexual assaults on a young teen over the years received a mere slap on the wrist after his conviction, including no jail time. His lawyer also argued that the teen consented to the sex, and only claimed that it was rape because he would not continue a relationship with her.
The teen said he had threatened to harm her family if she told anyone about his rape.
“Close your legs” may not have the same resonance as “you can’t get pregnant from legitimate rape,” but the implication continues to be the same: if a victim didn’t inherently want the sexual contact, he or she wouldn’t have been a victim in the first place. As long as we as a society insist on blaming the victims themselves for their own assaults and allow lawyers to pose “complex consent” arguments as if there are shades of gray when it comes to taking advantage of someone sexually, rape will always be a true threat to public health everywhere, and not just in New Zealand.
Please sign and share our petition demanding justice for women subjected to rape and make this lawyer accountable for saying to ladies, “close your legs to prevent rape.”
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