What We’re Missing When We Talk About Sexual Assault

On January 14, Babe.net published sexual misconduct allegations against a famous man in Hollywood, something which at this point is becoming routine. But these allegations and the reaction to them were not what we’ve become almost numb to seeing.

Babe shared the story of Grace (not her real name) a 23-year-old photographer who went on a date with 34-year-old actor and comedian Aziz Ansari after the two met at the 2017 Emmy Awards in September.

Ansari is best known for his role as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, his book Modern Romance, and his show Master of None, for which he recently accepted a Golden Globe while donning a Time’s Up pin.

Grace met Ansari at his apartment where they had a glass of wine, then walked together to a restaurant. Grace says that Ansari was eager for them to leave the restaurant and get back to his apartment.

She says that within moments of returning to his apartment, he was kissing her.

“In a second,” says Grace, “his hand was on my breast.”

He quickly undressed them both. Grace told Babe she was uncomfortable with how quickly things escalated. Ansari said he was going to get a condom, and Grace asked him to slow down. He moved her hand to his penis several times, and she kept moving away.

According to Babe, “she says he then resumed kissing her, briefly performed oral sex on her, and asked her to do the same thing to him. She did, but not for long.”

Ansari repeatedly tried to convince Grace to have sex with him, and Grace repeatedly tried to withdraw from the situation and slow things down.

“I said I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” she said.

Grace’s account of her time in Ansari’s apartment sounds like a evening spent evading predation.

Finally, Grace found an opportunity to leave and cried on the cab ride home. She texted Ansari telling him how her actions made her feel and he apologized.

Ansari has since confirmed that the date, as well as “sexual activity,” took place but that from his point of view everything was consensual.

As soon as the allegations were published, everyone online and on TV had taken sides, but the backlash against Grace was fierce. And that says something pretty uncomfortable about the way our culture still views sex.

What’s different about these allegations compared to others we’ve seen is that many viewed Ansari’s actions as totally normal behavior. It is still common, and even expected, for men to “chase” women and convince them to have sex, slowly wearing them down until their “no” becomes “yes.” Our culture still tolerates coercion in sexual encounters, and as evidenced by the pretty horrific response to Grace’s story, still thinks it’s okay for a man to try to convince a woman to have sex after she says no the first time (or twenty).

The pervasive view seems to be that what Ansari did was not illegal, there is not evidence, and therefore his private behavior should not be made public because it could have negative consequences for him. These views, while prominent in this case, are common enough every time we talk about sexual assault and it’s something that needs to be addressed.

First, what Ansari did may very well be illegal and we should all know what constitutes rape. Far too few of us actually do.

Since 2014, the FBI has defined rape as follows: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

If Grace did not consent to performing oral sex, that is rape. If Ansari had succeeded in turning Grace’s no into a coerced yes, that is rape.

Let’s put aside the court of law for a moment, though, and focus on the court of public opinion, because that’s where most of us are and where most of us have the power to change our culture for the better.

Grace’s detractors claim that what happened to her that night was nothing more than a bad date and she should not have spoken up because it could damage Ansari’s career. Let’s take a look at that for a minute.

First, we know that historically — up until the #MeToo movement — allegations and even convictions of sexual assault or violence against women have not ruined men’s careers, particularly famous, powerful men. Just look at the White House.

Second, a person’s actions do not have to be illegal to be immoral. Their actions do not have to be criminal for us to decide that they are not okay. That’s why we’re outraged every time Donald Trump says something offensive even though free speech protects his right to say it. We can and should hold powerful, public men accountable for their actions. We can and should demand better from public figures than simply not being criminals. Especially from Aziz Ansari.

Ansari has profited off calling himself a feminist. When his ex-girlfriend introduced him to feminism and he publicized his beliefs, his popularity increased. He became more likeable, more loveable even. He became more than just a funny guy, he became one of the “good” ones. And yet, he showed up to an award show just months after violating a woman wearing a pin showing his support for them. He knew better, and Grace deserved better.

It’s not just Ansari’s alleged feminism that makes his behavior especially hypocritical. He literally wrote the book on dating. He traveled the world, conducted interviews, and did research all in an attempt to understand sex and dating in the modern world. There’s no way he doesn’t understand the importance of consent.

The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt, not in this case or any other. It’s about deciding what kind of behavior we as a society deem permissible and what kind we do not, and calling upon men to do better. It’s about deciding that something doesn’t have to be illegal to be wrong. It’s about holding people accountable for their own actions and demanding better from them, and from us.

If we can’t hold accountable a man who is an expert on sex and dating, then who can we?

Photo Credit: David Shankbone

80 comments

John B
John B2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

ty

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Aries N
Aries N3 months ago

Thanks

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Angela J
Angela J3 months ago

Thanks

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Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

No means no...no matter which sex is speaking these words!!! Be respectful, be kind and don't assume - make sure both parties are on the same page....

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