I wonder if conversations about consent might go better if rather than talking about ‘consent violations’ we talked about ‘consent injuries’.
In most cases I’m aware of, there’s some ambiguity. The bottom thought things not discussed were off the table, the top thought anything was good so long as they stayed well clear of the ‘hard limits’ list. The top misread what kind of “no” that was and kept talking sexy about the hot-button idea. The bottom thinks his top should have noticed he’d reached a headspace where he couldn’t say no. The new person gave a clear yes, but only because she wanted to fit into the group.
While clear cases of deliberate consent injury certainly exist, the lack of simplicity above is actually more representative in my experience. In all of those cases someone’s consent was injured, but intent and responsibility were complicated. ‘Consent violation’ to me implies a willful act, a violator and a victim. Using that last example, arguing whether the group did or didn’t violate her consent is unproductive. She feels like she was pressured, they don’t know what she’s talking about, around we go. I’ve heard people say “if someone feels like their consent was violated, it was”, and endless debate following. Saying instead “her consent was injured (period, because she feels like it was)” makes for a useful diagnosis, not subject to debate, and separates the injury from the intent.
We have language for talking about other kinds of damage that separates injury from intent: “he broke his wrist in that scene falling over”, “his wrist was broken because they didn’t notice the obstacle on the ground”, “his wrist was broken because he was blindfolded and she wasn’t paying enough attention to their surroundings”, “he really should have said something earlier about the inner-ear infection making him dizzy”, “he’s her fourth bottom to require hospitalization in the last six months”. Splinting his wrist doesn’t require a discussion of whether someone was at fault. Processing and acting on the information in those later statements is much easier if we’re not still arguing over whether his wrist was broken or not. Both need to happen.
If we can agree that an injury did happen, we can have discussions about intent, responsibility, patterns, and risk. If we debate whether it did or didn’t, we’re stuck with The Consent Wars.
This idea came out of a conversation @ProfessorFeynman, @MissAmyRed, and I were having a few months ago. I can’t claim credit for it, but I do want to start getting it out there.
(originally published on FetLife a couple years ago, reposting here so I can more easily link to it)