Up Front by Emma Hart


All Together Now

I find it harder to get my rage on in the summer holidays, or when I’ve been ill for nearly two months, but if everyone else is going to write about banging, it seems only right that I should too. So let’s talk about group sex.

We’ve talked about nasty victim-blaming trials before, and we’ve examined vanilla privilege before. Yet even I was surprised when the prosecutor in a British rape trial refused to present any evidence because a woman had admitted to group sex fantasies during an MSN chat. The judge subsequently directed the jury to present Not Guilty verdicts.

The logs are not public, thankfully. Nothing in the judge's or prosecutor’s comments indicates that the logs contain anything which contradicts the woman’s assertion that she went to the home of the man she was talking to with the intention of having sex with him and no-one else. Nevertheless, as the judge in the case has quite publicly said, the content of the logs submitted by the Defence was such that “[the complainant’s] credibility was shot to pieces”.

The most damning comments came from the prosecutor – the person whose job it was to act on the complainant’s behalf:

It is right to say that there is material in the chat logs from the complainant, who is prepared to entertain ideas of group sex with strangers, where to use her words 'her morals go out of the window'.
"This material does paint a wholly different light as far as this case is concerned.
"We take the view that it would not be appropriate to offer any evidence.

Michael Leeming was, apparently, particularly concerned about an excerpt in which the complainant indicated that she might be prepared to have sex with six Irish men.

Let’s pause for a moment and examine this in a different light. Let’s say I’m chatting to a friend and suggest that I might be open to having sex with an Irish man – Aidan Turner, for instance. Later, I claim to have been raped by someone from Brixton. Before the trial, those chat logs appear, in which I have said that perhaps, if confronted with Aidan Turner covered in aerosol chocolate mousse, my morals might go out the window. My credibility is destroyed, and I don’t get a trial.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? How could agreeing that I might hypothetically consent to sex with one man make me incapable of refusing consent to a completely different one? So why would it make any difference if it was five or six men?

At this point I feel a strange compulsion to mention that I was privileged enough to have the vanilla panna cotta at Hay’s last weekend and it was lovely.

And those of you familiar with the Guardian Comment is Free section can take a moment to play a little imagination game. Which columnist was irate enough over this woman being considered unrape-able to write on it? Now, who picked this one? As a special bonus prize you can lose weight by reading the comment thread and then being violently ill.

The rules of consent still apply in a group sex situation. Which is why it also doesn’t help when, at the other end of the spectrum, people say that women can’t consent to group sex, or will only do so under social pressure, or maybe only think they do because they’re buying into a male viewpoint. Both viewpoints assume that group sex is always one woman and a group of men. Both remove the emphasis from whether the woman said yes or no – because how can I have the ability to say no unless I also have a meaningful ability to say yes?

Many of us will have had nightmares about having something we said offhand in a chat – where it’s not even entirely public – coming back to haunt us, shorn of context and seeming to imply something we totally didn’t mean, or at least not like that. And an understandable reaction would be to simply ensure that you never mentioned any kind of sexual fantasy or fetish ever again. (“Silly woman, said all those things to someone she didn’t know and then actually went to his house, what was she thinking?”) Rather than give in to Victim Blame Bingo, however, perhaps a more entertaining strategy would be to make disclosure of sexual fantasy so commonplace (and as it normally is, rather trite and dull) that no-one would ever think to imply anything about your actual behaviour from it. So, about that aerosol chocolate mousse…

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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