COMMENT: Compliance or consent? Society STILL isn’t sure

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How many times have you said yes for fear of causing offence, creating tension or engendering ill will?

As women, we’re offered daily reminders that we frequently take on too much or put ourselves out for others due to an innate desire to please all of the people all of the time.

Self-help features and handy listicles on the phenomenon regularly saturate our news feeds – Setting Boundaries And Saying No21 Ways To ‘Give Good No', How To Stop Saying Yes When You Want To Say No – and call to mind the countless times we’ve found ourselves reluctantly complying in daily life.

While these quirky write-ups generally focus on the holy grail that is the ‘perfect’ work / life balance, they do, inadvertently, act as a reminder that when it comes matters of consent, a simple ‘no’ is sometimes not an option.

And yet despite this, it does not mean that the matter of consent is any less black and white.

We may live in a Fifty Shades Of Grey society, but suggesting that the matter falls under any one of those shades is the reason why so many sexual assault cases fail to make it to trial.

If we struggle to say no to a party invite, tie ourselves in knots over declining an after-work coffee or utter a resigned ‘yes’ to an unexpected and totally inconvenient task, how can we be expected to properly articulate ourselves when in fear for our lives?

The matter of consent has dominated headlines in recent months and beneath calls for judicial review and longer sentences in rape cases, there lurks a narrative which suggests that when she doesn’t say no, she ultimately means yes.

From Brock Turner’s laughable three-month stint behind bars to the number of rape cases which collapse before and after making it to trial, there is no doubting the fact that society, as a whole, needs a lesson in consent.

Highlighting the stark difference which exists between consent and submission in last night’s episode of The Fall, Gillian Anderson’s character, Stella, attempted to placate the husband of a woman who struggled to understand his wife’s reaction to being abducted.

Stupefied that she hadn’t screamed or raised the alarm, and instead linked arms with her assailant, he frantically sought answers.

“Men always think in terms of fight or flight. In fact, the most common instinct in the face of this kind of threat is to freeze,” Stella told him.

“If she didn’t fight, if she didn’t scream, if she was silent and numb, it’s because she was petrified. If she went with him quietly, it’s because she was afraid for her life.”

“In that state of fear, she might well have been compliant. She might well have submitted. But that does not mean she consented.”

If we struggle to say no when pressed for an after-work drink, how likely is it we can say no when we’re not certain we’ll make it out of the exchange alive?

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