One of the traditional, now highly contested, ideas about consent is the “No Means No” framework, where consent is understood to be revoked if and only if the unwilling partner says no and resists, firmly and explicitly.
However, this framework is not just inadequate, it is dangerous, perpetuating victim-blaming that can embolden perpetrators and prevent survivors of sexual violence from seeking justice – let alone receiving it.
This damaging perception of masculinity means that men can feel uncomfortable or self-conscious explicitly turning down unwanted sexual advances.
Men are also raised to value their physical strength, and their ability to physically resist any threat.
A trial judge always has discretion as to whether or not it’s permissible to cross-examine a complainant on their sexual history.
From a defence point of view, it’s something that has to be given a lot of consideration; it’s not a decision that anyone makes lightly.” O’Sullivan also notes that if a complainant is cross-examined about their sexual history, “the prosecution can elicit evidence on the defendant’s past, also”.
But being perceived as confrontational or disagreeable is not just socially frowned upon; in certain circumstances, it can endanger women.
Many women have experienced unwanted catcalling, propositioning or indeed sexual touching from men.
So women often do not have the option of saying “no” firmly and clearly – it is literally unsafe for them to do so.
Also, saying “no” during an episode of sexual violence isn’t always possible because sexual violence, like many forms of trauma, can result in the victim psychologically or emotionally freezing.