Last week, I got called a liar. I told a co-worker about a story that had just been published on the Guardian, and she said it had to be bullshit. In my co-worker’s defense, it had been a weird week of news for Oklahoma. Constant reports claiming a tornado apocalypse was hitting our centrally located state had gotten schools closed, local performances canceled, bottled water and canned goods cleared from grocery store shelves. Then when the day of doom was supposed to hit, we got a few straight-line winds and hail. So, why would my co-worker believe this particular news story about an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision? It did sound like complete bullshit. Oral rape is legal in Oklahoma? Can’t be. But then more and more outlets began running the story with links to Oklahoma’s state rape law, which declares: “Rape is an act of sexual intercourse involving vaginal or anal penetration.” So, when a sixteen-year-old girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma got intoxicated in 2014, lost consciousness and woke up to hospital staff conducting a sexual assault examination, the fact that her assaulter’s DNA was found around her mouth means the assaulter cannot be charged with forcible sodomy or rape.
Last year, I had dinner with some friends, a sort of girl’s night. It started off as exactly the cliché evening you’d imagine. We drank sake bombs, ordered bowls of edamame and gyoza and cleared plates of sushi. We drew dicks on napkins to use as props for stories we shared. We laughed at dating tales and told secrets to long-lasting relationships. Then, at one point, a friend suggested that we all share the story of how we lost our virginity. The question was immediately raised as to whether we should define losing our virginity as the first time having sex or the first time consenting to having sex. The insane thing was every girl who sat around that table had been sexually assaulted, forced into having sex against her will – vaginally and/or orally – at least once. For all around the table, assault was actually their first sexual experience. These stories did not include back alleyways and menacing strangers, but rather acquaintances, family friends, family members, schoolmates. A lot of these stories included alcohol.
One girl had a handsy family member and a disbelieving mother. She moved out of her house when she was sixteen and stayed with a supposed friend. This supposed friend ended up drugging her one night. My friend woke up in the middle of the act.
One girl around that table had had a family friend living in her house with her parents when she was 14-years-old. One night, she woke up to him on top of her, his dick out. Did she want to suck it? No. Did she express that? Yes. Did it happen anyways? Yes. She stopped coming home as much after that. Started spending the night with friends, started spending the night anywhere, started drinking. She found herself in a car one evening, drunk with a boy who didn’t seem to listen when she said she didn’t want to have sex. That was her losing her virginity story.
Was the fact that all four girls had similar stories the new cliché? Was having to differentiate between having sex and having consensual sex now just becoming some overused idea?
Last month, signs were papered across the university campus where I work in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness April. They were witty – mimicked popular songs. I read signs to the tune of Spice Girls and John Lennon in my head. “If you want to be my lover, you gotta get my consent,” one read. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope one day you will join me, in respecting consent for everyone,” read another.
The campus also held events titled the “Yes Means Yes Workshop,” “Take Back the Night,” and “Consent is Sexy Tea Party,” in which the concept of consent was illustrated by how to properly offer someone a cup of tea. Some of these events used humor to address the serious topic. Some of these events just used facts. Facts such as most sex education programs in public school systems don’t teach consent. Or the fact that the Washington Post published a survey that revealed college students were divided as to what acts actually expressed consent. Forty percent of the surveyed population believed that undressing, getting a condom or nodding in agreement consented to sex while 40 percent of the surveyed population did not believe said actions meant consent for having sex. Understanding consent is the difference between having sex and raping someone, the difference between seriously traumatizing someone or bringing about one of the most pleasurable experiences in life.
To understand consent means to understand that it’s not okay to shove a dick in the mouth of a 16-year-old girl when she is passed out in a car, which is what happened in Tulsa back in 2014 and evolved into a case that made its way all the way up to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and was decided upon last week. The girl had gotten drunk and blacked out at a friend’s house. She didn’t remember what happened afterwards. It came out in the trial that a classmate offered to drive the girl home, and while she was in his car, incapacitated, he sodomized her orally. The Supreme Court decision read: “Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation,” the news reported. So, in Oklahoma, if a woman is “so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious,” it’s legal to stick it in her mouth and get off. And this verdict was passed during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, just to add another layer of irony to the tragic situation.
This week, I used my lunch break one day to read the statements of law professors who said Oklahoma’s laws allowing such a ruling are archaic and need to be overturned on a legislative level. I read up on the rape laws in Oklahoma. Then I googled the state legislator and state representative of my voting district and called them. I asked how they planned to amend this archaic law to actually protect a women’s right to consent. I didn’t mention my thoughts on how quickly that law would be overturned if one of them (they were both men) had been forced into oral sodomy by another man while incapacitated. I did, however, mention how emotionally damning it is for a woman to be so completely violated. I mentioned the long-term effects of such trauma, such as clinical depression, severe anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, high risk of substance use or abuse, and others. I wish I had mentioned how common rape and sexual assault already are. I wished I had mentioned how unacceptable rape laws, such as Oklahoma’s, steepen an already uphill battle for women to live a life of solely consent based sexual experiences.
After speaking with the state congressmen of my district, I was referred to a state representative, Scott Biggs, who is supposedly working on a bill to amend the law. I left a message on his voicemail. Waiting for a response.
Today, I’m finishing this article and making a few requests. First, be angered by this situation. Be angered and then channel that anger towards promoting positive change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “If I wish to compose or write or pray or preach well, I must be angry. Then all the blood in my veins is stirred, and my understanding is sharpened.” He also said: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The same can be said about justice. Demand justice. Demand a change in laws that don’t protect the rights of women to consent to a sexual experience. Make your demands heard. Speak out. Start the dialogue. Write the next article. Exercise your right to peacefully assemble and petition the government with redress of grievances. Learn about your state’s rape laws. http://statelaws.findlaw.com/. Call your state legislators http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/.
Make the argument. Learn from revolutionaries. Be the change.
Featured photo by Serge Melki via Flicker (changes made: built upon photo)