Out In The Open

'I really do think it has gone too far'

When it comes to consent, Cathy Young says we shouldn't confuse the law with morality. She argues conversations about consent have begun trivialising what she deems legitimate sexual assault and rape incidents.
Cathy Young thinks consent isn't as simple as the analogy to making someone a cup of tea.

A recent campaign uses offering to make someone a cup of tea as an analogy for obtaining sexual consent. It's a simple means to understand the main points — a yes means yes, uncertainty does not warrant coercion, and a no is a definite 'do not move forward'.

Cathy Young takes issue with this. To her, it's too simplified and lacks nuance. 

"I think it's kind of frivolous in applying the tea analogy to something that for the vast majority of people is far more complicated, far more emotionally fraught, far more intimate," she says.

The relationship between being pressured to do something but ultimately agreeing to it versus being forced to do something without having agreed to it is what Cathy takes issue with in the oversimplification she sees in conversations about consent today.

"I kind of think that it's on the person who ultimately decides whether or not to agree to what they're being nudged into," she says.

Cathy is adamant that much of what is seen as rape these days occurs when someone gives in and consents to having sex, but then regrets it after and is convinced by society that a sexual assault has happened.

"I believe that in many ways it trivialises the very very serious crime that rape and sexual assault is — to say that it's really no different if you're made to fear for your life, if you're subjected to physical violence, if you're forcibly held down, et cetera, or if you're genuinely incapacitated to the point of being unconscious. To say that's really the same as saying 'Oh alright, I'll just go along with it,' because you feel badgered, to me that kind of disrespects the crime," Cathy says.

Alcohol is another complicating factor, she says. A common belief is that being inebriated means consent is not possible, but Cathy says unless one party is inebriated to the point of being "barely able to function" and is taken advantage of by a more functioning party, this view is overly cautious.

She also takes issue with recent concept of "enthusiastic consent", which values eager agreement over passive.

"How do you measure the enthusiastic expression of consent? Is the other person supposed to be a mind reader? How are they supposed to measure the level of your enthusiasm? It's not always a sort of 'yeah' versus 'YES, YES!'. It just really worries me that we're going down the road of this incredible subjectivity — that ironically comes out of the desire supposedly to make things perfectly clear."

This story originally aired on May 21, 2017