Many of our great universities are having some awkwardness about how they deal with people who sexually mistreat their students. The government is making them report on cases and how they are handling them, and Yale’s offers an innovation that has vast promise for all criminal justice, even though its merit completely escapes some bloggers. The innovation is to rename rape as non-consensual sex. Like most innovators, Yale didn’t push their invention as far as they should have, but we can fix that: what they actually meant was partially consensual sex: surely they didn’t mean to completely ignore the enthusiastic consent of the rapist that is universal in these cases! In the student-on-student cases, it’s not just anyone consenting, but a Yale Man, not to mention a future stream of alumni bucks – possibly even a letter athlete. In gang rapes, it seems only right to say “minority nonconsensual sex“.
The language change is much more interesting than it might appear. For one thing, it sounds much less like something that’s done to you by somebody, and more like something that just happened. Like when you trip on a loose rug when you didn’t mean to. So all that blaming and fault-finding that makes the dean have Seriously Awkward Meetings with the spoiled son of a rich alum gets the heat turned down from the start. For another, it elides what we know about rape being a matter of power and not, mainly, sex. And finally, it wonderfully raises the subconscious suggestion that maybe not consenting was the offense!
I foresee a whole penal code worth of creative renaming in this line. For a start, it will be super useful as the military looks under its sexual abuse rock; in lots of those cases, the consenting rapist outranks the victim, a clear case of predominant consent. When someone points a gun at you and takes your money and your cell phone, that’s not robbery; it’s partially consensual sharing! When Yale students cheat on their exams, they’re using partially approved study methods. If that armed sharer just shoots you to move things along, he’s aggravated the offense with partially consensual lifespan determination. The possibilities in international relations make my head swim; armed occupation, for example, is partially consensual governance, which is obviously not that far from enacting legislation in Congress with a less-than-unanimous vote.
Rape is a felony, and felonies tend to involve the police, prison sentences, and a bunch of other really messy stuff. If we call this something that sounds a lot more like kids having fun…well, you get the idea. If you call a dog’s tail a leg, the dog has five legs, right?
I am ashamed that my alma mater does not get credit for this breakthrough, but maybe we can come up with something like it in the next round.