As a survivor on the frontlines of the movement, I have many feelings around the #AzizAnsari situation. Some are using Grace's account about her sexual encounter with Aziz Ansari as a flashpoint to undermine the campus sexual assault and #MeToo movement. They are doing this by focusing on whether her account "crosses the line" from a negative sexual experience into sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or even sexual assault.
When I read the account, despite being a lawyer, I wasn't focused on scrutinizing the existence of legal elements necessary to determine if a line had been crossed. Rather I read it as a woman who knows what it is like to feel the need to constantly hold the line of what I am comfortable with sexually or not, and to feel that line constantly pushed and challenged by my sexual partner to a point of discomfort and concern. To me, Grace's account is actually about the lack of sexual respect within a sexual interaction that ultimately risks turning a consensual sexual encounter into a situation of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or even sexual assault (see Aziz's response to the allegations here).
It is telling to me that many want to sidestep the discussion about sexual respect to instead hyper-focus on the line between "shitty behavior" and sexual assault. Ask yourself why that is the focus? Is the line really what's important, or is treating another person with sexual respect what's important? When you focus on "the line" in a society that has accepted sexual harassment, abuse, and violence with impunity for so long, I think you are destined to fail at progressing the conversation. Instead, you are more likely fueling excuses for harm and victim-blaming in the future.
Progress in the #MeToo movement is about acknowledging sexual harm, whether criminal or "less than," that we as a society want to change. Sexual respect is not too much to ask for in ALL sexual interactions and we as a society should be able to get on the same page without much need for discussion. A healthy understanding of sexual respect as a norm avoids sexual interactions getting near the line or crossing the line into coercion, abuse, and violence. As a society, we need to start focusing on a discussion of sexual respect to ensure prevention in the future and better response when the line is crossed to support survivors.
By Laura L. Dunn, Esq.
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