“Implicit consent”—women can be stripped if they’re dancing at a bar

This is an appalling story. Those “Girls Gone Wild” videos are already about the sleaziest things you’ll find advertised on mainstream TV: they are basically made by getting young women drunk to reduce their inhibitions and than urging them to expose themselves for ‘fame’ and titillation, and convincing them to do something stupid in front of a camera. Usually it’s a case of consensual stupidity (which should never be arousing, except for the fact that even sober guys can be awfully mindless about that sort of thing), but sometimes it crosses the line into assault.

STLToday reports that the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was dancing in at the former Rum Jungle bar in 2004 when someone reached up and pulled her tank top down, exposing her breasts to the “Girls Gone Wild” camera. Jane Doe, who was 20 at the time the tape was made, is now living in Missouri with her husband and two children. She only found out about the video in 2008, when a friend of her husband’s saw the “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy” video and recognized her face. He called up her husband, and in what has got to be the most awkward conversation ever, informed him that his wife’s breasts were kinda famous.

The woman sued Girls Gone Wild for $5 million in damages. After deliberating for just 90 minutes on Thursday, the St. Louis jury came back with a verdict in favor of the smut peddlers. Patrick O’Brien, the jury foreman, explained later to reporters that they figured if she was willing to dance in front of the photographer, she was probably cool with having her breasts on film. They said she gave implicit consent by being at the bar, and by participating in the filming – though she never signed a consent form, and she can be heard on camera saying “no, no” when asked to show her breasts.

Got that ladies? If you’re willing to dance, you’re willing to be stripped of your clothes. And presumably we can carry this a little further and reason that if you’re naked in a bar, you’ve consented to sex, although fortunately it did not go that far in this case. I can oppose this decision for the purely selfish reason that I don’t women to be discouraged from dancing happily in public, and for the reason that this is a gross injustice, that porn merchants’ bottom line has just been declared more important than a woman’s right to privacy.

How can you have implied consent when the woman is plainly saying “no”?

How can you have implied consent when the woman has her top forcibly pulled down, and she reacts by instantly pulling it back up?

Being at a party and dressing attractively in clothing that displays cleavage does not imply that you’ve abandoned all expectations of any modesty at all.

As you might guess, skeptical women are clear that this was a violation, and they can reasonably feel threatened by such a decision, but even worse — they can feel threatened by fellow skeptics and rationalists who react inappropriately to this case. I was left feeling rather queasy about the discussion on the JREF forums. A good number of people did respond appropriately, deploring the decision, but quite a few others react by either making jokes about breasts (way to make women welcome, guys), or by legalistic analyses that justify it in various ways, which all boil down to the “she was asking for it” defense, with a bit of the “she was too greedy to ask for so much compensation” argument.

Look. It’s simple. Violations of personal liberty are wrong. There is no reasonable excuse to justify pulling someone else’s clothing off in public, against their will. There is no reasonable excuse for profiting off such actions. Don’t even try to defend it, accept it and move on. Don’t make jokes about the inherent humor in assaulting women. Don’t make it easier for women to be made uncomfortable in the presence of men.

And most of all, do not ever purchase any of those execrable “Girls Gone Wild” videos. They are one of the clearest examples of violations of the dignity of women. I understand that as porn goes, they are fairly soft-core, but their main appeal seems to be that they celebrate the humiliation and manipulation of women under conditions of diminished capacity and judgment.

There has been a lot of discussion of “dicks” in the skeptical community lately, where “dicks” are people who are rude and brash. I think we’ve been using the wrong definition. If you’re someone who does any of the above, or who thinks with a pretense of calm rationality that we can justify what happened to that woman, then you are a DICK with capital D-I-C-K.

One of the things I love about having a comments section with a reputation as being a vicious piranha tank is that I can open up this subject and I know there will be a few True Dicks who will make an appearance, but I also know that the people here, the lower-case dicks who get accused of shrillness and discourtesty, will shred the flesh from their bones. And that makes me feel a little better.


  1. SkepticReport.com says

    First, I doubt that Europe is a particularly nefarious corner of the world, when it comes to exploiting women through prostitution. It all depends on what it is compared to.

    Africa? The Muslim world? Asia? The United States?

    Second, Italy is not the Vatican, nor is the Vatican Italy. Mixing the two is merely exhibiting profound ignorance.

    Third, the “women in tight pants can’t be raped” debacle came out of Italy, yes. But it was also widely denounced, criticized and ridiculed. Oh, and overturned by the top criminal court.

    Oddly enough, a similar case broke recently in Sydney. That’s in Australia, that big blob of land south of…well, America.

    What, are Australians suddenly as bad as Vaticanitalians? Must be. Just like those darn South Koreans, also mentioned in the article.

    Stereotyping much? Guess it’s OK, when it’s about stereotyping men.

    Fourth, the “thing” about how Italian women being pretty is why they have “so much rape” did not come from the “government”. It came from Berlusconi, making yet another flippant remark. It was not government policy, in any way, shape or form. Just because some idiot says something stupid does not mean it is generally accepted policy. And yes, it was widely denounced, criticized and ridiculed.

    Again, stereotyping much?

    Fifth, rape rates may be “shitty” in Italy, but they are below countries like Belgium, Canada, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and, yes, the US. That figure is seven-and-a-half times bigger than Italy’s. Not as bad as South Africa’s, of course.

    Sixth, “Europe” is indeed “more relaxed about sex” – in some parts of Europe. E.g., Denmark is way more relaxed than the UK.

    Seventh, whether “Europe” is a “patriarchy” or not, or whether women are still oppressed there, depends on what the comparison is.

    Africa? The Muslim world? Asia? The United States?

    Eighth, Europe’s been investing in women leaders in business, too.

    Yes, facts. Found by doing one’s homework.

    But why let facts ruin a perfectly righteous argument?