The line between bad sex and sexual assault isn’t yours to decide, Bari Weiss

By Emyle Watkins

Art Director

I’m the victim of sexual assault. Grace was too. Maybe it’s not easy to talk about, maybe you’ll never completely understand our stories, but, they demand respect too. We didn’t get that much when this happened to us. We deserve it now.

In a recent article, Babe writer Katie Way told the story of a girl with the pseudonym Grace, who went on a date with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. In length, the date is detailed with how Ansari repeatedly ignored physical and verbal cues from Grace to stop initiating sex.

In the wake of this story, New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss wrote a piece entitled “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.” Weiss argues that the account of Grace is an exaggeration of a night of “bad sex.” Weiss also argues that stories like Grace’s try to criminalize “awkward, gross and entitled sex” and diminishes feminist efforts in the 21st century.

This situation is a classic plot line we’ve seen with stories in the #MeToo movement, where an allegation of sexual assault, often against a person of power, becomes victim to someone trying to discredit or disregard the story. This time, it’s a woman taking aim at another woman’s story to say, “I think your experience isn’t what you say it is, and you could have stopped it.”

Weiss starts her piece with the line “I’m apparently the victim of sexual assault. And if you’re a sexually active woman in the 21st century, chances are that you are, too.” The scary thing though, is that while Weiss is using this to say that other women are exaggerating, the second line is partially true. According to RAINN, “1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.” Every 98 seconds, an American (any sex or age), is sexually assaulted (also according to RAINN).

Where Weiss is wrong is in the implication that most women are exaggerating, including Grace. Weiss states that “There is a useful term for what this woman experienced on her night with Mr. Ansari. It’s called ‘bad sex.’ It sucks.” You know, maybe from reading about Grace’s experience, Weiss can imagine herself in Grace’s shoes. Maybe it would have just been “bad sex” for her. However, for Grace, it was the “worst night of her life.” Who is Weiss to say that Grace didn’t experience sexual assault?

The thing I find truly corrupt about Weiss’ stance is the fact she tries to break down and take shots at Grace’s experience when she really has no idea what that experience was like. You can’t say how easy it would have been to leave in those moments, you don’t understand what Grace’s emotions were, and you don’t get to choose if someone else’s sexual assault was sexual assault. If Grace felt what happened to her wasn’t consensual as she tried to send non-verbal and some verbal cues, then it wasn’t consensual. It’s simple as that.

Now, some will counter and say, ‘but there are people who make false claims about sexual assault.’ However the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, citing a 2009 report, states that in “multi-site study of eight U.S. communities including 2,059 cases of sexual assault found a 7.1 percent rate of false reports.” The probability that someone would be falsely creating this narrative is low.

I don’t believe that anyone else should be picking apart anyone else’s testimony of sexual assault. If someone did something to you nonconsensually, you have the right to feel like it was the worst night of your life. If you chose to tell your story, then your story does deserve to be respected and treated with validity and care. I don’t just say this all out of feminist support, but as someone who actually understands what it’s like to have experienced this.

The first time I reached out to a close friend to try explain when I had been sexually assaulted, they shrugged my story off, and told me I was likely overreacting. For me, that kept me from telling anyone that story again for months. Ultimately, when someone did take the time to understand what I had been through and hold my story to be valid, it took me a while to heal and come to accept that that had actually happened to me, and that my experience was valid.

When someone tells you that an experience you had isn’t really the experience you had, like telling someone who was sexually assaulted that it was just “bad sex,” that can be damaging. You wonder if you have any right to feel the trauma you’re feeling, you wonder if you have any right to justice for what happened to you.

By the time anyone had treated my story with validity and care, it was too late for me to pursue justice against my perpetrator. I think, though, some justice comes in talking about what happened to me, and trying to express to people the importance of consent and listening to the person you’re with.

The notion that these stories of sexual assault are some sort of opportunity to criminalize “bad sex” is also disturbing. No one is trying to criminalize bad sex. Bad sex is something you can move on from, it’s something a person experiences and goes “wow, that sucked,” and then you possibly wouldn’t do it with that person again. But when you’re sexually assaulted, yes that is a crime, often there’s trauma involved and a lot of lasting effects on the person who experienced that. There’s a strict difference between bad sex and sexual assault and if you don’t see that then you need to do your research.

Bari Weiss, I hope you never experience what Grace did, or what I did, or what one in six American women have. I hope you never really completely know what that experience is like, because it’s terrible. I know you at least expect your opinions to be treated with respect and validity. I just wish you could treat other women’s’ stories with that much.

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