Editorial: Legislate Consensual Sex
According to Oberlin’s Guidelines for Sexual Consent, when a woman says no to sex, “it always means no, not maybe.” In Oberlin, she can say no before sexual activity is initiated. She can say no to intercourse while consenting to other sexual activities. She can even say no once intercourse has begun.
But since late October, this is no longer the case in Maryland. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals held in Maouloud Baby v. State of Maryland that once a woman has consented to penetration, she cannot legally revoke her consent. This means that a woman who has just discovered that her partner is infected with an STD or is cheating on her cannot withdraw consent subsequent to penetration. Even if the woman attempts to withdraw her consent (by saying no, pulling away, etc), it is not considered rape for the man to continue until climax — even if the intercourse has become painful for the woman.
By Oberlin standards, the scenario outlined above is very clearly rape: the woman has said no, but the male continues without permission. The ruling essentially gives men prerogative to climax at his partner’s expense.
Because of this belief, the ruling is repugnant. This holding takes no issue with males hurting, endangering and degrading their partners; it revokes progress toward making women equal before the law; and it relegates women to the status of sex objects, valued only for their bodies.
But the most disturbing part of this holding is its basis in antiquated laws stemming primarily from the English Common Law notion that rape is only a crime because it “devalues” male property — which is to say, women. By this understanding of women as property, the only criminal aspect of non-consensual sex was the initial act of penetration; that is to say, rape was only criminalized because, by penetrating a woman, her “value” to the men responsible for her decreases.
The obvious solution would be for the Maryland legislature to produce a law of sexual consent that is similar in scope to Oberlin’s policy. This legislation would need to define “consensual sex” in terms that would allow for the withdrawal of consent subsequent to penetration. It’s definition of rape should not be predicated upon antiquated notions of male and female roles.
Legislation that broadly reflects these themes has been proposed in Maryland for the past two years (2004 and 2005). The legislature, however, rejected both proposals.
It is unfathomable that the legislature cannot understand the urgency of such legislation, or that it might not comprehend the significance of legally condoning non-consensual sexual acts. The legislature should take immediate action to rectify this reprehensible ruling; it should enact legislation that does not endorse long-abandoned notions of legalized male privilege and female inferiority.
The dangerous precedent promulgated via Maouloud Baby v. State of Maryland might also serve as a timely reminder to those in Oberlin still celebrating Democratic electoral triumphs: Not all values are electable and even apparently fundamental rights are not guaranteed