Dialogue: Groupies & Parameters of Sexual Consent

Dialogue: Groupies & Parameters of Sexual Consent April 29, 2020

Jennifer Benjamin is a friendly and articulate atheist, with whom I have enjoyed several constructive, cordial dialogues. This is one of them, from my Facebook page yesterday. Her words will be in blue.


In the notorious tape that Hillary Clinton used to try to bring down Trump, it was clear that what was talked about (even assuming it referred to real events and not just typical male “locker talk”) was consensual. It was referring to classic groupie behavior: where women throw themselves at celebrities. So, for example, we always hear about (complete with graphic words for effect) “grab ’em . . . ”

But we don’t hear about the part where he also said, “they let you do anything.” There’s the consent, in the word “let.” And that is how groupies behave. It doesn’t make it right for the man to give into their desires and pursuits (both parties are in the wrong), but it is consensual. And this is a crucial distinction that must be made. It goes without saying that I don’t condone any sexual sin, according to my traditional Catholic moral views.

Here’s the thing, though: Trump wasn’t exactly talking about consensual behavior. He literally said he “doesn’t even wait.” (Wait for what? Consent?) In context, he was talking about popping some Tic Tacs in case he started kissing Arianne Zucker when she came up to him. Plus, keep in mind that people tend to freeze up when they’re kissed and/or groped unexpectedly. That doesn’t mean that they’re consenting to that sort of behavior.

Now, at best, one could argue that the Access Hollywood tape was ambiguous. But numerous women are on record saying that Trump does exactly what he said he does. That said, if Trump says he does X, and numerous witnesses say that, yes, Trump indeed does X, then it’s likely that Trump does exactly what he himself says he does.

Fair point with the kissing thing. But surely, wouldn’t that be the least of harassment? Not to condone it at all, but to draw distinctions of degree . . .

I agree that unwanted kissing probably isn’t as bad as unwanted groping, but I think it’s still probably sexual assault, at least in some situations.

I agree. I was just talking about degrees . . .

Okay, the kissing bit was in this same tape. Looking at it again now, I think the context shows — again — that it is consensual behavior he is referring to, precisely because it’s a situation of groupie behavior, where groupies (by definition) are totally “willing”:

I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do [i.e., are given permission to do] anything.

So, it’s stupid and wrong (especially for a married man), but it is consensual, as opposed to being forced / unwanted / harassment / rape. These women throw themselves at him because he is a “star” and so he follows suit and kisses them (and other things that we all know about), knowing that they will let him do so. It’s temptation gone awry. But it’s a lot different from randomly choosing a woman in the street or the office and acting in the way that sexual harassers do, with pressure, force, and unwanted aggression.

The let part is pretty ambiguous. He says he doesn’t ask and that they “let” him do it, so I think the most likely interpretation of that is that he (at least sometimes) takes their freezing up as consent. There might be some women who like it when he does that, but there are many women who’ve said they didn’t like it.

Supposed he’d actually kissed Arianne Zucker when she came up to him. If she was too shocked to act, would mean she let him do it? I don’t think so.

Again, a fair point, but to me, the overall context is clearly groupie behavior: especially proven by the reference to “star.” Stars are treated differently, and a certain kind of woman will throw herself at stars. That is how groupies function. The very existence of celebrity turns them on. And the better-looking a male star is, all the more . . . Certainly you don’t and can’t deny that? Do you deny that it’s groupie behavior that is the context of his remarks?

I think there were likely many women who willingly slept with Trump over the years, but I think the “star” part was probably also his interpretation. If anything, the fact that he could so easily hook up with beautiful women could have potentially made him assume that the women he was attracted to felt the same way about him, sort of like, “Of course she’d like this! I’m Donald Trump, a famous TV star and a rich businessman, and women *love* me!” If he’s used to getting his way with women, it’s possible he’d assume that every woman was into him and would welcome his advances.

Plus, a woman might feel more pressure not to make a fuss when someone famous kisses or gropes her without her consent. That was definitely the case with Harvey Weinstein. He was also a famous and successful rich man who likely had no problems finding consensual partners, but who also assumed his unwanted behavior was consensual when it wasn’t. If he’d argued that women “let” him do it to them because he’s a “star,” I’d be just as skeptical, especially when numerous women provided testimony of unwanted sexual contact.

But that works both ways. If you are famous and you habitually encounter women being sexually willing, flirting, making advances, and following through, then you would tend to assume that this would be the case just about every time.

That’s exactly what I mean. I think that’s why Trump assumed women were into him when they weren’t.

Now, that will, no doubt, be a wrong assumption in some cases, but it’s reasonable to assume based on experience.

That’s where I respectfully disagree. I don’t think it’s reasonable or moral to assume that every woman would be interested in sexual contact based on past experiences with willing women. Many women =/= all women. That’s why it’s so important not to assume and to make sure the person consents before acting. Just because the first 100 women were into it doesn’t mean the 101st will be as well.

We’re in a society that has preached and promulgated “free love” for over 50 years now. This is the fruit of that. But groupie stuff predated the sexual revolution for many years. We could go back to Rudolph Valentino or even Franz Liszt in the 1840s. It’s always been there.

Ideally, one should ask permission with each one, yes. Human beings aren’t known to be perfectly fair and reasonable in the face of overwhelming and ongoing sexual temptation.

But even if one wrongly assumes consent, it is still the case that they sincerely believed it was consensual; therefore, it is not a conscious, deliberate act of non-consensual force and coercion; only a mistaken notion that the other person has consented: based on the conditioning of much past experience, where full consent was indeed present and amply verified.

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not sexual assault or rape. Plus, that could also apply to Biden’s situation as well. He (wrongly) thought Reade would be into it when she wasn’t. Of course, that doesn’t make the behavior any less predatory.

I am not condoning any wrong thing (people often think one is doing that when they are simply analyzing). I am doing an examination of what happens in the groupie / celebrity situation.

Every rape trial basically comes down to the alleged rapist claiming that he thought it was consensual and the alleged victim arguing that it was not consensual. Everything hinges on whether consent was present. The jury’s task is to determine whether it is beyond any reasonable doubt that the alleged rapist did in fact commit rape. If there is a reasonable doubt that he did not, or thought it was consensual, then they vote to acquit. It’s complex; not easy to determine, once conflicting accounts are given and weighed.

That’s why I have made it a key distinction in this discussion: because it is in every sexual crimes trial. And it is oftentimes a very complex matter. There are times when people have mixed feelings, too: part of them (say, the usual sexual urges) wants to consent, another doesn’t (the moral or conscientious impulse to act in certain ways and not act in others). And the other party is trying to figure this out. This can lead to a great variety of disagreements and misunderstanding as to what happened in any given sexual incident.

I agree with that, but I just want to clarify that I think there’s a difference between cases where the rapist wrongly thought the act was consensual but it’s clear that it objectively wasn’t and cases where there are gray areas. Basically, it’s possible for an act to be objectively a rape or a sexual assault regardless of the abuser’s intentions.

How could you make a blanket statement about that, though, in light of the consideration that absolutely every sexual act can be possibly consented to? I’ll even give Biden the benefit of the doubt. In an account I read, the woman objected, and Biden said, “I thought you liked me.” So he seems to have thought it was consensual, too, and he goes and does his thing.

For the traditional Christian, the morality involved is indeed very clear cut. Any sexual activity not with one’s wife (marriage being a man and a woman!), is immoral, period, but even in marriage mutual consent must be present (so that potential complexities can still arise there). There are degrees of sin, but it’s all wrong. And it is even if one is not married (what we call fornication, being as wrong as adultery). So that’s easy to apply and interpret.

But in today’s secular, sexually liberal / libertine / libertarian / post-sexual revolution world, marriage is no longer the dividing line between moral / permissible and immoral / impermissible sex. Consent (and a certain age: 18) is. Lack of consent (rather than lack of a marriage license) is the new “Thou shalt not.”

And that is infinitely more complex once we get down to specific situations. It’s as common and complex as every instance a guy on a third or fourth date “makes a move”: thinking his girlfriend would agree and consent, when in fact, she does not. He thought the hints and consent were there. She proved him wrong, with agitated scolding or the slap of an errant hand or what not.

Yet when consent actually is present: the same process usually takes place: flirting, “bedroom eyes”, various body language and verbal hints, the ever-movable line of what to touch and what not to. Both genders can read the “signs” wrongly, because we are different from each other, and often poorly communicate or learn about the differences and needs, as it were.

Would you agree with me that the best possible way to determine what happened in any individual case of purported rape, assault, or harassment and to determine whether a crime or immoral act occurred, is a court trial?

If so, then do we not have to reserve judgment until such a trial takes place, regardless of how many accusers come forth? Each accuser is only as “good” as her evidence. Stormy Daniels lied through her teeth, and the media ran with that for months. They loved the prurient, “juicy” nature of that (Trump with the buxom whore!). It mattered not that she is a virtual prostitute (as a porn star), and thus has obvious character issues. I didn’t believe it from the beginning, for that reason, and the fact that it seemed to merely be a political hit. And her lawyer (Michael Avenatti) was a big-mouthed jerk who has been convicted of three felony charges (and has more trials coming). And I was right.

I would say that in the case of a lot of accusers, it suggests that at least one trial ought to occur (i.e., that a grand jury should decide to indict). It doesn’t mean nothing but the mere presence of many making claims is not itself proof. There should be a trial of the one with the best evidence, to determine if the person has committed the crime.

So that happened with both Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby. One was acquitted and the other found guilty. I accept both verdicts, because I have great faith in the jury system to arrive fairly and justly at truth and facts. It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the best method we have and it has served the cause of law and order and justice and the “good society” since time immemorial.

I meant something more along the lines of some cases being objectively sexual assaults even if the person doesn’t realize they’re committing sexual assault. To give you a hypothetical example, imagine that a sober guy somehow didn’t realize that sleeping with a profoundly drunk/drugged woman was rape. At worst, he might’ve thought he was being a bit sketchy, but he truly didn’t see himself as a rapist. That wouldn’t mean that what he did wasn’t objectively rape or that it wasn’t objectively harmful to the victim.

Also, it’s gross, but many child molesters (delusionally) try to rationalize their behavior and often think their activities are consensual and wanted when they’re clearly not. That said, in cases like those, it’s possible for an act to be sexual assault or rape regardless of the perp’s intentions.

I do think trials are often the best way of settling the truth, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes relevant evidence is held back if it’s deemed inadmissible or prejudicial. For example, Nicole Brown Simpson thought OJ would eventually kill her, if I remember correctly, but that wasn’t allowed to be discussed in court. (This is one case I think the jury clearly got wrong.)

I’d like to think juries get things right more often than not, but they’re wrong more than people realize. Keep in mind you have to think the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict them. I take that to mean that one thinks it’s at least 90%+ probable the person is guilty. I mean, I could see myself acquitting someone who I thought was probably (say, 70% likely) guilty if I wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

I also think it’s possible to conditionally think it’s more than 50% likely that someone did something even without a court case, just by looking at the testimony and evidence available. And in general, multiple people attesting to the same behavior provides stronger evidence than just one person attesting to something.

All of that said, even without a trial, I’d put the probability of Trump being guilty of at least some nonconsensual sexual misbehavior at greater than 50% but less than 90% at this point. Of course, that could change based on new and/or stronger evidence.

Well, your example of the drugged woman doesn’t overcome my objection because that’s clearly a case of having a severely affected will, thus lessening consent to the point where it is basically non-consent. Hence, scoundrel men for centuries have tried to get a woman drunk to have sex, knowing that their true will is diminished. This is what Bill Cosby did.

Also, the child molester example is (by your own report) “delusional” at worst or (if not that) an example of rationalizing, which by definition is seeking to special plead or explain away what is perfectly obvious as a terrible and outrageous sin to most people. But (we Christians say) this is what sin does to a mind. It becomes more and more irrational, delusional, in bondage to things like drugs, sex, and materialism, and unable to make crucial moral distinctions.

Jury trials remain the best way to determine what happened in these alleged sexual assaults. You said they were “often the best way of settling the truth” and “juries get things right more often than not.” But I don’t see any better way, in cases where they fail or don’t take place. I wrote: “It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the best method we have.”

I agree.

So with all this business of alleged crimes of Biden and Trump, it’s the best way to determine guilt. I don’t see anything else that comes close. You could have private investigators, but then they usually have a prior opinion or agenda, or are hired by someone who does. And there is only one, compared twelve people who have to agree to convict.

The advantage and benefit of the doubt has to be with the accused (and I include Joe Biden in that). That’s the genius of the [historical] English system of jurisprudence. You don’t get the Salem Witch Trials or Stalinist Show Trials with this system in place.

So I continue to say that I can’t determine if Trump is guilty of sexual assault unless one or more of the accusers has their claims fully scrutinized: in court. Otherwise, it’s the good ol’ “he said she said” scenario and purely subjective opinion.

But I honestly and sincerely do not think that the famous “tape” proved that he is a sexual assaulter. It showed willingness to engage in consensual sex of some sort, for sure. And I don’t condone it, . . .

My bringing up the examples of the drunk woman and the molested child was only to show that the perp’s intentions aren’t always necessary to say if an act was objectively a sexual assault.

Other cases where, say, a guy is making out with his girlfriend and she tells him she doesn’t want him to touch her somewhere probably isn’t sexual assault as long as he stops when asked. I think context matters a lot, too, though. There’s a huge difference between a powerful man groping someone without asking when he can’t reasonably ascertain whether a woman would be into it or not, and a guy mistakenly misreading his girlfriend in a sexual situation and stopping without going further when he realizes it’s not wanted.

Ideally, people should talk about what they do and don’t want, but I think a no-means-no legal standard generally makes sense in the context of relationships if both parties are reasonably capable of consent. Ethically, though, I think people should make the effort to make sure consent is obtained and that the other person is okay with said act.

I agree with your comments here.

Let me take this opportunity to reiterate what a pleasure it always is to dialogue with you. This is how dialogue ought to be. People can see we disagree with each other, but we seem to be mutually respectful, and there is not the slightest hint of acrimony, insult, or attribution of bad motives to the other. Bravo!


Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt / Released.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!