New law that goes way too far
WHEN I was a young student socialist there was a slogan scrawled across the back of a toilet door at Melbourne University.
"Everything is political," it read, "even the air we breathe."
In just eight words it captured the volatile mix of radicalism and innocence that is the conceit of youth. The idea that if we change our minds, change our words and make everything we do ideologically pure then the world will become a better place.
And nowhere was such an idea more perfectly expressed: Even when you were in the most private, personal, apolitical place of all, performing basest of human functions, there it was right in front of you. If the author thought that even wiping your arse was a political act then it's a fair bet he figured everything else was too.
I have pondered that statement often in the 25 years since I first saw it: Its profundity, its simplicity, its extremity and its naivety. But never more urgently has it flashed before my eyes than over the last few days.
There has been a growing tendency in recent years to politicise everything from bushfires to bad jokes but over the past week it has reached a chilling zenith.
This came in the form of a NSW Government campaign that dictates that sex cannot be consensual unless a partner gives a clear "yes".
"If you want sex you have to ask for it and if you want that sex, you have to say 'yes'," Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Minister Pru Goward told The Daily Telegraph.
Goward is a good minister who has done a lot of fine work in tackling violence against women, so we can only assume that neither she nor anyone in the government has thought through the ramifications of this peculiarly Stalinesque decree.
But fortunately I have, and if you were not terrified by it already, you soon will be.
Firstly, it inserts the government right in the middle of the most intimate possible exchange between two people, be it in their bedroom or a toilet cubicle. And frankly that is a place no government has a right to be.
Indeed, the government once used such powers to declare homosexual sex illegal. Now it appears to want the power to declare all sex illegal unless both parties explicitly vocalise one out of 171,476 words in the English language.
Yes, the government is actually setting down the conditions under which it will allow people to copulate. Am I the only one who thinks this is just a wee bit scary?
Under such a rule, anyone who had ever had sex without explicitly asking for it and receiving a "yes" in response - which, I am pretty sure, is everyone who has ever had sex - could retrospectively be defined as a rapist.
And that, presumably, would include all the women. Because the government surely means for this rule to apply to both parties; it could hardly make one law for men and another for women in the name of gender equality. Which means that a woman would also have to ask a man for him to say "yes" before she could legally have sex with him. And if she didn't he could declare that he was sexually assaulted.
"But that's ridiculous!" I hear you say. And I'm glad you did, because I'm just getting started.
What about same-sex couples? Do both women in a lesbian relationship have to ask each other of they want to have sex and then say "yes"? Do two gay men have to? What if they are in a sauna? Should they have to sign a waiver at the door? And gosh, what if someone's lucky enough to get a three-way! Is it enough for the first two people to get a clear "yes" from the third? Or does each of the three have to ask and receive a "yes" from each of the other two? And if they're swingers can they give consent in pairs? I've heard of some rather freewheeling festivals where such legal niceties could take days.
Still, that's hardly a problem for most of us. So what about the poor, long-suffering married couple struggling to find a window of intimacy between the afternoon nap and an 11-minute episode of Paw Patrol?
If you tap your wife on the shoulder and she silently rolls over with a smile you might think you're in luck but in fact you've just committed an offence under the Crimes Act.
And even my own beloved's sweet whispers such as "Oh, all right then …" or "For God's sake, hurry up …" are still not enough to meet the government's new stringent guidelines on legal lovemaking.
"I'm sorry darling," I'll now have to say, "I need a clear 'yes'. And can you please speak into the microphone?"
And once you've processed that lingering image, consider every love scene in every movie you've ever seen. Virtually all of them would be considered sexual assault if these new rules were applied. So much for the rom-com.
The good news is that at least once you've explicitly asked for sex and been given an explicit "yes" then you're all set - even if by now nobody wants to anymore.
But hang on! Are you really? What if you want to have sex again? Do you have to ask a second time? What about the third time? The fourth? Is there a time limit? Does a "yes" get you 15 minutes or the whole night? What if it's the next morning?
Well, let's say yes, yes and yes to all that. As long as you get a yes, everything is fine.
Or is it? What if someone who actually is a rapist forces his victim to say "yes"? Would that then make it legal?
Of course not. And that alone should show you what a sick and simplistic idea this is. An idea that actually dictates to women what they have to do in the name of female empowerment.
Every decent person knows what rape is, and knows it is repugnant. The vast majority of men don't do it and would never do it. They don't need a government pamphlet to tell them not to.
And while the number of women who have experienced it is terrible and far too high - about one in four has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime - that does not mean that one in four men are rapists. It means that a small minority of men are damaging a lot of women and they should be punished dearly for it.
Because the real tragedy here isn't that all men are violent or don't respect women. The tragedy is that for all the awareness and education and lecturing in the world there will always be monsters among us, just as there will always be fathers who murder their children and mothers who murder their babies. This is not a problem with parenthood, this is a problem with murderers.
To say that whoever killed poor Eurydice Dixon didn't respect women is like saying the killer of those two poor kids in West Pennant Hills was a lousy father. It might be true but it doesn't come close to quantifying the horror of the crime.
Despite what was scrawled on that toilet wall a quarter of a century ago, some things really are beyond politics. If all it took was an awareness campaign we would have no murder, we would have no rape. We would have no crime at all.
Indeed, the primary role of any politician is as a legislator, a lawmaker. And all these things are already against the law, condemned by society in the strongest possible terms and punishable by removing the perpetrators from society itself. No political message could be stronger, and yet still such outrages persist.
If the government really wants to send a message to sex offenders - be they rapists, paedophiles or anyone else who commits sexual assault - it would do better to focus on punishing the guilty than criminalising the innocent. Sometimes the world doesn't need politics. It just needs justice.