[Content note: sexual assault]
It seems there is a phenomenon in which people will agree to things they don’t actually want provided they are asked enough times. It helps if the person doing the asking is a perceived authority figure.
The strip search phone call scam is a series of incidents that extended over a period of about ten years before an arrest was made in 2004. The incidents involved a man calling a restaurant or grocery store, claiming to be a police officer and then convincing managers to conduct strip searches of female employees and to perform other bizarre acts on behalf of “the police”. The calls were most often placed to fast-food restaurants in small towns located in rural areas of the United States.
Over 70 such occurrences were reported in 30 U.S. states until an incident in 2004 in Mount Washington, Kentucky (population 9,117), finally led to the arrest of David R. Stewart, a 37-year-old employee of Corrections Corporation of America, a firm contracted by several states to provide corrections officers at private detention facilities.
On October 31, 2006, Stewart was acquitted of all charges in the Mount Washington case. He was suspected of having made other, similar scam calls.
Police have been able to extract false confessions from suspects to crimes as serious as rape and murder even when it is later found that the suspect couldn’t have committed the crime.
Compliant False Confession – a false confession knowingly given to put an end to the interrogation or to receive an anticipated benefit or reward in exchange for a confession. These confessions are likely occur when innocent victims succumb to social pressure during interrogation and believe that the short-term benefits of a false confession outweigh the long-term costs of prolonged interrogation. A famous example of a compliant false confession in the 1989 Central Park jogger case.., in which five young suspects were told they could end their lengthy and coercive interrogations in connection with the rape and murder of a female victim if they “provided statements placing themselves at the scene and incriminating others.”
I’m tempted to say that this phenomenon lies in the domain of the gullible and easily influenced, but lab experiments suggest we are all candidates for such manipulation:
A laboratory experiment by Kassin and Kiechel demonstrated the coercion error by finding that the presentation of false evidence could lead individuals to confess to an act they did not commit. Fully 69% of the participants in their study signed a confession that they hit a computer key causing an error in the computer system after being confronted with evidence that they were responsible. In addition, 28% of the participants believed that they were responsible, and 9% confabulated details to confirm their false beliefs. Furthermore, when the experiment was fast-paced (causing the participants to be uncertain if they were responsible) and when a witness claimed to have seen the participant hit the computer key, 100% of the participants signed a confession, 65% believed they were guilty and 35% confabulated details to support their false belief. These results suggest that false evidence can cause people to internalize blame and alter memory for their own actions.
A lot of seduction strategies advise men to escalate contact, back off when resistance is encountered, and then try again later. Persistence is seen as a virtue. I would similarly guess that most police interrogators aren’t told “if the suspect says he didn’t do it, then stop bothering them about it.” Rather, they probably think that they are ripping away defense layers to uncover the genuine truth.
I think it’s fair to include high-pressure sales tactics in this discussion. People have reported buying things just to end the interaction. Comcast seems to employ a similar approach in getting people to stay with their product.
The U.S. government (sometimes) understands the pressures involved, and thus there is the cooling-off rule that “gives you three days to cancel purchases of $25 or more. Under the Cooling-Off Rule, your right to cancel for a full refund extends until midnight of the third business day after the sale.” (Significant exemptions to this right apply and can be viewed at the link.)
There are no cooling off periods for murder confessions or having sex even though high-pressure tactics are widely applied in these areas, and the downside is far worse than getting stuck with a vacuum cleaner you didn’t really want.
Remember this story as told by George Will?
Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.” Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:
“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. … And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”
Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped.
It’s possible that she didn’t employ a more spirited defense because anticipated the guy persisting in wearing her down throughout the night until he got consent (or at least the absence of resistance). That seems to be what happened with another woman here:
My junior year of high school, a male “friend” stood between me and the door of an empty classroom. He asked for sex repeatedly, and I had repeatedly said no. When I attempted to leave, he stopped to “hug” me, tightly, and asked again. That time, I felt I could not get out of the room without fighting a fight I would likely not win, or giving up. I said yes—and … the experience left me with what my college psychologist would later call “symptoms of PTSD,”…
Note that this story is perfectly compatible with a male who might have believed that she didn’t realize her true feelings for him until he hugged her. He might have felt the embrace as a moment of affection where she felt it as a moment of implicitly threatened violence.
Woman #3‘s story is told from the man’s perspective:
One night I ended up back in a girl’s room after a first date (those do happen in college). She had invited me in and was clearly attracted to me. We were kissing on her bed, outer layers of clothing removed, but when my hands wandered downward she said, “No, wait.” I waited. She began kissing me again, passionately, so again I moved to remove her underwear. “Stop,” she said, “this is too fast.” I stopped.
“That’s fine,” I said. I kissed her again and left soon after, looking forward to seeing her again.
But my text messages received only cold, vaguely angry replies, and then silence. I was rather confused. Only many weeks later did I find out the truth from one of her close friends: “She really wanted you, but you didn’t make it happen. She was pretty upset that you didn’t really want her.”
“Why didn’t she just say so then, why did she say we were moving too fast?”
“Of course she said that, you dumbass. She didn’t want you to think she was a slut.”
Notice that despite wanting sex, this woman appears to have offered more resistance than woman #1. The first woman said no to an initial attempt by her ex. With the second attempt, she “just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything”.
This third woman, in contrast said “No, wait”. With the second attempt, she said “Stop, this is too fast.” Additionally, it’s quite likely she used her own hands to stop his while saying this. (The text admittedly doesn’t specify, but it would seem consistent.)
To me, this woman seems like a manipulator who doesn’t want to take responsibility for her own desires and is instead trying to pawn it off on the hapless men she invites to her dorm room. I think the following bit by Louis CK is instructive for anyone who thinks that we should form our social norms around the hangups such women have about sex and their self-servingly two-faced communication:
These are (likely) different women. There is little reason to expect consistency across people. Even within individuals, it’s OK for a person to start off liking anchovies and then decide they hate them. You’re allowed to have preferences that change, and you don’t really owe anyone a reason.
On the other hand, we do all live here on the same planet and drive on the same roads. One person can’t decide independently from everyone else that they want to drive on the other side of the road. The rules have to be consistent for the sake of safety. Without consistency, the 18-wheelers (men) will run over you, and it might not even be completely their fault.
So which side of the road do we tell men to drive on?
We could go the way I suspect George Will would support, which is that a woman needs to offer significant, sustained physical resistance for sex to be considered rape. Per that definition, rape is always accompanied by a physical assault of some kind. I think this explains why he puts the words “sexual assault” in quotes since there would be no such thing as a sexual assault independent of a physical one. If we do go this way, situations like the ones above and this horrifying one wouldn’t be considered rape.
The other side of the road is that a verbal “no” is enough to indicate the lack of consent even in the absence of any physical resistance. Further, a single “no” is enough and holds until it is overrode by a “yes” later.
And then there is the third side of the road, which is that all parties have to say “yes, I want this”, and otherwise it’s considered assault.
To stay with the analogy though, it’s worth noting that we don’t simply say “stay on one side of the road.” There is at least a one dividing line in the center and sometimes a more substantial barrier or median that makes things safer still.
It makes perfect sense to similarly build in a buffer here. Why not tell men they are responsible for seeking affirmative consent? Additionally, say they should limit the pressure they exert in seeking consent. Meanwhile, in a separate interrogation room, tell women they are responsible for both verbally and physically resisting as long as they are capable. Yes, this over-assigns responsibility beyond what is minimally necessary, but it would probably lead to fewer accidents than a less conservatively designed system that only asks one gender or the other to bear the full burden and assumes none of them will accidentally swerve out of their lanes.
I started investigating this issue in hopes of forming on opinion on affirmative consent policies. I’ve read convincing takes for and against by authors I respect. Unfortunately, the research has left me pessimistic about how much laws can do when people with power can continue to employ high-pressure tactics. It’s not a promising sign that Wikipedia’s article on “consent of the governed” that holds “that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised,” has a sub-section titled Engineered Consent.