The sexual assault that nobody saw

What would happen if a skit making light of rape or sexual assault was aired during a prime-time comedy show broadcast by a national public broadcaster? If the victim was female, the outcry from media commentators would be widespread and the responses from sexual assault activists and advocates would be of outrage and condemnation. In this case, however, the victim is male—and the response has been an overwhelming silence.

On December 3, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired a skit titled “Tatiana The Cultural Excuse Girl, Part 2, The Bedroom” as part of the indigenous comedy program Black Comedy. As part of marketing and promoting the show, the skit has also been uploaded to the official ABC Indigenous YouTube channel,[1] where it has received a predominantly positive response.

So what is wrong with the skit? Tatiana initiates sex with her partner, who is not interested. He is tired, has a headache, and has an early start at work the next day. He explicitly rebuffs her advances, saying no multiple times and demanding her to stop. After multiple attempts to get him to have sex with her, she finally emotionally blackmails him through an accusation that he is racist if he refuses. Faced with this, he submits to having sex with her.

So what is wrong with all of this?

Over the past few decades, the discussion surrounding consent obtained through intimidation and coercion has made it clear that it isn’t actually consent at all. Organisations such as DVConnect in Queensland, Australia, use this in their definition of what constitutes consent, as stated on their web page about what constitutes sexual assault:

Sexual Assault in an intimate partner relationship is often entwined with emotional and other forms of blackmail, it includes a range of behaviours including but not limited to the following:-

Sexual assault during which; physical force or restraint is used.

Coercion into sexual intimacy using a range of threats such as:- physical violence, withholding household finances or support, diminished access to medical or psychological support or medication, having you deported from Australia because you are on a spousal visa, demeaning you to family and friends.

Coercion into sexual intimacy under threat; whether it be to end the relationship or marriage, to withhold your rights during Property Settlement or to abuse the children including threats to seek intimacy with your daughter or son.

Coercion into sexual intimacy because it is your obligation as a marital partner to provide sex to your partner, making you feel that your refusal to engage in sexual intimacy is abnormal and where the perpetrating partner is male, that it is a “man’s right” to seek out and receive sex from his partner.

Often your partner may constantly harass you, wearing you down until you give in sexually to “keep the peace” or you know that if you don’t comply with the wishes of that partner, it could be dangerous for you or you know the consequences.[2]

Based on this definition, it is extremely hard to argue that the skit doesn’t involve consent obtained through intimidation or coercion. Tatiana makes it clear that it is her partner’s obligation to have sex with her. She continually harasses him in an effort to wear him down and make him “keep the peace,” finally threatening to demean him to his family and friends by calling him a racist.

This sort of definition isn’t used by only DVConnect—it is widespread and used by the majority of rape and domestic violence service providers as well as government agencies providing policy directions. A similar definition is also used by organisations working with male victims of sexual assault, such as Living Well:

Although the majority of sexual assaults of men are committed by men, women do sexually assault men. Sexual assault is not always enacted through overwhelming physical force: it can involve emotional manipulation whereby a man can be coerced into sexual act out of fear of potential repercussions for his relationships, work, etc.[3]

It’s no coincidence that all these definitions make it clear that consent obtained through intimidation and coercion isn’t actually consent. It’s just a reflection of Australian legislation, the legislation that was passed after lobbying from sexual violence researchers, advocates, and activists to include these things.

Let’s have a closer look at the legislation involved.

In Queensland, this is governed by section 348 of the Criminal Code (1899):

a person’s consent to an act is not freely and voluntarily given if it is obtained … by threat or intimidation.[4]

In New South Wales, it is governed by section 61HA of the Crimes Act (1900):

the grounds on which it may be established that a person does not consent to sexual intercourse include: … if the person has sexual intercourse because of intimidatory or coercive conduct, or other threat, that does not involve a threat of force.[5]

In the Australian Capital Territory, it is governed by section 67 of the Crimes Act (1900):

the consent of a person to sexual intercourse with another person, or to the committing of an act of indecency by or with another person, is negated if that consent is caused … by a threat to publicly humiliate or disgrace, or to physically or mentally harass, the person or another person.[6]

In Tasmania, it is governed by Schedule 1 of the Criminal Code Act (1924):

a person does not freely agree to an act if the person … agrees or submits because of a threat of any kind against him or her or against another person.[7]

In South Australia, it is governed by section 46 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act (1935):

a person is taken not to freely and voluntarily agree to sexual activity if … the person agrees because of … an express or implied threat to degrade, humiliate, disgrace or harass the person or some other person.[8]

In Victoria, it is governed by section 36 of the Crimes Act (1958):

Circumstances in which a person does not freely agree to an act include the following … the person submits because of the fear of harm of any type to that person or someone else.[9]

In the Northern Territory, it is governed by section 192 of Schedule 1 of the Criminal Code Act:

Circumstances in which a person does not consent to sexual intercourse or an act of gross indecency include circumstances where … the person submits because of force, fear of force, or fear of harm of any type, to himself or herself or another person.[10]

In Western Australia, it is governed by section 319 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act (1913):

consent means a consent freely and voluntarily given and, without in any way affecting the meaning attributable to those words, a consent is not freely and voluntarily given if it is obtained by force, threat, intimidation, deceit, or any fraudulent means.[11]

It is also interesting to note that section 319 also defines “to sexually penetrate” as including “to engage in cunnilingus or fellatio.” Sections 327 and 328 of the same act recognise the crimes of “Sexual coercion” and “Aggravated sexual coercion,” which is defined as “a person who compels another person to engage in sexual behaviour is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 20 years.”[11]

The skit clearly portrays sexual coercion and as such is a crime under the present legislation in all Australian states and territories. The threat involved is an accusation of being a racist. Within the context of the relationship, this threat has little meaning and consequence except for the mental health of the man and the health of the relationship itself. The major impact of the threat is the harm to the man’s standing with others outside the relationship should the accusation of racism be made publicly, something that is strongly implied. A public accusation of racism has a potential direct impact on both the man’s professional and other personal relationships—it is something that could be used to destroy him. It is hard to argue that this is not a threat (either implicit or explicit) to publicly humiliate or disgrace him if he doesn’t comply with her demands.

So where are the public condemnations and outrage directed at this skit? It’s not like ABC comedy shows haven’t been criticised for rape jokes in the past, such as The Hungry Beast in 2009[12] and Summer Heights High in 2007.[13]

As prominent Australian feminist commentator Clementine Ford has said, rape jokes just aren’t funny, especially if they come at the expense of victims.

As a general rule, I think that the victim of the act should never be the victim of the punchline. So a rape joke where the follow-through is someone getting raped doesn’t seem particularly funny to me. A rape joke whose punchline is an evisceration of rape culture is different—it’s clever, it’s transgressive. It means something. This is what the people defending Daniel Tosh (a comedian who responded to a female heckler complaining about a rape joke by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that lady got raped by, like, five guys right now?”) didn’t get.[14]

I didn’t find anything about this skit funny, absolutely nothing. If anything, it is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen—its premise is absolutely believable and that is a real problem. It’s not an eviscerating critique of rape culture but rather an example of it, diminishing and marginalising male victims of rape and sexual assault by their female partners.

And the most disturbing thing of all is that I know that Australian rape and sexual assault advocates and activists know about it and are remaining silent. I know because after a week of this being ignored in the media I picked up the phone and called an advocacy and support organisation for male victims of sexual assault. I had verbal assurances that this was unacceptable and there would be media action on this. I saw the plays this video received rise by over 1,000 in four hours after I brought this to their attention (and after the views had remained relatively static for a week).

Even though they know, there have been no media releases, no public statements, and no media commentary. The silence is still deafeningly loud. What does this say about community attitudes toward sexual violence against men in Australia, where a man can be sexually assaulted on national television and nobody says a thing?

The scenario doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, and if anything it is a realistic portrayal of the most prevalent form of the sexual abuse of men in heterosexual relationships. It’s both confronting and awkward for those who control the narrative, but ignoring it and hoping it will go away just won’t work.

My question to the sexual assault advocacy and activist communities in Australia is quite simple. Where the fuck are you?

1. YouTube—ABC Black Comedy: “Tatiana The Cultural Excuse Girl, Part 2, The Bedroom.”
2. DVConnect—”What is Sexual Assault?
3. Living Well—”Unhelpful myths about the sexual assault and rape of men.”
4. Queensland—Criminal Code (1899), section 348.
5. New South Wales—Crimes Act (1900), section 61HA.
6. Australian Capital Territory—Crimes Act (1900), section 67.
7. Tasmania—Criminal Code Act (1924), Schedule 1.
8. South Australia—Criminal Law Consolidation Act (1935), section 46.
9. Victoria—Crimes Act (1958), section 36.
10. Northern Territory—Criminal Code Act, Schedule 1.
11. Western Australia—Criminal Code Act Compilation Act (1913), Appendix B.
12. The Advertiser—”Outrage at ABC TV Hungry Beast Liz Ellis group sex skit.
13.—”Call to cut ABC show’s rape joke.
14. The Drum—”Jokes at victims’ expense are no laughing matter.

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