Sexual consent – it’s a very black and white issue

I’m delighted the Government has finally agreed to the inclusion of new provisions on sexual consent in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015. It’s way overdue! Now for those who may be unfamiliar with this Bill, it was published on 23rd September 2015, and to be honest, in an Ireland where one in every three women experiences an incident(s) of sexual violence in some manner, it’s a sad fact that only one in ten of them will report it to An Garda Síochána, resulting in an abysmal one to two per cent conviction rate. 

  But first readers, what is consent? Well in my view it’s a black and white situation. However there appears to be a lack of clarity among certain individuals, and by that I mean rapists and abusers who’re managing to get conveniently confused, insisting their victim “wanted it.” And so, for those lowlifes, let me spell it out for you in easy steps…both people involved in a sexual occurrence must agree to it, with either person at any time during the occurrence being within their moral and legal rights to put a stop to the activity. In addition, just because someone gives their consent to one part of the sexual encounter, it doesn’t mean they’re giving their consent to other behaviours/parts, and it doesn’t mean that just because they consented to have sex on one occasion they’ve consented to have it every time! An dtuigeann tú? Okay, let me simplify the above…‘No means No.’

  However, this leads me onto another aspect of consent and this is why the inclusion is very important. You see, there is a major misinterpretation of ‘No’ in Irish society among abusers and it’s this…they appear to believe that unless the other person verbally shouts the word ‘No’ out loud, then it’s okay to proceed, greatly reducing the power of their victim. It’s absolutely not okay to proceed if someone is incapable of saying ‘No’ or if they’re so petrified or frozen they only manage to utter ‘No’ in a ‘feeble’ voice. But thankfully, the cultural conversations around rape and sexual abuse are now being discussed. I was upset one day when someone in my company posed the question…“How do you know when a person is too drunk to have sex?” This got me thinking about the entire generation of sexual abuse survivors whose attacks and violations have been callously dismissed because they’d had a few too many drinks or wore so-called provocative clothing. These poor women (and men) are the ones who don’t refer to their violations as rape or sexual assault…why? Because they, (and society), blame themselves for being intoxicated.

  This leads me to another question surrounding the relationship that drinking alcohol and having sex may have, because having sex is not always non-consensual when people consume a few drinks; I mean plenty of adults have consented to take part in intimate relations following a drink or three; however, on the other hand, alcohol consumption may make it more difficult to convey your feelings to someone, or, and to be fair here…for that someone to determine that you have indeed actually consented to what’s about to take place – but that doesn’t mean the abuser can blame the alcohol consumption for being the cause of their crime either.

  Look readers, given an EU-wide survey carried out last November which incredibly indicated 21 per cent of Irish people actually feel ‘having sex without consent is justified in certain situations,’ I’m glad any person who has a level of intoxication whereby they’ve been drinking and/or using drugs, end up vomiting, are unable to put one foot in front of the other, or those who are vulnerable due to a mental or physical condition will clearly not be in a position to consent, meaning this new legislation will hopefully go a long way to strengthening everyone’s understanding that No means No –and if someone is unsure if the other person is giving consent then they need to stop immediately.

Is our data being unnecessarily retained?

Insurance brokers, along with lots of other organisations – banks, building societies and government bodies – gather and store data about us; and that’s fine, because this practice is needed in order to provide certain services. However, this week, as I was considering changing my poor old car, I decided to do a ring around and get a few insurance quotes regarding a car I had my eye on…this is when I contacted an online organisation and got a lovely, helpful young man who informed me the second I gave my name and date of birth that there was no need to tell him any more because he had all my details on file from “two years ago when you first came to us for a quote.”

  Have you now? Methinks, compliance measures may need to be reviewed at this online insurance broker, so I popped them off an email asking why they’d had the temerity to keep my personal information for two years when they clearly only had a right to keep it for no longer than was needed, i.e. for the reason stated, which was to give me a car insurance quote, again, the only reason I supplied it. Furthermore, when I didn’t make a purchase from them my data should have been legally and responsibly deleted, not stored on file, and resurrected when I called again, but with a new file being set up in this instance.

  The organisation’s Head of Compliance responded with: ‘I refer to your recent experience with XXXX Insurance and I’m sorry you’ve had cause to complain. I have arranged for the issues raised to be investigated and we will reply to you as quickly as possible.’ Now I stressed that my complaint was not with the friendly young man who answered the phone, he’d done nothing wrong, he was only doing his job trying to sell me insurance; however, I feel that those organisations who hold our personal data need to carry out regular audits with regard to how they store it, how long they hold it, who has access to it, and examine the procedures they have in place to protect it. I mean, how can this insurance company justify the retention of mine (and I’d say others’) personal data for two years when clearly there was absolutely no need to? I’m raising the issue with the Data Commissioner.

Farewell MTM, a feminist icon!

Girlishly tossing her tam-o-shanter into the air, Mary Tyler Moore’s aspirational ‘single gal about town’ embodied 1970s wannabe liberated career women across Ireland, giving them a ‘can do’ attitude. Decades later for me, as I watched re-runs, I came to believe her character Mary Richards had inspired me in some way to become a journalist…even coincidentally  having a gruff Lou Grant(esque) type character as one of my very first news editors. Rest in peace, MTM.