Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Guy's Perspective

I believe her.

When a woman says she's been assaulted by a man, I take her word at face value. I take her side.

But in light of the unnamed NDP MP who broke her silence to tell her side of a story that led to Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, suspending two of his MPs, including Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti, who is implicated in sexual misconduct allegations, I feel a great deal of confusion.

Don't get me wrong: I don't doubt her side of the story, nor to I dismiss her feelings over what happened.

According to media interview, woman said that she and Pacetti had attended a sporting event in which they were members and friends. After the event, she says that Pacetti invited her to his hotel room for drinks: she said that she saw nothing unusual in the invitation because, as MPs, they used hotels as apartments as part of the job.

It was in the room where things became serious and the two engaged in sex.

The unnamed woman said that while she didn't say no to Pacetti, she didn't say yes, either.

As a guy, back in my dating years, if I was alone with a woman I liked and tried to make a move, I looked for two signs: either that she wasn't interested, and she backed away—which I read as STOP, or she reciprocated, which I interpreted as permission to continue.

If she said no, all advances stopped. No never means try harder: it means cease and desist.

Guys are stupid when it comes to trying to read women. When no signs are provided, we are incapable of interpreting wants and desires. When I would make an advance toward a woman and she gave no indication that she objected, I would continue. But in any relationship I've ever had, I have never sought an explicit "yes." I have never asked, "Is it okay if I continue?"

Maybe that was wrong to make assumptions, and if that was, I'm sorry. But I like to believe that in the vast majority of any sexual encounter, both parties have a responsibility to communicate, and it doesn't always have to be verbal.

I have heard this unnamed NDP MP tell her side of the story, and I have tried to put myself in Pacetti's position. He invites someone that he likes to his room. He makes advances: she doesn't object, neither verbally nor physically. They have sex.

The unnamed woman doesn't get into details (she doesn't have to) but there are obvious questions that come to mind: did he push her down and pull her clothes off, or did they undress each other, or undress themselves? Did he restrain her or was she free to move as she wanted?

If that's what happened, if he used force to get what he wanted, the full weight of the law should drop on Pacetti.

Maybe I'm naive, maybe I just don't get it. I'd like to understand.

When I was young, I was assaulted. I was overpowered by someone who was much bigger than me, who made it impossible for me to fight back. I squirmed. I said stop. It did no good.

But I was lucky. My mother came looking for me, called out my name, and my assailant let go of me before anything truly bad happened. Yet, the memory has stayed with me to this day.

If Pacetti made advances that were not reciprocated, but rather were met with negative reactions, and he continued, he was in the wrong, and Trudeau was right to suspend him. He should be charged with sexual assault, but that is entirely up to the woman who has anonymously told her story.

If Pacetti made advances and they were reciprocated, if he and the woman had sex and there were no indications that the woman wanted Pacetti to stop, it's very difficult for me, as a guy, to see that Pacetti acted in a manner that was not in good faith. If he wasn't told, verbally or physically, that what he was doing was unacceptable, how could he know? How could he be held in contempt for those actions when he had been given no indicators that the woman wasn't a willing partner?

I can understand if this woman regretted the act afterwards. Who hasn't regretted a one-night stand? But based on what this unnamed woman has reported, I find it hard to look at Pacetti with the same condemning eyes that I had when he was first suspended from the Liberal caucus.

Instead, what I see is a failure to communicate, on both sides. Maybe Pacetti is guilty of not specifically obtaining a yes from the woman. But from what she herself has said, she did not refuse his advances. She reported that she had been sexually assaulted in the past, and that Pacetti's advances left her feeling "paralyzed."

Did she share this terrible past with Pacetti? Doubtful. I haven't shared my story with many before. Why would she share it unless she and Pacetti were close?

So, where does this story go from here? For what it's worth (and that's not much), I suggest the following: now that Pacetti has heard her side of the story, that he knows that she did not explicitly consent, he should apologize to her. In front of Trudeau, who seems to have been dragged into this story and had been put between a rock and a hard place. The apology should be sincere, that the lack of communication led to something that would not have happened had all the facts been apparent. The apology should also come unconditionally, without raising the fact that communication failed on both sides. There should be no blame, no, buts.

And then Trudeau should reinstate Pacetti.

The accusations against Liberal MP Scott Andrews remain. In a perfect world, both sides of that story will come to light.

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