An Issue of Consent

In the light of a number of recent events I have been meaning to write about consent. My thoughts on this topic atre still maturing but in the meantime I wsih to say this:

The Polish politician Andrzej Lepper committed suicide in August 2011 as his party collapsed around him. Just four years earlier Samoobrona or Self Defence had been part of the governing coalition but a series of scandals had seen support ebb away. The party could best be described as authoritarian populist with socialist rhetoric claiming to fight for the small man against big (read foreign) capital and against corruption. The latter was fertile ground as corruption was indeed a problem and, like corruption everywhere, an unofficial tax on the poorer sections of society. The party’s big problem was that its ranks were stuffed with yes men and women and assorted mediocrities since the leader would brook no rivals. This was a major cause of the scandals.

In 2005 one of the party’s Euro MPs was arrested in Belgium and charged with rape. The complainant was a French sex worker whose client he had been. A quick aside at this point: I learned from this story that many French sex workers travel regularly to Brussels as Euro MPs and expense account Eurocrats mean there is good business for them. It is easy to imagine that many of those who voted in support of Mary Honeyball have been among those using their services.

The substance of the complaint was that , having agreed the services to be provided and the price, the MP demanded bareback. When this was refused he was alleged to have raped her. In fact he was acquitted and the full truth will probably never be known. That is not however the issue. This issue is the immediate reaction of party leader Lepper.

With an unpleasant sneer he told TV reporters that the allegations were absurd since the whole idea of raping a prostitute was ridiculous. I was on a visit to Poland at the time and watched, seething, as assorted uncles and cousins, including, I regret to say, women, agreed with him. In effect, Lepper was saying that even if what the lady said was true it could not be rape since whores cannot refuse consent. It follows, of course, that if someone cannot refuse consent they cannot meaningfully give it either. Sex workers, on this view, are to be denied the rights enjoyed by all other women.

This is a view shared by those at Stormont who voted last week for Clause Six of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking Bill, which will criminalise those who pay for sex. Wholly consensual sexual activity between adults is to be made illegal simply because an exchange of money is involved. The subtext seems clear. It cannot really be consensual because sex workers cannot meaningfully give consent and are to be denied the right, enjoyed by all other women, to have sex with whom they want, when they want. They are whores, they are other. Lord Morrow’s view of sex workers is really no different from that of Andrzej Lepper. Do the supporters of this law realise how much they have in common with a bullying Polish rape apologist?

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