Problem: How to get people to understand what consent means?
A straight explanation may not be very memorable: “Consent is not just what a person says. Consent requires being capable of giving Consent. So there is a chain, and if any link is broken, you have committed a crime. The lady must “give Consent while capable of giving Consent”, so that is two links, and the third link is that you must be “capable of accepting Consent from a person who gives Consent while capable of giving Consent”. Which, if you are dead drunk, you cannot do.”
My answer: Consensual, a play entirely about formal consent. The above ‘straight explanation’ is a line in the play, embedded in a sort of panto/farce that tries to be as engaging as possible. It imagines a near future where there is a formal Consent Form, which Rob doesn’t know about (he’s been in Australia, surfing, for five years) and so the whole play is about ‘the education of Rob’ concerning what is – and isn’t – consensual.
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Synopsis: Act I, Scene I: Rob wakes up in Jane’s bed, and has no idea who she is or how he got there. She says he’s had his wicked way with her, and doesn’t have her consent, so now he has to do what she says. Scene II explains the Formal Consent Form, and ends with Rob summoned back to Jane’s flat.
Act II Scene I Rob goes to the police to explain that he has been kidnapped, which they find hard to understand. They view him as a perpetrator. He’s lucky to get out, with the help of a lawyer, who gives him a lifeline. Scene II has Rob back at Jane’s, to confront her and extricate himself if he can.
Quote: Act I, Scene I:
Rob: Consent? Consent? But this is your place, so you brought me here. And now you want to bring me breakfast. So that’s it, isn’t it? Whatever happened, it must have been with your consent.
Jane: Well, that’s what they all say, or at least what they used to say. I think you need to be brought up to date, lover boy. I mean formal Consent. The Consent Form. I never signed one. You can’t produce one. So what happened here, last night, well, you were trying ever so hard, and I wanted you to be lovey-dovey, and do all those … things … that we did. But still and all — without my signature, it was NON-CONSENSUAL!
Rob: Non-consensual? Non-sense, I’d say. I don’t know what Form you’re talking about. You’re not making any sense.
Jane: And you haven’t been keeping up. Haven’t you heard? You can’t just do as you please anymore, and then say ‘well, she wanted it.” You need evidence, now. No more of that bullying and grey area and uncertainty. For three years now, that’s been the law. Where have you been the last three years?
Rob: Australia. For five years.
Jane: Well, that explains it. Kangaroos don’t have to sign Consent Forms. Hop and hump all you like, I’m sure. But a dream girl like me – you need permission. You need evidence of permission. You need a Consent Form. It’s the law. And you’re a law breaker. So you need to think about that – before you tell me, you know, that you’re not my lover boy anymore.
Quotes: Act I, Scene II:
Sig: Oh, yes! I’ve got an NVQ. Level Two! You see, when a guy and a girl want to leave a club and go somewhere private, and be together, you know. Intimate, you know. Well, they’re not going to go to the police office or post office or registry of births, deaths, marriages and having-it-offs, are they? Not in the middle of the night. Of course some never get further than a quick standup in the loo, but nothing we can do about that. Animals.
Anyway that’s where I come in. I did the course, Level Two, and I can witness the Consent Form, and say that she’s compos mentis – and not under any pressure or anything. I can even have a quiet word with her, just her and me. Then they put their names on the form, and she signs, and I witness – and off they go!
Rob: And how do you do compos mentis?
Sig: Oh, yes — that turned out to be easy. We do the same as the police for DUI – driving under the influence. We’ve got a little line on the floor to walk, and I can ask her to count backward by odd numbers from 99. Course that can be tricky ‘cause some can’t do that sober, so I have to use my professional judgement. And we have a breathalyser. That had lots of argument – how many times over the driving limit to still be below what the papers were calling the f-ing limit. Course we didn’t call it that for the NVQ. We call it the Consenting limit. It’s exactly four times the driving limit. They had to do a study at a university to sort that out. Nearly got them shut down, all that alcohol and sex. They should have done the study here, in a Club. Alcohol and sex is what we do! With or without an NVQ.
Rob: So can I just go through this form from the top?
Sig: Oh, yes. So here we start “Party of the first part”, that’s her, like that could be you, Paul, being her. “Party of the second part” that’s you, Rob. So the party of the first part “does hereby give, bequeath and endow unto the party of the second part for” And here I have to fill in the number of hours. Usually I say 12, in case they get frisky again in the morning, don’t you know. But it could be less, or could even be 24, if they’re really keen. And then I give her one of our club entrance bracelets, but I write her expiry time on it, sort of like Cinderella, I always think.
So this paper gives this woman to this man — well, that’s old fashioned but we don’t have a Consent Form for any other ‘arrangement’. Because Consent, see, it’s the woman giving herself to the man, except not like a wedding, this is just for 12 hours or even 6 or whatever.
Cause, like, she’s giving, and he’s taking. We discussed all that in my NVQ. It’s really sweet, you know. Goes way back in English common law, to maidenhead and all. Not that we see all that much maidenhead here in the Club. She’s got this prize, see, and she’s handing it over – to lucky lucky you. That’s what Consent is, really. She consents to you getting her prize.
Rob: And what do I consent to?
Sig: Oh, no. Well, nothing. You don’t have a prize. Nothing to hand over. Certainly no maidenhead. So you’re not in English common law. You’re just – I don’t know – maybe you’re an outlaw. A robber, like. A plunderer. You want to open her treasure chest, and she either gives you the key, or she doesn’t. This paper, that’s the key. That keeps you the right side of the law.
Rob: But what about my consent?
Sig: Oh, yes. You poor dear. Paul, haven’t you explained anything to Rob? Don’t you know? You’re a bloke. You don’t consent, you just … do it.
Quotes: Act II, Scene I:
Rob: But I haven’t done anything!
Copper: Oh yes you have. You have spent the night with a woman, in her bed, and you can’t remember anything. Therefore: 1) you have had “relations” – because if you can’t remember anything, then that’s the anything you’re not remembering. 2) you are not able to convince me that you obtained her Consent, because you are not able to convince me of anything, because you cannot remember anything. 3) Even if you did claim to remember her giving Consent, you cannot convince me that she was in a fit state to give Consent, because she may have been just as legless as you were.
Lawyer: If you walk into a bank and a cashier likes the look of you and hands you one thousand pounds, what do you do?
Rob: Take the money and run?
Lawyer: No no no. You must not do that. Because that cashier is not in his or her right mind – obviously – and so if you take that money you are taking it without the bank’s consent. So you must not take that money.
But if that same cashier gives you one thousand pounds, and a loan agreement so you promise to pay back the money, then you can take it.
Rob: It just seems so unfair. If I’m dead drunk, and she’s dead drunk, then we should just be a couple of drunks. Instead, she’s a victim and I’m a felon!
Lawyer: You could say the same about a car, you know. You can be dead drunk, as you say, as much as you like … but if you are, you can’t drive down the road in a motorcar. Because that is a crime. DUI – driving under the influence.
Also if you are dead drunk, you can’t get into a lady’s bed – at least, not one that also has a lady in it. Because that is also a crime, diddling under the influence. It is a crime not because of the diddling, which of course is a perfectly natural function and now we know that even ladies like it … as much as men! No, it is not diddling that is the crime, it is Consent. You cannot diddle without Consent. And Consent is not just what a person says. Consent requires being capable of giving Consent. So there is a chain, and if any link is broken, you have committed a crime. The lady must “give Consent while capable of giving Consent”, so that is two links, and the third link is that you must be “capable of accepting Consent from a person who gives Consent while capable of giving Consent”. Which, if you are dead drunk, you cannot do. So that is it. Dead drunk, no driving, no lady’s bed.
Quote: Act II, Scene II:
Rob: What? What went wrong? What did I do?
Jane: [big sobs] You woke up and said you didn’t know who I was! You were just cold and colder – and cruel. And then you wanted to see the pill bottle when I was just bringing you an aspirin or whatever. You broke my heart! You pulled it out and ripped it in half!
Rob: Jane. I’m very sorry.
Jane: Sorry. So you should be. You know, there’s lots of ways to hurt someone. Lots and lots of ways to hurt a girl that nobody even thinks about making illegal. I can’t go into a police station and say “He broke my heart”.