The recent shocking comments about “legitimate rape” made by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin (…)

By Suzie Dunn, First Year English Common Law student

The recent shocking comments about “legitimate rape” made by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin have brought the idea of sexual consent and myths surrounding sexual assault to the forefront of people’s minds.

 Consent is a contentious issue fogged by confusing myths and stereotypes. Comments, such as the one made by Congressman Akin, serve to reinforce negative stereotypes about female victims of sexual assaults. Conversely, judgments such as the one made by Justice L’Heureux-Dubé’s in the case of R. v. Ewanchuk, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 330 have made significant progress in ending these harmful stereotypes and providing a clear definition of consent.

Akin’s comments fuel the myths about what consists of “legitimate” sexual assault. He suggests that there are multiple tiers of sexual assault ranging from illegitimate to legitimate. He denies the violation of women who have become pregnant from sexual assaults, labeling them as being “willing” on some level, and therefore their claim of sexual assault is deemed illegitimate. As though becoming pregnant from rape could be a symbol of consent.

 In the Ewanchuck case, Justice L’Heureux-Dubé discouraged judges from relying on “inappropriate myths and stereotypes” when examining consent, by insisting that it is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual act to ascertain consent. L’Heureux-Dubé judged that women either consented or they did not, rejecting the idea of implied consent as it “denies women’s sexual autonomy and implies that women are in a state of constant consent to sexual activity”.

 This case set a precedent, breaking down established stereotypes and creating a clear understanding of consent where “no” always means “no”.

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