Before 'No': The Line Between Rude and Assult

Originally posted on 

I was afraid to hit publish on yesterday’s post. Everything in the story made sense to share, but the part of the groping bothered me. This was partly due to the fact it remains an uncomfortable memory for me and because I was afraid of reader reaction.

Crucial to my story was the fact I tickled Zachery because the groping was his reaction to that. The discomfort that came with that, along with his inability to hear the word ‘no’ play significant roles in future posts in the Zachery Saga.

My worry with this particular detail was that I would get a defensive reaction. Would readers claim Zachery’s action was indeed warranted since I didn’t ask “may I tickle you, now?”

The truth is, we were just two teenagers cuddling and watching T.V. While the relationship had its faults, I was still trying to make it work. Even if I wasn’t, Zachery made sure there was little physical distance between us. With each passing day, I was becoming more afraid to argue.

I see a lot of defensiveness out there when people tell stories of sexual harassment or assault. When can someone be forgiven for simply messing around and when does it become a serious issue?

In part, I think it becomes an issue when words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’ are ignored. This week, I read an article about two teenagers facing criminal charges for a so-called bullying incident. These two boys made threats of anal penetration to their 15-year-old victim. They pinned him against a locker, slapping his rear end and “lifting up hard on his butt cheeks.”

In whose mind is that behavior passed off as bullying or horseplay? When I read that description, it seems obvious to me that was far more than horseplay. I’d call that sexual harassment. The question of where the line between rude and off-putting intrusions into one’s bubble and harassment hasn’t been sufficiently answered as far as I can tell. If it had, people wouldn’t get so defensive.

Take, for example, the movie Frozen. As a fan of the movie, I’ve read my share of articles about its popularity and issues. On one such article, a commenter claimed a female character in the show sexually assaulted a man by kissing him.

This photo, “No Trespassing” is copyright (c) 2014 Dru Bloomfield and made available under anAttribution 2.0 Generic license

In the scene in question, the man is ecstatic at a gift the woman has given him. He spins her around, exclaiming “I could kiss you.” As soon as the words escape his mouth, he turns chagrin, and stumbles over his words as he asks if that would be okay with her. She says “you may,” and kisses him.

Couple this scene with that of the bullied boy and my own experience in high school. What makes some of these actions wrong and some, if not right, at least acceptable? It all comes down to the almighty ‘no.’ I asked Zachery to stop and he didn’t listen. Zachery asks me to stop tickling and I did. When that 15-year-old boy pleaded with his bullies to stop their actions, they also refused to listen. When that kiss happened in Frozen, neither party asked for the action to stop.

Out in every day society, we can’t always know the amount of space strangers need. This is true when first entering intimate space with someone as well. Two people dating may cuddle or hold hands, but they don’t always know how close they can get without offending. Some people may think an arm over the shoulder or a kiss on the cheek is appropriate for a first date while others may not feel ready for that kind of contact, yet.

So long as the action isn’t clearly intended to be sexual and/or violent, I think some intrusion into personal space can be forgiven if concerns are heard. By that I mean, if a person asks for the physical contact to stop, the other person should comply. Maybe an awkward silence will follow, but that can be overcome.

Even as I type this, I still recognize that the line is blurry. The words sexual and violent need a better definition. Groping another person’s private parts would certainly be considered sexual, but what about a hand on the leg or hip? The same goes for violence. Punching someone in the face is clearly violent, but what about verbal threats? Is there such thing as mental violence?

A line needs to be drawn somewhere. If we say that all forms of physical contact are initially okay until someone says no, we are saying the action is okay so long as the word ‘no’ is not said. On the flip side, if we need to ask permission before every form of contact, we’ll be in a world where people ask before shaking hands or patting someone on the shoulder. Both of those worlds seem rather extreme to me. Isn’t there a happy middle?

I have to say though, if those two realities are our only options, I’d much prefer the one where people ask permission first. Sure, it’s be a little tedious, but it’s far better than justifying assault so long as the word ‘no’ isn’t spoken.

What is the difference between politely or innocently touching someone and assaulting someone? Is it really as simple as the body part being touched? Why does humankind tend towards extremes on so many issues? Can’t we reach a happy medium?


I’ve worked my butt off this week to get post prepared for the holiday weekend. Don’t fear, ChapterTK will not remain silent over The next three days. That said, my access to the interwebs will be severely limited, so I may not get to comments until Monday evening.  Please forgive my short silence and rest assured that I am reading every one of your comments with zeal! I’m thrilled to have you all here discussing these crazy topics with me. You guys have all my love. Have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend!

Twitter: @tkrv12


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