Before starting, I think I should be transparent and say that I have my own issues with nightclubs and consent, you can read more here.
Unless you live in one of those wonderful bubbles in which the popular "news" of the day passes you by, you will have probably seen the stories today circulating around Magaluf Girl. If you have missed it, the story is about a young woman on holiday in Magaluf who was filmed performing sexual acts on 24 men in a bar. There are various versions of why this happened and the conclusion is that it was either to win a bottle of wine or a cocktail called a 'holiday' - some reports suggest that the woman involved was made to believe she would win an actual holiday.
As part of the No More Page 3 team, we've had several comment pieces sent to us discussing the media's obsession with policing women's sexuality and behaviour. I was this week on a panel with Reni Eddo-Lodge who talked about 'Unruly Women', the women (usually working class, often associated with black culture) who don't fit the box that the media, particularly the tabloids, has decided represents what a woman should be/do/wear. Magaluf Girl (and I hate calling her that, but it's right that I don't use her name) fits squarely into this pattern at first glance. Here is a young woman in a popular holiday destination for those with a limited budget - I'm not going to assume that she's working class, but I'm certain the journalists will have done. She having fun, she's drinking, she's apparently being sexual on her own terms. Someone filmed it and the whole thing went viral - oops. Enter the tabloids with their guidebook to acceptable women's behaviour and pronounce her unclean, apparently we've found a "new low" (coming from the Sun that must be low). It's not long before social media is calling her "actual vermin" and a "repulsive slag". I failed to find anyone (other than feminists) criticising the men in any way, the woman in question has had her name and photo all over the internet today; where are the men?
The question of whether or not this is blatant sexism and double-standards is kind of obvious to me, the answer is yes. A man receives a sexual act in a bar, he's somehow passive, certainly blameless. A woman performs sexual acts in a bar she's a "slag", a "whore", her life is ruined which is what she "deserves". The next time anyone says to you that there is no longer a stigma around women's sexuality, just point them in this direction and ask them to have another think.
But (and this is a big but), there is a huge question of consent here, HUGE. We know that in the UK the law on alcohol/consent is clear and is the reason why there was justice for Ched Evans; his victim was too drunk to give consent. I have no idea how much the woman in Magaluf had drunk, I don't know how alcohol effects her as we're all different. However, I do know (because every story is the same) that she was drunk. What if, rather than being just drunk enough to let go of her inhibitions and be the sexual exhibitionist she always wanted to be, she was in real terms too drunk to consent? Did anyone check that out? Did those running the bar even care? Were they clear what she could win in exchange for performing? Were they explicit in what they expected of her? What if she had, too late, realised what she was going to have to do? Could she have stopped? What would have been the response?
I know that's a lot of questions, but that's what happens in a case that isn't clear cut. You ask questions, you don't assume an answer and you certainly don't leap to a conclusion that could, potentially, cause more harm to a victim.
So let's say that there is an unclear question of consent around the act itself (also, it appears that at least one of the men is held in place by his friends, clearly he was uncomfortable with the situation) which a responsible media would think about and perhaps choose not to leap straight into shaming the potential victim. Then there is the issue of the video being shot and posted online. Did those involved agree to its release? Were all the participants prepared for it to go viral and the scrutiny that followed? Can you consent to having your life ruined? Was the woman involved warned that she would be on the front page of the Sun with a picture that it was fairly easy to identify her from? Who is supporting her today?
So, to summarise...
Best case scenario: sexual exhibitionist, has an amazing time doing what she loves, which now the whole world is watching and is vilified by the press and public for being drunk, female and enjoying herself, despite feeling herself that she has done nothing wrong - nor should she.
Worst case scenario: victim of a serious sexual assault is dragged through the press and attacked by the public for being the victim of a serious sexual assault which now the whole world is watching.
Sarah, is an activist and part of the No More Page 3 team. She has written for nomorepage3.org & Feminist Times on behalf of the campaign demanding the Sun stop posting pictures of topless models. Sarah is also a supporter of the campaign Ending Victimisation and Blame. She tweets at @Seja75.
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