Last Wednesday I was home from being on call and watching ESPN. The popular show “First Take” was on and they showed two videos of NFL players in what I will describe as “compromising” circumstances with women. What followed was commentary that included phrases such as “two consenting adults” and “clearly she is giving consent.” During the 15 minute debate on who was behaving worse than whom and if the two situations were different I was feeling the heat rise up around my neck and feverishly beginning this blog post. In short, that’s not how consent works. That’s not how any of this works.
If you follow this blog you know I have written about sexual assault. Lots of assumptions are made when non-consensual contact occurs. Lots of victim blaming. Often times the focus is on what she wore, how much she drank, what she “implied.” The truth is it doesn’t matter what someone wears or what they drink or how they act. Consent isn’t implied. Consent is either given or not given. And more importantly consent can be revoked at any time.
As physicians we gain consent on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I am going to listen to your heart and lungs now, if that’s ok.” Other times we are making a decision to perform a surgery. In that case we have a long discussion about the risks, the benefits, the non-surgical options. And more importantly, we confirm that the patient understands what is happening to their body and confirm before we start that surgery that the patient still wants to have the procedure. Even in the case of emergencies we do all we can to make sure our patients or their families understand what is happening. We do all this because consent matters.
So what would I say to the hosts of ESPN’s First Take. To Stephen A. Smith, Molly Qerim and Max Kellerman. While we can debate the professionalism of the behavior of these professional athletes and if their past behavior, their race or their status in life makes a difference in how their actions are seen or judged, we cannot make assumptions about whether or not either of the women involved gave consent. Just because someone doesn’t seem upset or angry doesn’t mean they have given consent. So let’s stop making statements that imply that we can look at someone and know whether or not they are giving consent. Instead can we make sure we are sending a message that consent is important and as adults we should make sure we understand that. How about the people at First Take try a second take on this one.