Hey guess what I’ve been thinking about again also. Did you guess CSA rhetoric? Because the answer is CSA rhetoric.
Even more specifically, I’ve been thinking about that line again from Indiana Jones, where Marion says, “I was a child! I was in love!” because when I think about it, it’s amazing to me that that line got written for her at all and put in a movie with a budget and lasting cultural esteem and everything, that that got to be a thing that a character in a movie like that would say. That’s what’s surprising to me now, not the fact that hardly anyone seems to openly regard that movie as A Movie About A CSA Victim Reconciling With Her Abuser.
Which. It is, by the way.
No, what’s surprising is that kind of high-profile acknowledgement of a child wanting. choosing. an inappropriate relationship with an adult. And her looking back when she’s older, and not being okay with it.
(although it’s worth noting, I think, that this particular portrayal may have an awful lot to do with the CSA perpetrator in question being Our “Hero”)
But it’s interesting because what we get is a depiction of a CSA victim angry at her abuser for what she essentially frames as taking advantage of her consent — yes, consent, I’m calling it, because that’s what it was at the time, temporary consent in every generally understood sense except for the problem of her age; and taking advantage of, I call it, not just in the “traditional euphemism for rape” sense but because he also took advantage of her feelings, too, not just that she was a child but that she was “in love.” It’s the combination of those things, a child, in love, that she highlights.
It’s interesting because so much of the rhetoric I’m used to seeing around how to articulate how/why “adult-child sexual interaction is wrong” (yes) falls back onto “children can’t consent,” as I’ve talked about before. I’ve seen a similar line of reasoning in that therapist abuse essay I linked last month, too — with the line “There’s no such thing as consent for sex between a therapist and a patient.” And when you’re clinging to nonconsent as the only criterion for abuse, anyone who says “children can consent, though” just sounds like an abuse apologist, rather than potentially someone who’s actually expanding the definition of abuse beyond the concurrently nonconsensual.
But looking at examples like those, I have to wonder why fixate on the word “consent” in particular when there’s clearly another common thread, and why the customary asterisk saying “but children can’t consent (to sex (with adults)) because brains” and so on and so forth, and why stick to a framework of consent-inability as a way to write out permission as insufficient to excuse abuse, instead of saying, for instance, that children’s consent to sexual interaction with adults & non-peers is mediated by a power dynamic that we believe in moralizing as inherently exploitative when leveraged for sex.
Because I know I can’t be the only person it’s occurred to — “it” here meaning any kind of alternative framing to that consent-inability rhetoric, at all. What I wonder, rather, is why consent-inability is the most popular explanation for a sexual ethos that excludes CSA. With what I know, what I have to take from it is people just… don’t want to draw so tight a connection between power imbalances and sexual exploitation. They don’t want to take that step. And the obvious reason to hesitate, there, is how it would necessarily create ripples throughout the rest of our approach to all things consent-and-power-related, and that we might have to wrestle with the implications in a complicated world where few people are ever truly on an even playing field and it becomes a messy business to figure out where to draw the line. It’s easy to see what makes people wary of exploring the option.
Because once you open up “there’s such a thing as abused consent,” there’s no going back, is there?