In Scotland, a man was convicted of raping a woman who fell asleep on his couch. She was unconscious throughout the assault, and woke to find herself partially undressed. Craig Byars admitted to the rape and has been sentenced to four years in jail.
But in spite of that confession, his lawyer is still making excuses — assuring us of what a good guy Byars really is, and that raping a sleeping woman is the kind of thing that can happen to the best of us!
Defence counsel Shahid Latif said Byars apologised for the consequences of his actions on the victim.
He said: “I have to stress that what happened was a gross error of judgement on his part. He misread the situation.”
He misread the situation.
The tendency for defenses of a rapist to continue even after he has been convicted or has confessed is something that gets under my skin at the best of times. There is seemingly a compulsive desire by every rapist and those close to him to ensure that the world knows he’s actually a good person. First of all, whether or not he’s a “good person” is incredibly irrelevant to the subject of whether or not he raped someone. Secondly, as we live in a world where only bad, bad men, evil, slimy subhuman creatures, are considered to be capable of raping, the insistence that raping someone was out of character for this particular rapist, a simple mistake, an error in judgment, seems to me to be the same thing as saying “yes, so he raped a woman this one time! But that doesn’t make him a real rapist.”
But this specific defense strikes me as a particularly awful and apologist way of making an already awful and apologist argument.
See, here’s the thing: it’s impossible for one to “misread a situation” to the point of raping someone. If one does not ensure that they have consent from a person prior to engaging in sexual contact, or ignores an explicit lack of consent from that person, they have not misread anything. They have intentionally failed to read the situation at all. Not even attempting to read a situation, or reading it and disregarding what it says, is not the same as misreading. Misreading a situation is asking your date, “Would you like to go back to my place?” and feeling surprised when they say “no.” It’s not purposely dragging them there once they have said no. And it’s not taking them there without telling them where you were going first.
What makes the statement particularly egregious in the context where it was made is the fact that Craig Byars’ victim was asleep. One cannot consent to sex, or to anything else for that matter, when they are asleep. Period. And so, there is absolutely nothing to “misread.” Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who tends to read unconscious women as perfect sexual assault targets.
What Latif’s statement up above suggests is that one can, in fact, consent while they are asleep. That Byars’ decision to rape an unconscious woman was a little bit understandable, because certainly there are cases where “having sex” with a sleeping woman is okay. It suggests that complete and total lack of consent is a gray area rather than clear bright line. Saying that Byars misread the situation is the same thing as saying that on some level, he had good reason to believe that what he was doing was not rape. It fully reinforces the idea that women exist in a permanent state of sexual consent until that default consent is withdrawn.
This is what happens when we live in a world where many people still fully believe that when a woman says no, she doesn’t really mean it. Right now, we’re still, after decades, fighting an uphill battle to get people to accept the basic notion that no means no, that you don’t get to decide under which circumstances another person’s no is valid and worth accepting, and that your personal opinion of what a person “really meant” doesn’t have the right to overrule what they actually said. We’re still living in a world where certain women are perceived as unrapeable, and where their no’s are seen as counting for absolutely nothing. And we’re living in a culture that tells men that when a woman pushes you away, that’s just reason for you to try harder.
How, in the kind of society that has just that little regard for women, where their actual words do not matter, can we be surprised to see people dismissing their lack of words as also meaningless? How can we expect that a sleeping woman’s right to not be assaulted will be recognized and respected as obvious and inherent when the right of an actively protesting woman to not be assaulted is still seen as up for contention? If no doesn’t even really mean no to so many people, how can they possibly think to wait for a yes? Thinking that no doesn’t mean no is the very definition of believing that women exist in a permanent state of sexual consent. So of course, if this is your belief, one can potentially misread a sleeping woman as existing purely for his sexual use, and as saying “I’m here, so you might as well remove my pants and have sex with me.”
This view of women and consent is epitomized in one particularly chilling quote that Byars gave to police when they asked him if he had raped the victim:
Byars, 34, later claimed to police that he had consensual sex with the woman at his then flat above the Ghillies Lair pub, in Great Southern Road, in Aberdeen.
But when asked if the woman could have been sleeping or dozing when he had sex with her he replied: “Yes she could have been and I’ve never clicked.”
I hope, I really, really hope, that Byars was simply giving the most pathetic and ill-considered lie possible to police in response to that question. Because if he was being honest, if he pays so little attention to the women he is sexually touching that he doesn’t even notice when they are unconscious, I truly dread to think of just what else he has failed to notice, and how many women he has raped while they were awake.